mikebarrett

Oct 31

Fourth Quarter Magic, Again

By mikebarrett
I've always felt that a team figures out its identity early in a season.  Nate McMillan has always coached this way, and his teams have traditionally started seasons quickly.  Perhaps it's a tribute to his tougher-than-normal training camps.  It's probably equal parts conditioning, game planning, and establishing a mental toughness.  Whatever it is, it's clear the Trail Blazers are setting a tone they hope will last well into the regular season.

The best news in all of this (other than the fact that they are 3-0), is that this is looking like a team that has successfully shed the tag of being "young and inexperienced" and have replaced it with looking like a very veteran team that has the ability to wear you down, while maintaining poise and confidence.  It's a process, and we all know that over the course of a season it can be the little things that separate the elite teams from the rest of the pack.

On Saturday night in New York City, the Blazers once again showed their late-game resolve in beating the Knicks 100--95.  Let's hope this is becoming a habit. 

The league's good teams have always been able to hit a different gear late in ball games, and come up with big buckets and clutch stops defensively.  The Blazers have been ridiculously good in both catagories through three games this season.  The best news is, it's been someone different in every game so far.

The numbers so far are silly.  The Blazers have absolutely owned the final five and a-half minutes of these first three games.  In the final 5:35 of their first three games, the Blazers have outscored their opponents 49-12.  That's a staggering number.

They trailed Phoenix by 6 in the fourth quarter, were down 4 to the Clippers, and trailed the Knicks by 9 with 5:32 left.  Here are the runs the Blazers have put together in each game-  18-1 to close against the Suns- 15-0 against the Clippers- 17-3 to end the game against the Knicks.

There is, of course, another side to this if you want to go that way.  You may be one who feels the Blazers shouldn't have been in a position to have to mount these huge late-game charges.  But, that's the NBA.  Even though they haven't played the league's elite to this point, in two of the three wins they've done this on the road.  And, they've done it by overcoming the usual emotional advatage the home team has when it's opening it's season in front of the home fans.  

On Saturday night, it was the unveiling of Amare Stoudemire in Manhattan.  Madison Square Garden was packed, and the Knicks were coming off a near miss in Boston the night before.  Stoudemire, who knows the Blazers very well, badly wanted to put on a show for the home fans in his first regular-season game at MSG.  But, the Portland defense held him to 18 points, 5 rebounds, and forced him into 6 turnovers.  They also held New York to 42 percent shooting, as a team.

Brandon Roy, on the other hand, always plays well under the bright lights of Broadway.  Roy is now 4-1 in his career in New York, and has averaged over 27 points per game in New York.  He had 29 on Saturday night, and also had 6 rebounds.

But, it was a balanced attack again for Portland that did the trick.  LaMarcus Aldridge, who struggled badly at the free-throw line, had 20 points and 10 rebounds.  He still hasn't found his touch from the field, but has fought through it and helped in different ways, while still getting his points.  Andre Miller had another double-double, scoring 19 points and dishing out 10 assists.  Nicolas Batum had 10 points, and several huge defensive plays late in the game.  And, Wesley Matthews was big off the bench, scoring 13 points and grabbing 6 rebounds.

We are now in Chicago, as this odd early-season trip continues.  We started in the trip in the nation's second-largest media market (L.A.), went to the largest market (N.Y), and are now in the third largest (Chicago).  I guess if you want to get on the NBA's map, as being a contender, the Blazers have come to the right places.

Monday night the Blazers take on the Bulls, at the United Center.  We wrap up the trip on Tuesday night against the Bucks in Milwaukee.  In short, the challenges on this trip are just getting greater.  The last two teams on this trip are certainly better than the first two.  

The one thing you should pull for in these next two games is a close game midway through the fourth quarter.  If that's the case, the Blazers should be fine.  At least that's the pattern that's been established.  That's a positive habit.  That's all you can ask for early in a season.

