The East's Beast is Still Boston
When you play the team that boasts the league's highest shooting percentage, you don't have to match them in that category, but you can't get away with shooting 36.7 percent from the field. When you're playing the best team in the Eastern Conference, that is also one of the league's best defensive teams, and don't have anyone get red hot from the outside, you're likely dead meat.
Losing another player to injury didn't help the Trail Blazers either.
Nicolas Batum, who has become this team's second offensive scoring threat, left the game in the first half and hobbled to the locker room. The TNT broadcast never showed a replay of where the injury might have taken place (our crew would have found it), and didn't address it after it happened. Batum, who talked briefly after the game, sounded very concerned. He'll have an MRI on Friday, and we'll know more after that. Clearly, he's not someone the Blazers can afford to lose (I know, I know, we say that all the time).
Without Batum, the Celtics were able to concentrate fully on simply stopping LaMarcus Aldridge. That isn't something that's been easy for anyone to do, but they were able to keep him to 17 points and 16 rebounds. With no one else able to heat up in the game, Boston was able to grind the Trail Blazers into the ground.
To Portland's credit, even though nothing was going right offensively, they managed to cut Boston's lead to five in the final minutes. But, it was too little, too late. The Celtics ran off the floor with an 88-78 victory, and a great start to this western road swing.
Boston didn't have to be great offensively, and they weren't. But, they always seem to do just enough. Ray Allen led them with 18 points, and Paul Pierce had 17. They shot just 47 percent, which is actually below their seasonal average. And, they won despite turning the ball over a season-high 21 times. That's the main reason Portland was able to stay as close as it did.
Outside of Aldridge, who was 8 for 20 from the field, the rest of the starters were just 13-39. The bench was 12-31, and the team ended 4 of 16 from behind the three-point line. Three of those makes came in succession, in the final two minutes.
To listen to Nate McMillan's post-game comments, click here.
The Celtics improved to 35-10, and are without a doubt the team to beat in the east. Miami lost at New York earlier in the evening, and appear to be playing at a level below the C's. After seeing the two teams in person over a three-week span, there's no doubt in my mind Boston is the well-oiled machine, and in control of that conference.
For the Trail Blazers, they're now staring at the prospect of yet another starter being out. It's mind boggling, and fate has been so incredibly cruel this season. The margin for error was already so paper thin, it's hard to imagine a scenario where Batum is down for a significant amount of time. Hopefully, that's not the case.
The only good news is that Portland now has four days off in this strange break in the schedule between January and February. When things do resume, it won't be easy. San Antonio, the best team in the Western Conference, will be here Tuesday, and then it's a back-to-back at Denver the next night. None of the six home games in February will be easy. It's San Antonio, Chicago, New Orleans, the Lakers, Denver, and Atlanta.
One other quick topic, while we're rolling through these things. It's made some news in NBA land.
Forbes Magazine released it's annual NBA franchise valuations. It was terrific to see the Trail Blazers all the way to #14 on the list of most valuable franchises, up from last year. It was also great to see that we're 4th in local TV ratings, which is of particular interest to me, obviously. Cleveland is still listed at #1 in local TV ratings because they're taking into account 2010, and not yet this season's numbers.
They've also factored in last year's totals when talking about player salaries. But, it's still such a positive thing to see. The Trail Blazers have been responsible with their salaries, and owner Paul Allen has continued to make aggressive investments on players.
Again, it's important to remember, when looking at these numbers, that when the numbers were totaled some of this team's key guys were still on their rookie contracts- including Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, who were extended. So, that's why the numbers look the way they do. This was also before Marcus Camby got his new deal, and before Wesley Matthews was signed.
I just think it should be pointed out that while being responsible, and with running a profitable business as a goal, Mr. Allen has cut some awfully big checks in the process. And, showing the passion that he always has, we can, of course, expect him to continue to use his resources to put a winner on the basketball court.
On to February we go.