mikebarrett

Mar 22

Matthews Lifts Portland in Atlanta

By mikebarrett Posted in: Hawks
The most difficult scenario for an NBA team is supposed to be the end of the dreaded four-games-in-five-nights set.  If that set happens to come on the road, as they're bouncing from time zone to time zone, it becomes more of a challenge.  If the final back-to-back set during that stretch comes against two quality, playoff teams...  you get where I'm going.

The final stage the gauntlet should normally be in the fourth quarter of the fourth game of this set.  That's when we announcers all start saying things like "how much gas could they possibly have left in the tank," and other cute stuff like that (yes, I said that during this game). 

We got the answer, not only to the question about the gas tank, but also to the one about the will of this young Portland team.  Again, we should have known better than to question it in the first place.

The other thing we should have learned long ago about this Portland Trail Blazer team, it's that the perceived unconventional is actually conventional.  The unexpected should be expected. Lose to Philadelphia and Milwaukee?  Okay, then just bounce back and win in Chicago, against a hungry and bitter Bulls team, and then go to Atlanta and take down a team that was coming off recent wins over the Lakers, Nets, and most recently off a blowout win over the team that just beat Portland on Tuesday night.

It is unfortunate that Portland has only 15 wins against losing teams this season.  But, rather than get stuck lamenting that, I'm excited and encouraged by the fact that they now have 18 wins over teams above .500. 

Friday night, with every reason and excuse to go through the motions against the Hawks inside Phillips Arena, the Blazers dug deep and put together one of their most impressive fourth quarters of the season, winning the game 104-93.

The legs were certainly heavy, as a result of not only this road trip, but the due to the cumulative effect of this being the last of a series of long trips.  When the Hawks suddenly caught fire in the third quarter, and built an 11-point lead, you probably started thinking things like "well, it sure was a nice win in Chicago," and "at least they didn't get completely shut out on this trip."  It's okay to admit that.  It's also important to realize that the Blazers simply don't let themselves go there.  Wesley Matthews told me as much during our post-game interview.

As Matthews stood there, dripping with sweat, he explained how this team still believes and doesn't entertain for a second the thought of mailing in the rest of the season, despite the long odds of reaching the postseason.  We've called the Wesley the emotional leader of this team, and on this night he was also the physical leader.

Atlanta's defensive game plan (not that it was unique), was to smother Damian Lillard, and to make life as difficult as possible on LaMarcus Aldridge.  Al Horford, who lately has been just as hot as Aldridge, has always been a tough matchup for L.A.  We led off our broadcast talking about that.

So, Portland needed someone to be the x-factor.  Matthews, who's quietly had a very solid road trip, put his team on his back for stretches of this ballgame.  He ended with 28 points, scored in a variety of ways, and provided the energy needed on defense to keep the Hawks in check.  

Aldridge's shot seemed to be just off the mark on this night.  Lillard was struggling through much of the game, and Nic Batum couldn't hit anything, and soon gave up trying.  But, once Matthews helped them survive Atlanta's hot stretch in the third, everyone else came rushing back to help him finish the deal.

LaMarcus battled, and finally found his range in the latter half of the fourth quarter.  He ended with 20 points and 13 rebounds.  Lillard seemed to get a second wind during Portland's late run, as he hit two huge three pointers in the fourth, and Batum, who also hit a big three, ended up with 4 steals, 7 assists, and 7 rebounds.  JJ Hickson recorded his 38th double-double of the season, posting 15 and 10, including two big free throws late to help Portland put the game away.

The bench also did its part in this one, especially after Hickson picked up two early fouls forcing Coach Stotts to break his normal rotation.  Meyers Leonard, who put together his most productive game of the season in Chicago on Thursday, backed up that performance against the Hawks.  He played 29 minutes, scored 4 points, and grabbed 9 rebounds.  He played good, solid defense against Atlanta's punishing frontline.  Eric Maynor, who finished with 8 points, hit several key baskets to keep the Hawks at arm's length midway through the fourth quarter.

So, suddenly, this road trip has turned from a foregone conclusion to opportunity time.  We probably all would have considered 2-3 an acceptable record for this trip when it began.  And, while what's left is a trip to Oklahoma City to face one of the NBA's most dangerous teams on Sunday evening, don't think that the Blazers are paying attention to what we're all likely thinking.

Meaningful March basketball.  I'm satisfied with that.  That's how you learn and grow.  But, these Blazer players have their own set of standards.  They were on display in Atlanta on Friday night.

Talk to you from OKC.