 

33 Comments

  1. The Blazers certainly looks like they have matured. They are dominating when needed and you could tell the step it up early againts the Knicks. I worried me a little actually because I thought they might wear themselves out early, but as usually they had enough in their tank to walk away at the end. I like to see how they do in gut check time and so far they have done excellent in both finishing stron and winning on the road.

    GO BLAZERS!!!

    by mgb on 10/31/2010 9:22 AM
  2. Wow, I should have read that before I hit submit.

    Anyway I wanted to comment on what a great game and 4th quarter that Miller had. Though LA choke at the line I knew Miller had ice in his veins and that he would make both his FTs to put the game away.

    Btw, I'm not ragging on LA. I wouldn't be one bit surprise if he's the hero in the next game.

    by mgb on 10/31/2010 9:24 AM
  3. It's like LA was losing to Amare in his head before the game began, and never recovered. I could almost see it on his face every time he touched the ball and Amare was on it. "This time, I'm gonna prove it."

    Now, don't get me wrong. I want LA to prove it! I wanted those 15 extra pounds he put on to push back. But I know how LA's mind works (cause mine is the same way.) The worst thing to do on the court is make a plan - cause then you start worrying about the plan, and, next thing you know, well, that shot wasn't exactly in rhythm, was it?

    Mike, the only thing that I really want to complain about is the lack of ball movement. You're there live, so you've got to notice just how fun that first quarter was to watch. Crisp passes, open men, back cuts. BU-T-FULL. It's been the best part about watching the first 3 games this season - the lack of iso has opened up the watchability of this team.

    And then...iso play. Iso plays and no boxing out...until five minute left in the game.

    So...I'm with you all the way. Your assessment is spot on. Good habits. Gritty veteran savvy. The NBA is the NBA and no team lets you win. I just hope that ball movement is the new habit and the iso plays were just the bad habit we're trying to break. Cause let me tell you, when we move that ball and rebound, there ain't a team out there that can hang with us. When we iso and don't, there ain't a team out there that can't.

    by Revfisk on 10/31/2010 9:48 AM
  4. Great blog Mike! The blazers have obviously matured and the poise they are showing in the 4th is what we've lacked in the playoffs. I am liking the this season's team much better!

    by B.O.B on 10/31/2010 9:49 AM
  5. Hey Mike I appreciate the blog as always.

    LaMarcus struggled from the stripe last night. Those were clutch free throws that could have sealed the game for us earlier than needed. He still came through putting up 20 points and 10 rebounds, so I'm not worried, everyone has off nights every now and again (although you HAVE to make your free throws)

    Andre looked like the player of the game. 19 points, and 10 assists, the guy is almost at 200 double-doubles for his career.

    Brandony, is always Big Time in the Big Apple, he put up 29 points.

    I did some researching last night Mike, if (or when) the Blazers beat Chicago on Monday, and make it to a 4-0 start, it will be their first 4-0 start since 1999-2000.

    Throughout franchise history, the Blzers have 5 seasons where they have put up good starting records. As said in the post I made on the message boards, in 1979 they had a 9-0 start to the season (could've made it 10 but lost to PHX by one point). Fast forward a couple of years to 1981, that record, was 7-0. Ten years later the best start to a season in franchise history occurred, they hurried off to a record of 11-0. 1992, they started 8-0.

    Last but not least, this year. We haven't played the "Big Dogs" yet, so it might be a too soon to tell, but with a good start to the season and a chance at 4-0 (3 of those on the road) I'd say the Blazers can pull it off.

    by Antony Copland on 10/31/2010 9:55 AM
  6. lamarcus hasn't caught his rhythm yet, and he's averaging 15.7pts 9.7rebs and the team is 3-0. his next assignment is taj gibson. if the bulls double team aldridge, andre, brandon, nic and marcus pick them apart. if they don't double, he'll go for an easy 25. lamarcus is a shooter, all he has to do is keep shooting, and they'll start falling at some point.

