mikebarrett

Jan 04

Blazers Pass Big Test in OKC

By mikebarrett

Early in a season big wins are so important in the confidence-building, and team-building departments.  If you’re a team that is still learning what it is, and what its identity will ultimately be, early success is doubly vital.  Big wins on the road are in another category completely.  That’s exactly what the Trail Blazers bagged in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.  The payoff, besides the immediate satisfaction of beating a quality team, will likely come much later.

The best part, at least according to the players, is that the Blazers have still yet to put a complete game together.  That’s coming.  But, after playing good ball for only about a quarter and a-half in L.A. on Sunday, Portland put together three very good quarters in Oklahoma and beat the Thunder 103-93.

It wasn’t four quarters of top-notch play, but it was enough on this night, and that’s saying something.  The Blazers grabbed the lead with a Marcus Camby bucket with 4:41 to go in the third quarter, and would never trail again.

Portland’s persistence paid off in this one, as they shot just 5 for 16 from the field in the first quarter.  It was acceptable though because the effort level was so much different than it was on Sunday.

In the game against the Clippers, Portland was not only missing from the field, but was turning the ball over, and seemed totally out of rhythm.  Even though the shots weren’t falling early on Tuesday, they were slowly establishing their flow and method.  The concentration level was so much better.  I don’t think Sunday was due to an apathetic attitude, but was more perhaps uncertainty over how they wanted to attack.  That, as you know, is a process, especially when you’re still learning each other.

LaMarcus Aldridge has taken many steps forward in the last couple of seasons.  Tuesday night was another big one for him personally.  He scored 30 points against a very good defender in Kendrick Perkins, a player acquired to deal with some of the better power forwards in the west.

Aldridge did this on 10 of 19 shooting, and also grabbed 8 rebounds.  Perkins, showing signs of frustration late in the game, got into Aldridge’s chest and attempted to intimidate.  It didn’t work, as Aldridge stood his ground.  Of course, you wouldn’t have wanted L.A. to do something silly at that point in the game, but believe me, Nate is absolutely fine with players doing what LaMarcus did.

After going scoreless against the Clippers on Sunday, which was very surprising, Gerald Wallace was tremendous on Tuesday night against the Thunder.  He shot only 4 of 14, and had 13 points.  But, he grabbed 10 rebounds and played terrific defense on Kevin Durant.

Wallace disrupts, as you know, and he wears you down because he makes you work for everything you get.  Yes, Durant missed some open shots that he normally puts down.  He went just 8 for 26.  But, the next time you watch these teams play each other, watch how hard Wallace makes Durant work to simply get open.  He’s as physical with him as he can possibly be, and that had Durant spending more time talking to the officials than talking to his teammates.

This was also a good bounce-back game for Portland’s backcourt.  Wesley Matthews kept Portland close in the first half, and Ray Felton played a very complete game and was under control.  That’s what McMillan wants.  Felton had 12 points, 7 assists, and just one turnover.  That’s impressive, because Russell Westbrook gets into opponents and really goes for steals.  He turns it over a lot, but he also forces a lot of turnovers.  Felton avoided that.

Along with Aldridge, the player of the game on this night for the Trail Blazers, was Nicolas Batum.  If it wasn’t Wallace hounding Durant on the defensive end, it was Batum, who is long and creates problems in a different way.  Batum also hit three big three pointers, one of them to beat the shot clock in the fourth quarter during a key Portland run with 9 minutes left.  Nic also had seven rebounds, and that’s a great sign.  That aggressiveness is what the coaching staff wants to see every night from Frenchy.

I mentioned Felton’s ability to take care of the basketball in this game, and that rubbed off on his teammates.  After turning the ball over 21 times against the Clips, which came one game after they suffered 25 turnovers against Denver, the Trail Blazers suffered only 9 against the Thunder.  That’s impressive because the Thunder are a better defensive team than either Denver or the Clips.

So, the Blazers, who are still in this developmental mode, make their first road win of the season a very quality road win.  We said before the game that this would be a good measuring stick for this Portland team.  And, through five games (and it’s only five games), Portland sits atop the Western Conference.  Clearly, the schedule has been pretty kind so far, and things will only get tougher, but that’s a solid start.

