Blazers Fight Off Boston
One thing you know going into a game against this Boston Celtics team, coached by Doc Rivers- they don't go quietly. If you bring a knife to what is always a gun fight, you're not going to live to tell about it.
Boston also has the star power and experience to weather a lot of tight, late-game situations. They don't get rattled, even in front of a raucous building like the Rose Garden when it's packed full of 20,484 fans. The question late in this game was, would Portland's confidence level, that's taken some serious dents in the last couple of weeks, be able to hold in the clutch?
Like Friday's game against the Lakers in L.A., this one had a playoff-type atmosphere. That's what you get when you battle between two teams fighting for positioning, during this post-all-star break blitz. There's not much sand left in the hourglass, and quality teams, like Boston, understand that.
The Blazers got off to a bit of a shaky start in this one, and it would have been very easy to start with the "here-we-go-again" thoughts. The Celtics started with a ton of energy, and Kevin Garnett, who was rested on Friday in Phoenix, looked to have very fresh legs. The Celtics jumped on top 7-0, and looked to be firing on the cylinders they have left this season.
The Blazers then decided to take a page from Boston's book and get tight and nasty on defense.
By the end of the first quarter, the Blazers had taken a six-point lead. Their lead was seven at halftime, and four going into the final quarter. Several times it appeared the Trail Blazers had taken control for good, only to see the Celtics charge back out of a time out and close the gap again.
You want one quick reason why the Blazers won this game? Wesley Matthews. Playing basically on one leg, Matthews led the way with 24 points, and hit five of his eight three-point attempts. His last one was his biggest one of the night. It came with :53 seconds left and Portland leading by only three. It gave the Blazers a 92-86 lead, and that would turn out to be the final score.
Nic Batum was also solid with 18 points and six rebounds. JJ Hickson posted his 30th double-double, with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and LaMarcus Aldridge added 16 points. Damian Lillard, who was hounded by a host of Celtics during this game, had a hard-earned 12 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds. We're going to continue to see teams try and completely beat him up, meet him at halfcourt when he's bringing the ball up, and throw multiple looks at him defensively. The Lakers had so much respect for Lillard they put Kobe on him during the fourth quarter on Friday.
The leader of the bench unit on this night was Victor Claver. This rookie continues to make the most of his minutes. If you're gauging production by points alone, you're not going to be happy most nights with the bench. But, if you're looking for guys who bring energy, activity, and play with a high basketball I.Q., this was the kind of game Claver gave on Sunday. He had 4 points and 10 rebounds in his 20 minutes of action.
I don't always love the +/- stat, because on some nights it can be misleading. But, Claver was a +17 on this night, which was actually pretty telling. He had a huge impact on the game when he was in there.
This was also the first game for the newest Blazer, Eric Maynor. He's been getting a crash course on the offense, and for point guard, that can be challenging. Maynor was solid in his 15 minutes, scoring a bucket and dishing out 3 assists. He and Lillard even saw some action together, which we thought we'd perhaps see. It gives Damian a chance to play off the ball, and he's shown he's enough of a scorer to be effective at the two-guard spot.
Most importantly, the Blazers snapped their losing streak- the overall streak, and their six-game skid to Boston. The Celtics have given the Blazers fits in recent years, and came into this game as the only team in the NBA with a winning record, all-time, in Portland. There are 28 other teams that would love to be able to say that. Boston still can, even after this loss, but the Blazers got the job done on this night.
Next up, it's Denver, on Wednesday night, as the four-game homestand continues. Talk to you then.