    by reverse on 10/31/2010 9:56 AM
  7. any word on them fixing the time stamp for the blog?

    by reverse on 10/31/2010 10:00 AM
  8. * reposted from last blog *

    well, talk about being on the edge of your seat! this is the most nervous i've been all year. it's great that we have the ability to come back in the fourth quarter, but relying on that is a whole other story.

    game ball: two of them; to Brandon and Andre. Brandon helped keep us competitive in the third quarter en route to 29 points for the game. i know we've been concerned about the team letting down in the third quarter and Brandon didn't let that happen. he also had 6 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and a block. Andre showed why the blazers, thus far at least, have not listened to the fans who want him traded. we needed his experience down the stretch. this is why we have Andre. he nailed two free throws near the end. he also had a double-double, with 19 points and 10 assists.

    LaMarcus could have been right in there for the game ball, but i just can't give it to a guy who shot 40 percent from the line. he ended with a great game, 20 ppoints and 10 boards, but those misses really could have hurt us. Wesley had a great shooting night and i thought did a nice job of countering Chandler for a while there in the first half. did anyone else notice that Nicolas was a team high plus-minus of +16 during his time on the court? vive-la-france! lol, another beret for Nicolas!

    i loved Marcus' defense on Stoudemire, especially that play at the end where he knocked the ball out off Stoudemire's knee. Marcus didn't have the kind of game that shows up on the stat sheet, but we don't always need that from him. against the knicks, we needed his hustle and tenacious defense. i've got to say something good about the newest blazer, Fabricio. as a guy who was signed just five days before this game as an insurance policy, he's almost starting to remind me of last year's insurance policy. he played 16 minutes, scored 4 points on 2-3 shooting, played tough and didn't make any real mistakes.

    overall, i was impressed with the game. we need to make some more free throws because 67 percent just isn't going to cut it. i like the fact we're 3-0, following most of our predictions about the schedule. chicago on monday night will be a tough test for us. we can beat them, but can we put it together.

    here are a few things i noticed about this game:

    * thanks to Andre and LaMarcus, we now have seven double-doubles in three games.

    * the knicks made one more three-pointer as the blazers, but shot 15 more attempts.

    * Nicolas and Andre shot a combined 10-14 from the field.

    * according to Rice, we're only going to win 44 more games during the course of the season.

    GO BLAZERS! TAME THE BULLS!

    ~ Kassandra

    by Kassandra on 10/31/2010 10:00 AM
  9. looky, looky:

    http://www.oregonlive.com/blazers/index.ssf/2010/10/trail_blazers_video_a_look_at.html

    big greg looking good in practice.

    by reverse on 10/31/2010 10:03 AM
  10. danman (from last blog): when i mentioned earlier blogs, i was actually talking about the blogs from when Wesley was actually signed. my skepticism is basically that we don't rely too much on what he did in another system for one season. as i've stated here many, many times, i want Wesley to be great. i'm just the type of person who needs to see itconsistently proven.

    travisd: good point that LaMarcus hasn't found his rhythm yet. there's no doubt in my mind that he will. i like that he's working through this period and he has gotten to the boards in the past couple of games.

    MB: i don't know if you want to get into this, or can, but what is the signifigance of the blazers not excercising the option on Greg's contract? i think Nicolas' option is a no brainer, and Rudy's proven that he'll do his best on the court regardless of where he really wants to be. i know Greg will be a restricted free agent, so is the team just waiting to see how he'll play once he comes back or do you think there's more to it?

    all: are you guys aware that in the first three games of this road trip, the blazers will have played in the three most populated cities in the united states? a win over the bulls would be a nice sort of hat trick!

    ~ Kassandra

    by Kassandra on 10/31/2010 10:21 AM
  11. I think LA trying to have more of a inside game has thrown his game off a bit. Usually when you try to change like LA is you get worse before you get better, but when you finally do make the change you are better than you were before. So I'm not worried about LA soon he'll have his shooting touch back with a new inside game to add to his arsenal.