Next up, it’s the Lakers on Thursday night at the Rose Garden, a game that will be on TNT.  After that game we’ll fly to Phoenix and will take on the Suns on Friday night.

If you were in a wait-and-see mode with the Blazers, what did this win do for you?  Do you chalk it up to the Thunder being tired and coming off a tough loss at Dallas the night before?  Or, was this an example of Portland passing a big road test early in the season, and an indicator of what’s to come?

Let’s hear it.   

19 Comments

  1. MB - it was exactly what I wanted to see from the Blazers. The lack of intensity, effort, urgency, etc. playing the Clippers was not fun to watch. If the Blazers play every game like they played in OKC...win or lose I would be a very satisfied fan!

    by Suzy-Q on 1/4/2012 10:34 AM
  2. Hey Mike, What a game, I only got to watch the first half, but it was IMO, a good game from start to finish.

    I'll disagree with you on playing hard for only 3 quarters. I feel they played hard the whole game, Maybe the first quarter shots wasn't going in, but if you realize that if they got that many fouls called on them the first quarter, there were many many more that wasn't called. A good qter doesn't always show up on the score board, It took the first quarter to wear Durant down and get into his head. Remember this is not the first game that we have slowed down Durant to almost nothing. Although they beat us on the score board, we were beating them everywhere else except points in the paint, but that was because the fouled us everytime we stepped there. Therefore that is misleading.

    Of course it is early in the season, and we will have some tough periods, but building up confidence and cohesion by taking advantage of the schedule is not to shabby. Going into the meat of the schedule with some wins and confidence will go a long way with fighting fatigue. Maybe OKC was tired, so what, there is no pity for Oklahoma city from me. When we get in our tough schedule, Everybody will be trying to rip Ripcity.

    Looking forward to tomorrow night. I don't see it as a win or a loss, I see it as an opportunity to get better. Hey wins builds up my confidence too, I think we can take the Lakers at home. Along with your stats of Portland always plays good on TNT, and Lakers don't play so hot in Portland, PLUS, ARE YOU READY FOR THIS, I think from top to bottom and that includes coaching we are far better then the Lakers. We can bully their bully, bang on their super star, Play tough with their back court, and match them on depth, and beat them on transition Baskets.

    My wife says I have to shut up to go to work, and I don't want Ancientone to gain his wt back to quick since it is going to be a great long season. As in the NBA championship long.

    by Hg on 1/4/2012 10:38 AM
  3. We were focused and energetic. Anytime we play like that we'll get a win or we at least can be proud of their effort.

    by Ancientone on 1/4/2012 1:11 PM
  4. Any night O.K.C. doesn't get 50 points combined from Durant and Westbrook they will struggle to win. I liked Portland's plan to get the ball to Wallace in the low post to help weaken Durant's legs by making him play defense. That probably had as much to do with Durant missing open shots as them playing in Dallas the night before. Portland's dominant team rebounding has been impressive this year. Points may come difficultly against Mike Brown's defense, so this Lakers game will be a big test on the boards for Portland. I know Camby will battle Bynum and Gasol, but it would be nice to get 10 rebounds from LaMarcus.

    by C. Larry on 1/4/2012 1:58 PM
  5. Hey... first post here. I was very pleased with the defense of the Blazers and it should be a huge boost in confidence. When a good team loses I always expect them to come out play extra tough to get back on track, so I frankly thought PDX was in trouble, so no excuses for OKC. It was a good win and an good indicator of how good the Blazers are. Rip City!

    by mgj541 on 1/4/2012 2:47 PM
  6. BIG TIME WIN .The blazers really showed who they are by beating what is arguably by most prognosticators the team to be in the Western Conference Finals....And....IN THEIR HOUSE...I am really starting to like Felton more and more.He is relentlesly sneaky.....kind of like a faster better shooting Dre......
    Still can't believe a #Sarge #Blazers team is 4th in the league in scoring.I think that is hilarious .
    All I know is that I am super excited about this team.I f we beat the Lakers too,I might just go bloggerama like the old days :)
    BlazersROCK

    by DowntownVinnie on 1/4/2012 3:41 PM
  7. This was the first game I felt good about having Felton and Crawford on the team. I still am not sold on either, but can see some potential if they can both control their need to be "the man". Nic Batum is too good a player to sit on the bench the whole 3rd Qtr. as he did against OKC. Any other team, he'd be a starter. I am so afraid Nate will mess around and lose a player who could make a huge difference between the Blazers being an "also ran" and "a contender".

