A Front-Line Loaded Victory
By mikebarrett Posted in: Pistons
The key in the NBA seems simply to have an answer for what your opponent presents. We like to use the "pick your poison" cliche.
Of course, it doesn't always work. But, in the end it's about adjustments and getting players to step up when other things you like to do are taken away. For example, if an opponent decides they're going to concentrate heavily on taking Damian Lillard away, it's on Portland to find another way to be effective. You'd like to be able to say, in each game, if you take one thing away we're just going to hit you with something else.
When it became clear early in this game that Jose Calderon was about to catch a cold from the breeze Lillard was creating by moving by him, the Pistons decided that their best chance to win was to load up on Lillard and take their chances with everyone else. That's when LaMarcus Aldridge and JJ Hickson punched the clock and came to work.
Just the threat of Lillard on the perimeter started to expose huge holes down low, and the Blazers were able to take full advantage.
Aldridge, who had a very solid game against New York on Thursday, posted 31 points and pulled down 11 rebounds against the Pistons. He was especially effective late, as the Pistons, to their credit, wouldn't go quietly. While Aldridge was scoring on the pretty moves, Hickson was doing the dirty work. He ended the game with 18 points and 15 rebounds, also picking up a double-double.
It was the 37th double-double of the season for Hickson, and the 31st for Aldridge. No other two teammates in the NBA have combined for 68 double-doubles this season.
Even though Lillard saw his streak of games of 20 or more points end at eight, it wasn't like he didn't put together a productive night. The league's best rookie ended with a hard-earned 14 points, and dished out 7 assists.
Nic Batum also was big for the Blazers, scoring 17 points, grabbing 5 rebounds, and handed out 6 assists. On Thursday Batum showed he's starting to block his sore wrist out of his mind, and was aggressive again against Detroit. Even if he doesn't make them, Batum absolutely has to shoot, or look for his shot, and when he's making them that's a big bonus. Wesley Matthews added 17 points, as one again all five starters were in double figures.
The star off the bench, on this night, was Joel Freeland, who continues to show that given an opportunity he'll produce. Freeland got some early action after Aldridge picked up his second foul, and finished with 8 points and 4 rebounds in his 10 minutes of action. That's efficient play, and something he's capable of doing more often.
Defensively, this was not a gem for the Trail Blazers, as they allowed the Pistons to shoot 53 percent for the game. Even though they've only won 23 games, Detroit came in a very decent 15-8 on the season when scoring 100 or more. They got 101 in this one, but were still beaten.
It also wasn't as comfortable a win as the Blazers would have liked. It looked to be headed that way, but the Pistons got a season-high from Eastern Washington's Rodney Stuckey, who scored 32, and that was enough to keep them in the game. After the Blazers appeared to have things locked up, leading 99-87, the Pistons reeled off 10-straight points out of a time out, and got the fans nervous. But, the Blazers then went on a 10-2 run, highlighted by a Batum three pointer and put the game away.
It was the 31st win of the season for the Blazers, and even they are still facing very long odds of qualifying for the post season, remain in the conversation.
Now, things really get tough. On Sunday we'll fly to Philadelphia, and on Monday take on the 76'ers, who are playing their best basketball of the season right now. They beat Indiana on Saturday night. That's followed by games at Milwaukee, Chicago, Atlanta, and Oklahoma City. But, the Blazers have shown all season they can get up to play against the league's elite teams. It's the games they should win that seem to cause them problems.
If that theory holds, and this will really put that to the test, the Blazers could have a shot to still be in the playoff conversation after the trip.
Talk to you from the other coast.