    GO BLAZERS!!

    by mgb on 10/31/2010 10:29 AM
  12. Great game, but... I posted my thoughts about it last game.

    Now I have something that troubles me greatly.

    http://www.nba.com/2010/news/10/30/oden-contract.ap/index.html?ls=iref:nbahpt2

    If we do not have Oden next season I will protest Rich Cho and always say everywhere that he needs to be fired.

    by Herr on 10/31/2010 10:37 AM
  13. a while back i called comcast to see if i could get a mobile internet subscription that would allow me to watch blazers games. i was astonished that buying their mobile internet would not give me this ability. they would make a boatload of money if they allowed portland area folks to watch blazers games via comcast mobile internet. i believe people with other service providers would pay for this, and should be made available. this is a viable and equitable answer to this problem. i don't have or want cable or dish-type tv, but would pay $50 a month for mobile internet.

    by reverse on 10/31/2010 10:40 AM
  14. I am so excited for the Blazers this year. Now I have been a Blazer fan for as long as I can remember and the team this year is something special. They seem to be gelling together quite nicely and are no longer playing like a young team. I think that moniker needs to be shed for the Blazers. The core of this team has had a few years to get it together and I think that we might starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And starting a road trip 2-0 is also promising. Lets go Blazers keep up the good work. I have faith in every single player on the roster. Everybody has the ability to step up and make the plays. So far in the first 3 games we have seen that. Blazers are gonna be scary.

    by Joseph Murnighan on 10/31/2010 10:48 AM
  15. about greg oden

    the blazers will have the ability to sign him during the off-season, whether or not other teams make him an offer.

    my concern is that some other team with lots of cap space come up empty in free agency again (new jersey). they could make him a max offer knowing that in the nba you have to overpay to acquire free agents.

    on the other hand, if they give oden a 5 year contract now, and he gets injured again, what then? the agreement to wait on a contract seems to be mutual from greg's side and the blazer's side, so i'm ok with that.

    the new collective bargaining agreement, and possible lock-out may end up telling everyone a lot about greg's value as well as greg health and performance this season. i'd bet that gm cho and PA are hoping to see oden perform very well and earn a nice extention. if joakim noah is worth $12mil a season, and rudy gay a max contract, a healthy greg is right there, and i'm sure they know that. the question will be, what does the new bargaining agreement allow?

    by reverse on 10/31/2010 10:51 AM
  16. Darn you Mike, I waited all morning for your Blog, I go out to get ready for work and you sneak it in.

    Great Blog, I have to go to work, but like a bad penny I will return.

    by Hg on 10/31/2010 10:55 AM
  17. Watching the Ugly Mavs vs the Clippers... Rebecca Harlow is with the Clippers now?

    by Herr on 10/31/2010 11:28 AM
  18. Hey Mike (haha hg, I was waiting all morning too!) - Good to hear from you, though it's already evening here in Prague (well, I am a bit late replying) -

    I think like most of us, I am happy that we are responding in the 4th the tough play, the runs (17-3 vs. NYK); it bodes well for later in the season or even just against the bigger teams (as Antony Copland said above) which we haven't encountered yet, so it'll be interesting to see if we can hang with them when the time comes. Yes, the other side is that it would be nice to be ahead and have some room for error, but of course, I hope that regardless of the situation with the score, I hope the guys remained focused, while still playing loose, so that when they execute plays, nerves or panic won't set it, especially late in the season and /or those top tier teams.