    by DeVinMzM on 1/4/2012 3:56 PM
  8. Oh what a game. I was incredibly ill on Sunday night which led into Monday night making me think I should pay a visit to the hospital, but good old Western Medicine with some rest helped me survive (Sprite and Jello). I can tell you one thing that didn't help was the Blazers playing so foul on Sunday, which had me fuming badly. I had a little bit of a drama fest on my Twitter account but once I cooled off there was one thing I said, "I would rather lose to the Clips and beat OKC than beat the Clips and lose to OKC". So, that happened, and I'm satisfied. In fact, I'm proud, because the only way we lost to the Clippers was because we came out flat footed and played terrible, and CP3 needed a miracle 3 to give the Clippers back the momentum while up only 4. The thing I enjoyed was hearing LaMarcus Aldridge's interview with you after the game Mike. He said he was annoyed after that loss because the Blazers are "Definitely the better team". It's nice hearing that from your All-Star who has been called soft his entire career, and he said it as a fact, not to boast. That to me shows that LaMarcus wants it, and after hearing all the players talk about the team, they all are willing to follow LaMarcus and achieving it.

    Mike, I have to ask you the same question you're asking us. I asked you before the season if the Blazers are up there with Elite teams. I believe you said, "Not quite, but better than experts are putting them". Now experts are quickly thinking "Oh wow, we were completely stupid, maybe Portland can win the West?". Are you thinking this team is elite now? Because I sure as hell do. I even did before last nights game, but, yes, I know its early, but after that win, I think it showed that the Blazers can compete with OKC for FIRST seed and the NW Division title AND can compete in the West.

    The main question now is, does it get harder or does it get easier on Thursday? Playing at home against the Lakers has always been sweet, sweet music to my ears since we dominate those fools everytime. But, Bynum has been beasting ever since coming back (although, hasn't had much competition since the toughest player he went against was Dalembert). It seems like most of what has been working for the Lakers, the Blazers have a quick answer for. Their best players have been Bynum and Blake. I'm already ready to pop open the Champagne bottles.

    I hate saying it, since I'm a huge Blazer fan, but this team just looks so much better than teams like last years, 2 years ago, and 3 years ago. This team just looks complete. We're nearly 2 deep in every position and have great defense, great offense, and 6 players on the All-Star ballot. This team could compete for a championship this season.

    There is also reports that Z-Bo is out for 8 weeks. Ginobli out for 8 weeks. I also don't consider the Mavs as much as a threat since it'll be hard for them to compete in a tight schedule with their age. I also don't consider Denver as a team that will win many games. And the Lakers... again... their best players atm are Steve Blake and Andrew Bynum. If they picked up Howard, they'd have to give up more than Bynum imo. I just don't see how the Blazers cannot make the playoffs with home court advantage. There isn't much competition in the West, and it isn't a fluke that the Blazers are first in the West.

    by Herr on 1/4/2012 4:18 PM
  9. I have been in the wait-and-see mode. When we brought in the free agents I got really excited. Added to the roster we already had, I felt we improved 100% from the last few years. I wanted to contain my excitement for fear of being blinded by Blazer pride. Heck with that. This is a really good team. Emphasis on TEAM.
    Quote of the year so far. Raymond said, "My jersey doesn't say Felton on the front, it says Blazers".
    Average teams with great chemistry have done great things.
    Bring on the Lakers. Make them fakers. GO BLAZERS!!!

    by Divotking on 1/4/2012 5:32 PM
  10. Mike you mentioned "persistence". How valuable can that be in a play-off series.

    by Divotking on 1/4/2012 5:36 PM
  11. I want to give Nate some praise. Who says old dogs can't learn new tricks. Nate has changed to a style of play that no one would call Nate ball in the past. Offensively. Defense is Nate ball. He appears to have a good feel for this team. I think he is all in with the tempo. I've heard a few people question if he will slip back to controlling play on the floor. I don't think so. He has players throughout the roster he trusts. He is not "overcoaching". This might be the defensive team Nate has always wanted.

    by Divotking on 1/4/2012 7:44 PM
  12. Yea verily, Divotking -- Nate has shown he can change to suit his team's strengths!

