After enduring a horrendous run of games that left everyone wondering whether they’d even hold on to make the playoffs, the Portland Trail Blazers have welcomed back LaMarcus Aldridge not only by winning the last three games, but by showing much of the energy and confidence that characterized the early part of the season. In their second straight game against an elite defense, the Blazers were the ones who put the clamps down, and led this one pretty much the whole way as Portland beat the Memphis Grizzlies 105-98.
Two notes: the first is that this one was not anywhere NEAR as close as the final score indicates. The Blazers, knowing they were comfortably ahead, checked out of their dynamic, flowing offense and opting to go into LaMarcus (10-20 for 28 points) over and over, which is the safe bet and not a bad idea, except he kept missing. Memphis, sensing an opportunity to save some embarrassment, surged back to make it a single digit game.
The second note: the Mo Williams who’s played the last few games is the guy the Blazers were hoping they’d get when they signed him last summer.
I’ve heaped my fair share of criticism on Mo Williams (7-9 for 17 points and 4 assists), some of it deserved, but let me say: sometimes the best feeling is being proven wrong. Williams was disruptive yet reserved on offense, and active yet responsible on defense, looking much less like the liability he has a tendency to be on both ends of the floor, and much more like an asset to the team. If the Blazers can expect this level of production from him the rest of the way, it will make their lives a whole heck of a lot easier.
Another player who falls into the “much improved” category: Mr Thomas Robinson, who was perfect from the field for the second straight game for 8 points and 3 rebounds in 15 minutes. Though his lack of polish becomes more apparent the further away from the hoop he gets, his ability to find seams on the interior is impressive. He’s usually good for one or two well-timed shovel passes a game. On the other end of the floor, Robinson is a tenacious defender. This generally comes with a high concentration of personal fouls, but head coach Terry Stotts allowed him to share the post with Aldridge at times tonight, and he appeared capable despite the occasional over-play.
As expected, Zach Randolph led the Grizzlies in scoring with 21 points, but the Trail Blazers were able to hold the double-double machine to an uncharacteristically low 7 rebounds. Randolph’s tendency to take over against his former team has been a popular narrative, but it could just as easily be as simple as Portland’s difficulty stopping low-post threats. Either way, the impact of his team-best effort was dampened by Robin Lopez, who beat him on the glass (10 rebounds) while contending with juggernaut Marc Gasol as well. The two Grizzlies combined for 41 points, but only 12 rebounds.
The Grizzlies were the last top-8 team in the West that the Trail Blazers had not beaten – until tonight. Portland now won 3 in a row and will take this confidence into their next matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples on Tuesday. This win against one of the league’s elite defensive teams makes the playoffs look a little more doable. The Trail Blazers have won at least won game against each of their potential matchups and have now climbed a full 3.5 games above the 8th place Dallas Mavericks. Let’s roll through the next few weeks and end the season on a high note.