Bench Keys Win Over Utah
By mikebarrett Posted in: Jazz
You wouldn't think that two games, played between the same two teams, just 24 hours apart, would be so different. But, that's the NBA. It's all about adjustments, and reacting to adjustments.
Playing the second of this back-to-back set, I partly expected Blazers coach Terry Stotts to go a bit conservative, and simply go with what seemed to be effective in Utah on Friday night. That would have been leaning on the zone defense, keeping a controlled pace, and really going hard with the regular contributors.
But, he didn't.
Stotts instead decided to increase the pace of the game, threw multiple defensive looks at the Jazz, and he went deep into his bench and trusted guys who haven't necessarily always proven themselves as dependable role players.
There were some strange numbers on the final stat sheet. Utah only turned the ball over five times in the entire game, got 15 more shot attempts than Portland, and shot 42 percent from three-point range. The Blazers outscored Utah in the paint (which doesn't happen often), outrebounded them by 12, and had to fight through 16 turnovers.
And, yes, the Blazers had to dig out of a double-digit second-half deficit to win. But, that's actually the least surprising number of the night. Portland is a come-from-behind team, as you know very well by now.
The most important number, of course, was the final score. The Blazers beat the Jazz 105-99, and climbed back over the .500 mark at 24-23.
The Blazers thought, perhaps, before the game that Wesley Matthews would try and go on the very sore ankle he sprained Friday night in Salt Lake City. But, after trying it in warm ups, Matthews realized he'd be hurting the team if he had pushed it. So, it became clear the rotation would be much different. For a while this had Portland way out of sync, as we saw units together on the floor that had never played together this season.
But, as the game wore on, the Blazers settled down, got more comfortable, and started getting production from just about everyone they tried in the game.
It always makes for a good story when a player redeems himself in a big-time situation. I spent a lot of time talking about Nolan Smith during this broadcast because Nolan recently had a nightmare run for the Blazers in the home game against Washington. I absolutely love Nolan, so this made it easy to talk about.
Smith, getting minutes because of Ronnie Price's ankle injury on Friday night, played probably the best game of his Portland career in this game. He had 13 points off the bench, including two huge fourth-quarter three pointers, and had several very nice defensive plays.
I not only credit Nolan for keeping his head up and maintaining his confidence, but I credit Stotts for going right back to him, with the memory of that Washington game fresh in everyone's minds. Not only did he stay with Smith after he had a bad turnover in his first few minutes of the game, but he rode Smith down the stretch, into, and through crunch time.
Also coming up big off the bench were Luke Babbitt and Will Barton. The Blazers don't win this game without those two guys either. Babbitt, who was forced to guard power forwards and centers in this game, had eight points, five rebounds, and one big blocked shot on Paul Millsap in the fourth quarter. Barton ended with seven points and three rebounds.
How crazy is it that I've gotten this deep into thoughts on this game and haven't mentioned a single starter? Yes, Portland's bench outscored Utah's bench in this contest.
As for the big guns, LaMarcus Aldridge had another double-double, scoring 18 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. JJ Hickson recorded his 26th double-double, going for 21 and 11. Damian Lillard, who scored 26 at Utah Friday, had 23 points and 8 assists in this game. And, Nic Batum was one assist away from his third triple-double in the last 13 days, scoring 12 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and dishing out 9 assists.
This win was big because it was against a NW Division rival, because it snapped a five-game losing skid to the Jazz, and because Sunday we head out on a six-game road trip. But, mostly it was big because the Trail Blazers found yet another way to win- they went deep. They leaned on their bench and the reserves came through.
Talk to you from Minneapolis on Monday.