Lillard's Second Half Extends Streak
By mikebarrett Posted in: Suns
Just as there were on Thursday night against Denver, there were some wacky stats on the final box score on Saturday night against Phoenix at the Rose Garden. And, once again, we’ve learned to disregard conventional ways of thinking about this year’s Trail Blazers.
There was only one stat that mattered when the night came to an end- Portland 96, Phoenix 93.
A homestand that started with a hideous loss to the Sacramento Kings, ended with Portland winning five-straight games to get over the .500 mark at 13-12. Considering the youth, the new pieces, the new system, and the fact that the Blazers played 12 of their first 19 games of the season on the road, that’s a more than respectable record at this point.
I usually start off these game recaps by giving credit to a person who simply pops out in my mind as deserving it the most. Tonight it’s simple- Terry Stotts. When you look at some of the combinations he’s trotting out on the floor, the faith he’s showing in some players who perhaps don’t have the track record to deserve it, and the in-game adjustments he’s making to secure these impressive wins, how can you not be impressed?
Yes, he does have the best rookie in the NBA running his system, so that makes life a little easier.
In just the 24th NBA game of his life, Damian Lillard was once again the best point guard on the floor. It’s amazing how many times we’ve said that so far this season.
What a homestand for Lillard. If the rest of the NBA hadn’t been paying attention before, they most certainly are now. Actually, to simply describe him as the best rookie point guard in the NBA doesn’t do what he’s doing justice. He’s playing like one of the best point guards in the NBA, period.
Against Phoenix on Saturday, Lillard, as he often does, felt his way around the game for the first 24 minutes. Then, suddenly, he took over. The Suns, who continually tried to double team Lillard just to get the ball out of his hands, had no way of stopping him in the fourth quarter. He ended with 25 points, 7 assists, and once again delivered in the game’s biggest moment. With Portland leading 94-91 with ;41 seconds left, Lillard shook Goran Dragic on to his heels, then stepped back and drilled an 18-footer that put Portland up 96-91.
Phoenix still had a chance to tie the game in their final possession, but Portland’s defense scrambled around the floor covering all long-range shooters, and forced a desperation three from Dragic, which was followed by a Shannon Brown short two-point shot, that would have been practically meaningless, as time ran out.
Have I mentioned JJ Hickson? Talk about a solid stretch of basketball. Hickson made it seven-straight double-doubles on Saturday night, becoming the first Blazer since Arvydas Sabonis in 1997 to post seven in a row. In this one, Hickson recorded double figures in scoring and rebounding before halftime. He ended the game with 19 points and 15 rebounds. So, in the last three games, Hickson has combined for 61 points and 49 rebounds. That has to be one of the most dominant three-game runs in franchise history.
Once again the Trail Blazers had to win playing shorthanded, something we didn’t think they’d be capable of doing just weeks ago. They beat Denver without LaMarcus Aldridge on Thursday, and only had Wesley Matthews for 9:49 of this game. Matthews, who you could argue is the heartbeat of this Portland team, missed the better part of four games on this homestand. The Blazers won all four.
Aldridge was impressive against the Suns as well. Playing on an ankle that we were sure would keep him on the bench in street clothes once again, Aldridge played over 39 minutes, and posted totals of 17 points and 9 rebounds. He didn’t have the lift on his jumper, and struggled, shooting just 5 for 15, but played solid defense and gave a warrior-type effort.
Nic Batum, who’s still playing with a very sore lower back, filled several different stat catagories once again, including turnovers, which disappointed him, but he gets a pass on this night. His 7 turnovers didn’t take much away from his overall game. He ended with 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists, nearly posting his first-career triple-double.
Now, as for the amazing numbers, the Blazers ended this game with 69 field goal attempts to Phoenix’s 89. You simply don’t win very often when your opponent gets 20 more chances to score than you do. This was due to Portland’s turnover issues. They had 22- an ugly number. The Suns took full advantage, outscoring the Blazers in points off turnovers 22 to 5. That’s another lopsided number you can’t see if you expect to win. But, they did.
One big reason why the Blazers were able to survive those totals was because of their aggressiveness at the offensive end. When they saw the outside shots weren’t falling, they went to plan B. That resulted in Portland attempting 28 free throws, to Phoenix’s 11. Portland ended with a 15-point advantage in free-throw makes.
Now it’s Sacramento again, and a chance to run the winning streak to 6. Then, it’s Sacramento again, and possibly a chance to run the streak to 7. And, they’re going to have to do it shorthanded again. Matthews didn’t make the trip with us to Sac, and will stay behind to rehab his ailing hip. The Kings, as you probably know by now, will be without their leading scorer and rebounder DeMarcus Cousins, most likely for both of the next two games.
Talk to you Sunday night. Remember, it’s an early 6pm start.
Feel free to fill in the blanks I left you, about this game, about this team, and about this streak.