    I also commend him for finally ridding himself of rigid substitution patterns and sticking with what's working, as he did in both the 3rd and 4th quarters. In each quarter he had five guys out there who were working well as a unit, so he left them in for nearly the entire quarter. What's even neater about this is that they were a different five in each quarter. With this kind of depth, no one should have to play so many minutes that they tire before playoff time.

    Hard not to get giddy over this team. but it's only five games...
    --
    dg

    by dgpdx on 1/4/2012 8:53 PM
  13. Great great win!!! I agree with Herr, it's better losing to the clips (knowing like LA said that their the better team) and winning against the Thunder. The next month should give this team confidence. Herr pointed out the factors of various stars (Manu, Zbo) being out for several weeks and that should give us leverage. Lakers beat a confusing Rockets team last night with Bynum going 20/20 but could he get that against the clips, mavs or thunder? blazers???? i don't think so. Every year Portland smashes this Lakers team. i'm over-confident with this team and i am thrilled with everything so far. Another big win coming thurs!! and the media is going to grab hold of the fact that this team is SCARY!

    by Ballinrotation365 on 1/4/2012 9:32 PM
  14. well done blazers!

    by thedanman on 1/4/2012 9:57 PM
  15. great blog, MB. i didn't get to watch/listen to this game and wow; i should have. the boxscore never tells the whole story, but from it, i can tell that everyone contributed to this win.

    since i was unable to follow the game, i'm going to utilize this space to answer the questions you posed at the end of the blog.

    in a general sense, i feel like we're always in a wait-and-see mode. that's not to say i'm not completely thrilled with this win, but with the ups and downs of the season, we never know what to expect. i guess what i'm saying is that i could say right now that i'm satisfied, but then we could go out and lay a goose egg against an upcoming opponent and i'd have to slip back into wait and see. you never know what's going to come up during a game which you're supposed to win (i.e. i'm satisfied with Stanford's performance in the fiesta bowl, but i still have to wait and see if the coach is going to make the bonehead move of putting the game on the foot of a freshman rather than the arm/brain of the best qb in college football).

    is the win over the thunder a step in the right direction? absolutely, especially on their court. what would be even better is if we can string it together tonight with a win over the lakers. you put a couple games against tough opponents together, and you're going to start convincing me that we're arriving (put three or four of those together and you may just convince me that we have arrived).

    the thunder were tired, but you know what, we've been tired on back to backs and we have a pretty darn decent record for it over the past couple of years. i don't think that's an excuse for the thunder. it's part of the game and you have to play through it. if they want to say they're tired on the second night of a double-back, then they clearly don't deserve to be considered elite.

    our guys are still getting used to playing alongside each other, but are making great progress. i've been telling ppeople since training camp that, as a whole, it seemed like our guys were in really good shape coming in. i still believe that. we've got the talent (six of our players are on the all-star ballot, and Jamal would be the seventh if he hadn't signed after the ballots were created, according to what he tweeted last night).

    we passed a big test, and i'm becoming more confident in this team, but i'm still in wait and see.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 1/5/2012 9:02 AM
  16. great game Blazers!!! now beat the lakers!!!!

    by Miller on 1/5/2012 9:25 AM
  17. Kassandra:
    I've been waiting for you to get back from LA. How was your trip?
    The Blazers are still under the radar, if we put 3 or 4 games together the rest of the league will definitely take note as you would, then things would get more complicated, as in the Clippers game. They wanted that game more then we did or we would have won.

    You should be at peace because IMO, we played 48 minutes.

    by Hg on 1/5/2012 9:48 AM
  18. 5-1, well done. Bring on the Suns. Lets have some fun.

    by Divotking on 1/5/2012 11:03 PM
  19. Hg: i came back during the wee ours of the 4th, snuck in and my parents never knew i was gone! lol

    we had a great time. Julie tried to teach me how to surf and i got up there a couple times. new year's was great. the end of the fiesta bowl, not so great.up here through the weekend, then i drive back down to school.

    i think we'll be fine. this is the time the team must play as well as it can since it's really the easier part of our schedule. we're looking pretty good. i really want to pick up this win tonight over phoenix.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 1/6/2012 10:15 AM
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