Feb 02

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.


  1. Hey Mike: I rushed out and got my work done, because I knew you would be Blogging; As usual quite a game. I have been preaching all fall that if the Starters can keep playing without serious injuries, by all star break our new players would start gelling. Maybe it will happen.

    @Sarahacht; I Know you read Mike's blog, I want to thank you for answering my question yesterday on your show, but you didn't read my mind. You had been talking about getting into the play-offs with a win or two over the Jazz, and my mind simply started working and I thought OH NO, we would have to play OKC, unless their bickering dropped them down a notch, Now if Durant is hurt badly. maybe they will drop and we could get to play someone else. Yes I know, I get way ahead of myself.

    by Hg on 2/2/2013 11:43 PM
  2. @HG, ah! I didn't think about it like that. That's a very good point and definitely something to consider. And you're not the only one thinking about the playoffs already, the studio crew from NBATV interviewed Damian after the game and they think we're in the early fight!

    by sarahhecht on 2/2/2013 11:47 PM
  3. I'm delighted that the bench came through tonight. It's when injuries open serious playing time that you really find out what players can do. Which means, I guess, that I have to hope we don't find out what Joel Freeland can really do, because that would imply major down time for LaMarcus. On the other hand, LA's jumper has been off for two nights in a row. If that's because he's getting worn down by all the minutes he's been playing, we may not have to worry about the play-offs by the time this road trip is over. I'm sure everyone noticed that the familiar comeback script Friday night had an unfamiliar ending in part because LA missed a pair of free throws, then a lay-up then one of those short jumpers he hits at about his free-throw percentage. Remember how all he could say after his two big shots for the miracle win against Dallas was "I'm tired." A long tough road trip isn't a great place to get your energy back. So maybe I'm wrong, and what we really do need is for LaMarcus to get a minor injury with no long-term consequences and sit out for a three-game stretch where the odds are against us anyway. Or maybe Terry Stotts should pull a Popovich and send him home from this trip a game or two early so he gets the kind of rest he needs over the All-Star break. Which reminds me, if the NBA is going to fine coaches who decide to rest their stars for the sake of better long-term chances to win a championship, shouldn't baseball fine all those teams who sit their ace starters after they clinch the division, so as to set up rotations for the playoffs, and the NFL do the same to those teams that give the back-up quarterback a start after their play-off berths are set, just to avoid injury before the big game? How is what Popovich sometimes does any different, except that he's got the foresight to pick those spots earlier? Why on earth do you fine a guy for being a braver and more innovative coach than his peers? I'm glad we've finally got a coach brave enough to give his bench players minutes when the game is on the line, as he did tonight with Nolan, and I hope he's also smart enought to start thinking about the long-term effect of riding his starters so hard, and ways to lighten their load.

    by David Maclaine on 2/3/2013 12:27 AM
  4. I am so happy for Nolan, I am so happy for Nolan, he did a terrific job tonight.
    I read a lot of comments on BE and they are down on Nolan pretty bad, of course they get down on almost all Trailblazers, the FO, the announcers and who ever else might make the headlines.

    I thank you for giving him props, Mike.

    by Hg on 2/3/2013 12:30 AM
  5. Hg, so what if we have to play OKC, we'll just kick their butts! Concede nothing! GO BLAZERS!!

    by mgb on 2/3/2013 1:50 AM
  6. @mgb: Hey Buddy long time. Of course you are right, but retired idle minds tends to wonder, I really wouldn't care who we played, as long as these young-uns got there. If Duncan is hurt for long and Durant is hurt for long and CP3 is out for long, we would have to play the Grizzlies as it stands now, but with their new players they may take a dip and we may end up playing ourselves, because I think we will over take Denver and Houston.

    See what wondering minds can come up with.

    Good to hear from you buddy


    by Hg on 2/3/2013 4:33 AM
  7. Terry Sotts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Go Blazers!!!

    by thedanman on 2/3/2013 7:16 AM
  8. Another great WIN!!!
    I really like how Terry Stotts plays this game.
    He always keeps us guessing and I'm sure the opposing coach as well.
    When you think you know what he's going to do, he does something else. That to me is a sign of a good coach. I am glad our bench is producing. Those guys have desire and you can never discount desire. Love me some Trailblazers!

    by allie-oop on 2/3/2013 8:13 AM
  9. I hope the loss in Utah doesn't deture Rice from wearing the red blazer on this road trip. I think if you'd been wearing YOUR red blazer Mr. Barrett... we might have won in Utah! Don't you guys coordinate your clothes for Blazer broadcast date nights? ; )

    by Blazer Fanatic on 2/3/2013 8:32 AM
  10. Hey Mike, that "nightmare" run you're referring to about Nolan Smith wasn't against Washington. It was against Milwaukee.

    by Shem on 2/3/2013 9:27 AM
  11. The 2013 Trailblazers are why I come back to the NBA year after year.

    thedanman; Yes

    by Divotking on 2/3/2013 10:40 AM
  12. Great article as usual. Really happy to see the bench step it up and build a lead. Also think Victor Claver played great defense in the 1st qtr. Hope it's a sign of things to come! I'm more and more impressed with coach Stotts. Hg, Nolan brought the criticism on himself by poor play when he had opportunities, last night he played well and it's great to see but it's still one game and let's hope it continues.

    by riverman on 2/3/2013 11:57 AM
  13. If reports are true, Olshey is standing pat. He is practicing what he has been preaching. Patience. I like it. The future is bright.

    by Divotking on 2/4/2013 11:17 AM
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