    Anyways, as always, I can't say much about in-games observations, but I appreicate hte details expressed by my fellow Blazers maniacs *tips Blazer cap to our lovely resident smarty- pants, Kassandra* :-)

    Kassandra & of course everyone else: On GO and the contract situation - I would be very depressed, if GO were to end up anywhere else after this year. I cannot imagine him in anything but the black, red and white. I do understand the reasoning behind the move (or rather, the lack of one); we will be able to re-sign him/match the offers he gets from other teams. Ms. K, yes, I would think they will evaluate GO's value and how much time and $$ he deserves based on his performance this year. I would hope that they are at a high percentage in terms of how likely they are to keep him, but this seems it's just a business move (after all, it is concerning $$$). I think we should stay positive about it, look forward to his and Joel's return and when the time comes, we can face/discuss what we think should happen. But yeah, it would be interesting to hear Mike's opinion or insight into the issue.

    If in the worst case, if we were to lose GO, it seems that once players leave our team, they tend to do good, at least in the short-term and in some cases, get a ring (I have to admit, if we don't get to the Finals, I am cheering for BOS, and imagine, if they win Jermaine will get a ring, but that's a stretch I guess, since it's been ages since he left us).

    Alright, peace to all!
    From Prague,
    -Anees

    by Anees on 10/31/2010 11:47 AM
  19. I can't believe Ronny Turiaf isn't starting for NYK. He was an absolute beast for them last night.

    Wesley Mathews needs to work on his handle. That lineup with him, Roy, Batum, LMA and Camby is going to get plenty of run and it shouldn't be up to Roy to bring the ball up every time.

    Kass,
    Yeah, Batum has always owned the +/-. I actually didn't know what the stat meant when he was signed, and I kept seeing this mysterious number on his line. He inspired me to look it up, and lo and behold, it told me what I already knew: the Blazers are a better team with Nico in the game.

    by 500Dogs on 10/31/2010 11:54 AM
  20. I love the hard work and determination that the Blazers have had over these past three games. They really have flipped that switch from a younger more timid mindset to a ready to grind night in and night out sorta team (sure it may be to early to tell but a great start deserves it's credit). Although we are going to miss JBay and Penderbeast I do believe that Nate has been able to free up some minutes and the team has played really well on Nate's new 9-10 man rotation. I can't wait to see what Chicago has to say about LA's big night come Monday. GO BLAZERS!!!

    by DLW-3* on 10/31/2010 12:03 PM
  21. Can't wait til Monday! Blazers are doing great-especially in the fourth. Promises to be a great season!!

    by squirt on 10/31/2010 12:20 PM
  22. Great Win!!!!! It's scary to think how good defensively this team is going to be when Priz and Greg return!!! We are already one of the top rebounding teams and both our bigs are out. I really feel that some of the smart coaching decisions, emphasis on D, rebounding and zone defense adjustment are related to our new assistant coaches. Since Nate's been with us he doesn't have a history of making immediate coaching adjustments and I think his new assistants are earning their paychecks. You already see the influence that Buck is making with LaMarcus and I'm excited to see his influence on Oden, when he returns. It's a good day to be a Blazer fan!!!!!!!!!!!!

    by Gavinfan on 10/31/2010 12:43 PM
  23. Kassandra, The not extending Greg's contract is easy to see. Well, at least for me. He has not shown enough to warrant an extended contract. It's really up tp Greg now. Does he want to be a Blazer? he will define that by his play when he returns. If he plays well, he will get that contract, and we will pay to make sure of it. If he gets injured significantly again, I dont know that any team will be interested in a lengthy or expensive contract.

    I for one hope Greg comes back and has a healthy productive season, like we know he can.

    by LTG on 10/31/2010 1:49 PM
  24. Joel against the Thunder. I think I made that prediction before, but I have a feeling we'll be seeing Joel.

    Our team looks like an elite team. I can see them being considered an elite team after this season.

    by Herr on 10/31/2010 2:39 PM
  25. hey mike!!! it's been a while since ive commented on ure blog, but im back in action here

    there was a play last night that got a lot of hype, ie the batum block, that there was something about that play we seemed to have glanced over. And btw this will answer all the critics of the $33 mil wesley matthews deal:

    on that play, wes got tripped up but in due time got up on his feet to play defense, when the play ended with the layup/batum block, guess where wes was, not on the outside, but right in the paint. Now watch carefully as LA corals the loose ball after the block. Notice that Amar'e was right under the basket too, and in fact the rebound seemed to be going to him. In steps BIG WES!!!! puts a body on Amar'e albeit it a lil body, and directs Amar'e just a little bit out of the way to ensure that a blazer got the loose ball.

