All Hands on Deck
The win at Memphis on Tuesday was huge for the players, as they avoided being shutout on the three-game road trip. This win, over Denver at the Rose Garden, was huge for the fans. Call it a band-aid if you will, but at the very least it slowed the emotional bleeding following the Greg Oden news, and once again demonstrated that this team can survive even against division rivals without Brandon Roy. Let's hope that theory isn't put to the test too often, but they proved a lot to themselves, and to a sold-out Rose Garden Crowd, by getting this win.
It wasn't conventional, but you don't argue about the little things after a win in a situation like this.
Statistically speaking, this game was all over the map. Odd numbers up and down the page. The Trail Blazers beat the Nuggets in the points-in-the-paint catagory a staggering 40 to 16. If you had told me that before the game I would have said Portland wins by 25. The Blazers outrebounded Denver 48-35- same deal. That's enough to get you a win over this team.
But, when you consider the Blazers shot 40 percent from the field, got just seven points off the bench, and were a miserable 11 for 22 at the free-throw line, you starting wondering how they won this game.
As it turns out, it took a lot from all the guys they will depend on to step up each and every night if they are to keep their heads above water in the west. The margin for error is now so small, they're going to have to bring this grit, this determination, and this kind of defensive intensity to win more than they lose on nights when they don't have Roy.
The guy who gets the biggest gold star on this night, at least from me, is Nicolas Batum. He was just 5 for 14 from the field, but held Carmelo Anthony to just 5-15 shooting and had him frustrated most of the night. Even though Wesley Matthews also played very good defense on Anthony, Batum was a big reason why Anthony got into foul trouble, and drew a huge offensive foul in the fourth quarter that fouled Carmelo out of the game. Getting points from Batum is a bonus. This is what the team absolutely has to get out of him defensively to have success.
Speaking of Matthews, the toughest thing for a young player to do in this league is back up a career night with another big night. After scoring 30 against Memphis on Tuesday, the Nuggets were well aware Portland would lean on Wesley's offense again, especially without Brandon. Matthews was agressive, played good defense himself, and was a beast on the boards. He ended with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocked shots. Okay, give him a huge gold star as well.
Perhaps Matthews' biggest contribution came early in the game, after Denver had ripped off 17-straight points and was threatening to run away. Wesley hit three-straight three-point shots to quickly get Portland out of a huge hole.
It also took a solid night from LaMarcus Aldridge, great rebounding from Marcus Camby, and big-time play from Andre Miller down the stretch. They got all of these things. Aldridge had another double-double, with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Camby pulled down 14 rebounds, including 4 offensive boards. And, Miller recorded 16 points and 6 assists.
As a team, the Trail Blazers locked Denver up in the final quarter, allowing just 12 points. Even then, Portland had a ton of difficulty putting this thing away. Poor foul shooting was the biggest reason, and they were able to dodge a huge bullet in their final possession.
Needing to simply work the clock, in a situation where Denver had to foul, LaMarcus found himself in the paint, with the ball, and decided to try and end the game with a field goal. He missed, and it gave the Nuggets a huge break. They now had the ball back, trailing by three, and were handed an enormous opportunity to send the game into OT.
They took off with the ball, and Chauncey Billups attempted a very, very deep three. After that was missed, Aaron Afflalo had a clear look at a three in the corner. Matthews, who was in his face, might have gotten away with a foul, as the ball came up well short, and the game ended. Denver's bench stormed out on to the court in protest. But, it was over. Portland hung on, 86-83.
Qualify that however you want- the Blazers deserved a break, especially with what has gone on lately- and got one. It was far from pretty, and wasn't anything near text book, but who cares.
That's the only blue print for success right now- battle, fight to survive, and don't leave any bullets in the gun.
To listen to Nate McMillan's post-game comments, click here