Blazers Step on the Gas
Thursday night at the Rose Garden reminded me a lot of the Mike Tyson/Marvis Frazier fight back in '86. I bought the pay-per-view, had the food spread all ready, and in 30 seconds Tyson had Frazier on his back in the middle of the ring. See ya. My pizza hadn't even arrived yet, and my friends were still on the way over.
Fortunately, for paying customers of the NBA, these games run on a clock. So, we still got to watch quite a display of Trail Blazers basketball for the 46 minutes after
this game ended. And, following the nail-biting drama we saw on Tuesday night, I'm not sure anyone was complaining.
Nate McMillan did his best to preach over and over again about the dangers of a let down, following a big win like they had over Dallas. He had very recent evidence to use in his argument- the Charlotte game. How ever else he chose to make his point, his players obviously got it, and responded to it.
This game was tied 2-2. That's about all the drama we had on this night. What followed, was a 22-0 Portland run. After that, Cleveland scored another basket. Then the Blazers went on a 9-0 run. So, it was 33-4 and we thought we could see chalupas handed out in the first half, for the first time ever.
The Blazers shot 70 percent in that first half, going 16 for 23. But, that's not what was impressive. What really made McMillan happy was the end-to-end, scrappy defense the Blazers slapped on the Cavaliers. This is what Nate had in mind when he put Gerald Wallace in the starting lineup. He disrupts, he hounds, he frustrates, and it's contagious. You want to be a fast-break team? Play defense like this.
Cleveland was smothered off the jump in this game and shot just 2-14 in the first quarter. They simply couldn't get an open look. After being held to 31 percent shooting in the first half, the Cavs weren't let off the hook in the third quarter. The Blazers jumped all over them again after halftime, and held them to 4 for 18 shooting in that third.
It was 89-45 after the third. A 44-point lead for the home team, and time to coast to the finish line. What's strange is, we were just talking before the game about how this Portland team really doesn't blow many teams out. Their largest-margin of victory, before this game, had been a 26-point win over Milwaukee. They won this one by 41, the second-largest margin of defeat for the poor Cavs. They fell to the Lakers by 55 this season.
One of my favorite lines from Harlem Nights is when Jack Jenkins, the heavyweight champ, tells Kirkpatrick, the challenger, before the fight begins, "don't take this *ss whoopin personally." In other words, this wasn't about the Cavaliers, and their struggles this season. This was about the Trail Blazers proving something to themselves.
LaMarcus Aldridge, who wasn't even a huge part of the early barrage, finished with a double-double, scoring 20 and grabbing 11 rebounds. Wallace had 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. Most of what made Wallace so dominating doesn't even show up on the stat sheet. Nicolas Batum had 14, and Wesley Matthews had 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists.
The best news, other than the final score, was the fact that Aldridge only had to play 29 minutes. Brandon Roy played just 14, and Andre played 26. Rudy Fernandez, who played 27 minutes off the bench, had another great game, scoring 13 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals.
To listen to Nate McMillan's post-game comments, click here.
It isn't this easy most nights, so take this for what it was. Saturday night, the Blazers host one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76'ers. Then, on Sunday night, Portland takes on the Lakers in L.A. That makes Saturday night's game huge. But, I guess they're all huge now.
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Talk to you Saturday night.