Blazers Close 2012 With a Win
By mikebarrett Posted in: Sixers
Nic Batum showed his defensive versatility, once again, and then got offensive in the fourth quarter, leading the Trail Blazers to a 89-85 victory over the Philadelphia 76'ers on Saturday night at the Rose Garden. Not only is the streak of seven-straight home wins impressive, but Portland closes the month of December with a 9-4 mark, following a 5-10 November.
This was a defensive, hard-fought game most of the way. That's what we expected, as Philadelphia is in the top ten in the NBA in many defensive categories. The Blazers' 89 points was their lowest point total, in a win, this season.
Both the Blazers and the Sixers played on Friday night, and both had to travel to Portland from California. As I mentioned several times on the TV broadcast, the Blazers appeared the be the team showing obvious signs of fatigue in the second half. Philly's defense had something to do with it, but nothing was coming easy for Portland, and the Blazers were having a ton of trouble dealing with Jrue Holiday, who put up 27 points through three quarters.
Then, Terry Stotts' switch of Batum onto Holiday began to pay off for Portland. Damian Lillard was struggling to stay with Holiday at times, and Batum's length, along with Philadelphia's small lineup, made it possible for Portland to make the switch. Batum held Holiday to just two points in the fourth quarter, on 1 for 5 shooting.
Batum, who has concentrated so much on being a distributor in recent games, needed to get more aggressive offensively, and ended up with 22 points. As he has been doing lately, he filled other stat categories as well, grabbing 7 rebounds and dishing out 8 assists.
Lillard had a strange stat line, for him. He scored 20 points, including 8 in the fourth quarter, but ended the game without a single assist. He stopped by our broadcast table on his way off the floor at the end, rolled his eyes, and said, "Not one assist? Not one, single assist?" He was obviously happy with the win, but also prides himself on involving his teammates. It wasn't totally his fault, as quirky things have to happen for a point guard not to get a single assist in a game. And, this was a quirky game at times.
JJ Hickson, who had his streak of nine-consecutive double-doubles snapped against the Lakers on Friday, will perhaps now begin a new streak. He bounced back nicely, scoring 16 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. And, LaMarcus Aldridge ended with 16 points.
The one guy who had a profound impact on this game, who's stat line doesn't jump off the page at you, is Ronnie Price. He played 20 minutes, and turned in a game-changing performance on defense. Because Philly goes small, Price and Lillard were able to play at the same time for extended periods in the second half. Price ended with 3 steals, and had several hustle plays that kept the Sixers from getting over the hump.
The only negative on the night was Meyers Leonard badly spraining his right ankle in the second half. The post-game x-ray showed that it was "just" a bad sprain. That doesn't mean it won't keep him out for a while, but considering what we've been through in this city, it could have been a lot worse. Leonard won't travel with us when we fly to New York on Sunday.
The main goal, as I was reminded by Stotts before the game when I brought up the road trip, was simply protecting the home court and getting a win. The Blazers did that. Now, we can focus on the trip. It will be brutally tough.
It starts with New York on New Year's Day, and then on the next night we'll play the suddenly-surging Toronto Raptors. This is not the same Toronto team the Blazers handled with ease at the Rose Garden earlier this month. They are rolling. Then, we'll play the Grizzlies in Memphis (have you looked at their record?), and finally the trip ends in Minneapolis against the Timberwolves, who are getting healthy.
Talk to you from the road.