Three of Four On the Road
For a game that started exactly like Monday’s in Chicago, it couldn’t have been more different through the final three quarters. That’s a good thing for the Trail Blazers. They were slow out of the gate again, but rallied in a big way, using a variety of weapons. And, they finished off a tough four-game road trip with a 3-1 record.
That’s four wins in five games on the season, and four of the games have been on the road. That’s a pretty good precedent- if we can actually establish such things in early November. Even if you don’t believe it’s truly that meaningful, or is too early to tell, you have to admit that to set such patterns is a positive thing.
We indeed feared we were headed for a repeat performance of the game against the Bulls, when the Blazers were emotionally flat, appeared stuck in the mud, and dug themselves and early hole that they couldn’t escape.
On Tuesday night, just when it appeared exactly the same clouds were moving in, Portland seemed to figure itself out (this after missing 9 of their first 10 shots). Or, maybe they just got a superb effort from the bench unit. Maybe a little bit of both.
No matter the cause of the turnaround, the Blazers overwhelmed the Milwaukee Bucks in the final three quarters and won the game 90-76. We can start be giving credit to the defense, because that’s what Nate McMillan always does.
After not playing much D in Chicago, or in the first quarter against the Bucks, the Blazers tightened the screws after that. The Bucks shot 55% in the first quarter, and just 30% the rest of the way. They scored 27 points in the first, and followed that up with quarters of 18, 17, and 14.
It did take a little offense as well, and it was Wesley Matthews, making a homecoming appearance in Milwaukee, playing in front of his mom, who really stepped it up. The former Marquette star scored seven points in the final six minutes of the first quarter, and then had nine in the second quarter.
As important as his scoring was, it was his intensity that rubbed off on his teammates the most. All in all for Matthews, 18 points, five rebounds, four assists. He’s stepping up to be a heck of a sixth man, and his off-season signing is starting to look like a bargain.
So, if the story isn’t impressive enough that an undrafted second-year player did the heavy lifting, a rookie, selected in the second-round, probably belongs on the MVP-of-the-night podium as well. We’ve been singing the praises of Armon Johnson since the first day of training camp, and now you’re starting to see what we’ve been talking about. The kid has a chance to be an impact player.
Johnson is a game changer, simply with his intensity, aggressiveness, and ability to hit the ground running off the bench. This one-two punch of he and Andre Miller looks pretty good. Johnson had 10 points, on 4 of 4 shooting, hit both his three-point attempts, and had 5 assists. His most dazzling pass was a midcourt strike to Dante Cunningham, who grabbed it in the air and reverse-slammed it into the hoop. As great as it was to watch, it seemed to be the emotional hammer that dropped the Bucks to the canvas for the final time.
Armon “Hammer” also plays some serious defense. Johnson and Matthews were part of the reason Milwaukee’s starting backcourt of Brandon Jennings and John Salmons, two guys who have the ability to be explosive, combined to shoot 4 for 21 in the game and had just 13 points between them.
It was a night where Portland’s starters, following the slow start, were solid. They weren’t spectacular, but they were solid. LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t post numbers that leap off the page, but he did have 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots. Brandon Roy had 17, Miller had 12, and Marcus Camby pulled down 13 rebounds. But, it was the presence of a balanced attack that was most impressive on this night.
Given the difficulty of this early-season trip, the earliest 4-game trip in team history, a 4-1 record at this point is very acceptable. And, the team is already 2-0 on the second night of back to back sets. You probably know they lead the NBA with a 15-4 record last season on the second night of back to backs. Say what you want, that’s effective coaching, and they should also get some credit on this night, and following this trip.
To listen to Nate McMillan's comments, following the win over Milwaukee, click here.
After a long flight home, we are back, and host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night at the Rose Garden.