Blazers Breakthrough by the Bay
Okay, so explaining away Tuesday night just got more difficult. And, Wednesday night was proof once again that the entire practice of trying to predict what is going to happen in the NBA is fruitless.
There was really only one thing that did hold completely true, stat wise, in the game against the Warriors- when the Blazers lead after three quarters chalk up a win. When they trail after three quarters, run and hide. If you were wondering why we were calling the final seconds of the third quarter like it was the end of the game, that was the reason. I had just given that stat on the broadcast, and you don’t mess with a trend. Yes, the Trail Blazers are now 16-1when leading after the third quarter. They are 0-12 when trailing.
So, AT HOME, the Blazers give up 124 points to the Wizards, who are averaging just 90 points per game on the season. Then, 24 hours later, on THE ROAD, they hold the NBA’s 4th highest-scoring team to 91 points. They lose to the Wizards, a team they’ve dominated in recent years, and then without their leading scorer and all-star, they beat the Warriors in Oakland for only the second time in the last 13 years.
Perhaps most importantly, the Trail Blazers won in a game that was decided by five points or less for the first time since opening night. Knowing that they were 1-9 in those situations, and having so many heartbreaking finishes fresh in our minds, it actually seemed a little surprising that Brandon Rush missed a three pointer which would have won the game for the Warriors. But, to win on the road, in this league, you have to get some breaks. Finally, the Trail Blazers did.
With Aldridge watching the game on TV from Portland, the Trail Blazers had to dig deep. Golden State came into the game playing their best basketball of the season. They had won three in a row, and five of their last seven. The thought was, if the lowly Wizards could torch Portland from the field all night, the Warriors were liable to score 150 points and shoot 80 percent. The difference was, obviously, defense.
It wasn’t like the Warriors didn’t shoot well in this game in the first half. It was pretty amazing that they shot 56 percent in the first half, and trailed, on their home court. Portland then tightened the screws. They clamped down and held the Warriors to 14 for 37 shooting in the second half, and just 37 points.
Portland, meanwhile, did what they had to do offensively to win this game. They ground out points any way they could. They shot just 41 percent from the field. They got to the foul line. They won battles for loose balls. And, after being outrebounded by the Warriors 15 to 5 after the first quarter, the Blazers end up winning the rebounding battle 41-39.
Gerald Wallace normally gets his points on the break, or by driving down the left side of the lane in traffic. Going into this game he was a 23% three-point shooter on the season. But, adding to the many oddities of the last two nights, he went four for four from behind the arc in this one. Wallace led Portland with 24 points, and was also a perfect 8 for 8 from the free-throw line.
Jamal Crawford though hit the shot of the night. With Portland trailing by two with just over a minute left, Crawford stuck a long three pointer over his former high-school teammate Nate Robinson. That gave Portland a 91-90 lead. Afterward Crawford thought back to that exact same shot that he missed on Saturday in Dallas that would have won that game. But, the important thing was that he hit this one, and helped Portland rally for the win. They were down, after all, 86-81 with just over three minutes left.
The Trail Blazers have been searching for a big road win, and something to build their shaken confidence in close games. Perhaps this is it. They have beaten the Lakers in L.A. more often than they’ve beaten the Warriors in Oakland in the last six years. In other words, this was very significant. And, to do it without their star, meant even more. As my esteemed partner said on our pregame show before the game, sometimes injuries are a blessing in disguise. It’s not that you ever want someone to get hurt, but it can challenge a team in a way that’s tough to duplicate otherwise.
For the first time in a while, they passed this test, in a hostile environment, in a close game.