A Statement Win in Miami
The eyes of the nation were on the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night in Miami. Okay, the amazing build up to this game had a lot more to do with the Heat than the Blazers.
Most of the talk, all afternoon long, was about how this would be a get-well game for Miami, and how they would grind the Trail Blazers into dog meat. How Portland was catching Miami at a bad time, how their win over the Magic was hollow because Dwight Howard didn't play, and how the big three would flex and impose their will.
If you got sick of hearing that over and over again, you're not alone. The Blazer players listened to every bit of that talk, and took it upon themselves to do a little flexing of their own. In a win that goes down as the game of the season so far, the Trail Blazers stood toe to toe with Miami, took the body blows, and lived to tell about it.
And, regardless of what you hear, the Heat didn't play a bad game. They shot 51 percent and got a combined 69 points between Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, who were as determined as heck to snap their four-game losing skid. Wade even said after the game that his team played well, and almost even gave the Trail Blazers a little credit. Almost.
Nationally (not that it should really matter), the only story being told is the one involving Miami's sudden struggles. What we know, in our part of the country, is that Miami happened to run into a hot team, playing with a ton of confidence, and a new attitude.
Winning in Orlando and Miami, on back-to-back nights, is one heck of an accomplishment, and a big-time statement.
The fear going into this one was that Miami would try and immediately blow Portland's doors off early in this game. But, it was the Blazers who established their tempo, got into a quick flow offensively, and even early, were answering every Miami move. You know what was glaring in this game? The Blazer coaching staff put together one heck of a game plan. That doesn't always leap out at you, but it did in this game. More on Nate in a moment.
The Trail Blazers took a six-point lead to the locker room at halftime, and probably felt the lead should have been a little larger. I know that's odd to say, considering Miami shot 58 percent from the field in the first half. But, Portland just looked like the better team, and looked to be in control. In fact, they did hold a lead through 98 percent of this game.
In the third quarter Miami continued to threaten to rip off huge runs. But, every time they got momentum, and got the crowd in the game, the Blazers would answer. They'd come up with a big shot, a big blocked shot, or force a turnover.
In the fourth, Heat fans were feeling like things had finally turned. With 4:35 left, LeBron James threw down a monster jam, and the Heat got to within 91-89. But, right after that, Gerald Wallace took LeBron to the rack and scored. After the heat cut the lead to 93-91, Brandon Roy buried a deep three pointer to make it 96-91 with 3:25 left. After a defensive stop, Andre Miller drove the lane and scored. After Miller drew an offensive foul, LaMarcus Aldridge hit a baseline jumper, and that made it 100-91.
You knew the Heat wouldn't roll over, and they came right back with a Wade three pointer. But, again, that was answered quickly by a Wesley Matthews deep three, at the shot-clock buzzer, that made the score 103-94. It was the dagger, and the biggest shot of the night. Perhaps one of the biggest shots of the year. Remember, he hit the dagger three against Orlando on Monday night.
It was tough to pick a player of the game after this one. Aldridge was his usual brilliant self, scoring 26 points. Brandon was very clutch, once again, and hit his biggest shot of the season- the three pointer that pushed it back to a five-point lead. Matthews was good, and Andre was fantastic. But, folks, we've got something with Wallace. He's a beast. And, beastly attitudes are contagious. He had 22 points, 9 rebounds, and countless hustle plays. He also played solid defense on LeBron, when it was clear LeBron had decided to take over the game.
That's seven-straight road wins. It's the first time the Blazers have done that since 1991. This team is different now, and it certainly appears that attitude is here to stay. I interviewed Wallace after the game, and tried to get him to admit how good this felt. All he could talk about was how the team had to stay focused, and how the goal here is a 4-0 road trip, not just a win in Miami. Exactly what I, and I imagine you, wanted to hear.
That's also four-straight wins in Miami, and 8 of the last 10 in this building. For whatever reason, the Blazers always seem to play well at American Airlines Center. In this city, Portland is now 15-9 all time.
To listen to McMillan's post game comments, click here
Congratulations to Nate, by the way, on his two-year contract extension. It's very well deserved, and the Trail Blazers are in very good hands. He was very happy, and looked very relaxed when we did our pre-game interview. Perhaps it was the contract. Or, perhaps he knew what was to come. He was presented with an offer on Tuesday morning, and quickly accepted.
It was a great start to the day. It didn't end badly either.