    One of the most selfless/understanding plays i've seen in a while. if amar'e gets that, who knows NY very well mightve won, but 6-5 wes stepped in to the giant and took him out of the play so a teammate could get the ball.

    I know the coaching staff saw that, and i just want us fans to realize too why $33 was a bargain for this guy - he will win us games cuz he's the consummate teammate and person!!!

    Wes you're the man!!!!

    by joe.k on 10/31/2010 4:44 PM
  26. Hope everyone is watching the overrated city blunder get dominated by the Utah Jazz. This is what is going to happen this season, teams are going to bring their game and OKC isn't near good enough to compete with the top 7 teams in the West. They're lucky if they even make the playoffs.

    Call me a hater, they're annoying. I'm sick of people overrating this first round exit team. Durant is completely overrated, and I still don't regret not picking him up. I'd rather have Batum, a player that can actually DEFEND.

    by Herr on 10/31/2010 5:18 PM
  27. regarding Greg: the situation is obvious to me as well. there are two mitigating factors that i see: 1. the potential lockout and negotiations between the league and players union (including possible salary contraction), and 2. the blazers wanting to see how Greg does upon his return. when i posed the question, i posed it to MB in the curiosity that there may be something else factoring into the current decision. there's really no confusion here. besides, Greg will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, so we certainly will have that opportunity to retain him at that point.

    Herr: i just looked up the utah-okc game and jazz by 21! i suspect the national sports media is scrambling to explain this abonimation!

    500Dogs: the truth is, i've been itching to see Joel come back; i actually thought it may happen on this road trip, but i really think it's more likely that he would debut at home.

    ~ Kassandra

    by Kassandra on 10/31/2010 6:12 PM
  28. hey everyone, some sad news today in blazer land. former blazer player and assistant coach Murice Lucas has passed away. i'm too young to have watched him play, but it's my understanding he's one of the blazer favorites of all time.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=5751059

    my thoughts and prayers are with his family.

    ~ Kassandra

    by Kassandra on 10/31/2010 7:52 PM
  29. Everybody:

    I had to quit reading the post when I heard of Luke Passing away.

    As you probably remember Luke and I had Bladder cancer surgery at the same time and then had pneumonia at the same time, he went for chemo and I took Phi Slamma's adivse and didn't go for it. Whether or not that is the reason I am still alive, I don't know, but I am just to upset to blog

    Later everybody

    Hg

    by Hg on 10/31/2010 8:30 PM
  30. Heard from my friend about the Blazers loss today. I knew his son Dom throughout most of my life and we chat every so often on Facebook.

    He'll be missed, but hopefully the team takes this as motivation.

    I swear, if I ever get rich or famous, I am donating to find a cure for cancer. I've now lost 3 people I've cared about this year alone from cancer.

    by Herr on 10/31/2010 8:30 PM
  31. Sorry not his son, his nephew

    by Herr on 10/31/2010 8:34 PM
  32. LMa is close. little tiny things on his inside game that will give him better balance and not appear so out of control when he trys to get strong with the ball is what imo he should be talked to about.

    lma has the talent to play there. just the little things... jumping straight up on a hook. instead of fading to the baseline ever so much.
    planting your foot strong on a move so you have power to go up.

    just little things. hes sooo close. when he does the little things it causes players to commit and the double to come which free'd up roy for the long ball.

    so close its scary.

    by Brandon Weinant on 10/31/2010 8:44 PM
  33. Nice blog- thanks Mike!

    by RedRudy5 on 11/1/2010 12:25 AM
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