 

17 Comments

  1. It was another great win. I was a little baffled by the short bench the last couple of games, but I can see how it might work. Maybe JJ gets the message that if he wants to play much in the second half, he needs to work hard on defense from the opening tip. Meyers may finally realize that he'll get some real playing time and prevent Coach Stotts from putting in Joel and Luke if he'll just buckle down and concentrate on his positioning. Meanwhile Will knows he's on a very short leash, and Nolan gets to concentrate on his future, as in which foreign language he should be learning, all this thanks to acquisition of Eric Maynor. When they are good, these Blazers are very, very good. When they are bad...well, right now let's just enjoy the good.

    by David Maclaine on 3/22/2013 11:09 PM
  2. great to pick up another win, especially on the 2nd of a b2b. i wasn't able to really follow the game since i was on the road, but i've read the recaps and examined the boxscore. it really seemed like a balanced, solid win. Wesley had a great offensive game and LaMarcus was solid as usual. i love what we're seeing from Meyers. love it when we see him strong on the boards.

    i'm not anticipating much out of the Thunder game, but i think we've got a shot. my only real issue is Stotts' rotations. i don't think it will hurt us to play guys like Joel and Luke a few more minutes (and letting Jared rot at the end of the bench is ridiculous). these guys don't have to play extended minutes, but we've seen that they can contribute when given a chance.

    then again, it appears management has already made the decision on these guys. i would anticipate that it's all but been decided that Luke, Jared, Sasha and Nolan will be gone this summer. i think there will be room for a couple of them, but it really seems the decision has already been made. at this point, that seems unfortunate to me.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 3/22/2013 11:20 PM
  3. Mike: I learned long ago not to give up on the Blazers, so when Atlanta pushed the tempo in the third and got up by 11. I just imitated replying to the Atlanta announcers, that you haven't seen what the Blazers can bring in the forth. They kept saying that Leonard was to young and raw and it was doubtful that he would even make it in the NBA, I just said to myself, just wait and see. Plus, IMO, I just wanted the Blazers to keep fighting and be competitive as long as they could, so for me they had already won, but was still sure we would see a big comeback with these no quit Blazers. Boy! I was not disappointed. Another great game by my standards.

    Don't be surprised if we are still in the position to win the game in OKC.
    Can't wait.

    by Hg on 3/22/2013 11:53 PM
  4. Meyers Leonard tied a career high in rebounds with 9. I was hoping for the 10th one, but nevertheless, he matched what he did in Dallas in November which was Lillard's first bad game of his career.

    Out of the games I picked the Blazers may sneak away with, the last two weren't on my list. The game in Philly was on for sure and I had slight hopes in Milwaukee.

    Mike, interesting stats you brought up again after the game about the Blazers being 15-18 against teams under .500, but are 18-18 against teams over .500 really tell a story about games they let get away from them, especially at home like losing to Sacramento, Cleveland, Washington (there maybe others I could include on the list) really do sting in this playoff hunt.

    But lets just focus on the home losses to Cleveland, Washington and Sacramento. Hypothetically if the Blazers had just taken care of business on those games, our wins and losses would be in reverse with 36 wins and 33 losses, which would put the Blazers a half game over the Lakers right now for the 8th seed in the playoffs. That thought also stings.

    I really hoped for a playoff birth and give up the pick to Charlotte than keeping it (though we still could miss the playoffs and give up the pick since it is top 12 protected) because of the weak draft as this is a good year to give it up and it's good experience for the young guys to play in a playoff atmosphere as I would love to see how Damian does in the playoffs. I'd like to see him challenge Derrick Rose's points in a game as a rookie.

    I also hope Claver gets back soon. He brings a lot more to the game than what you see in the box scores. He looks to be a very solid role player for us in the upcoming years. I haven't seen any word yet if he'll be ready after this road trip.

    by Shem on 3/23/2013 12:30 AM
  5. Atlanta loss is due to the 3 pointers 7/24 = 29.2 %; not enough 2 points attempted with a good 50,8 %. Portland tried 10 more 2 points, which is good, though with a still bit low 44.9 %. Very good 10/18 = 55.6 % 3 pointers. The 2 points effectivity has still to be improved. Only 21 % of the attempted shoots were 3 pointers for Blazers; which is also a good percentage. Should never be more than 25 %.

    by Soopadeajo Sopadeajo on 3/23/2013 1:46 AM
  6. Hi Mike and thank you for your blog again on the road! I am going to simplify things here. Our defense won both games: Chicago and Atlanta. It was a different Blazer team that stepped up. If this continues, then a playoff run might be possible? I could go on and on but it would do no good....we all know, right? We have one of the best starting 5 teams in the league...now if we can get the best finishing 5 in the league then we could be a very scary team...just pieces away my Blazer fans. I have to say, this season has gone beyond my expectations and I am proud of them. Anything more is now a bonus....

    peace out,
    daddylogan

    by daddylogan on 3/23/2013 1:48 AM
  7. Hi Mike,
    On back to back games we see many teams put up a good fight only to run out of gas in the 4th qtr. What do the Blazers do? They found another gear. Amazing.
    I think we caught the Bulls and Atlanta sleeping. No matter what the home team brings to the court the traveling team must come to play. Well done boys.
    Damian is the type of player that while watching the game you think he is struggling. The opposing team has put their entire defensive focus on pushing him away from his spots. Then you look up and the kid has 20 points. He is truly special.
    This is the playoffs for Portland. The shortened rotation is possible because of the effective play of Maynor and Meyers. Starter minutes are about the same. Are they big minutes? Yes. It is win or go home. Player development must take a back burner.
    GO BLAZERS!!

    by Divotking on 3/23/2013 6:20 AM
  8. @Divotking: With this lineup and rotation, it is player development. Maynor is new, and we need to see what he can bring and how he can develop. Meyers is young and needs playing time to develop into starters minutes at center, whereas JJ can back up Lamarcus, which by the way JJ got in foul trouble so that was why Meyers got extra minutes. And of course Dame is a rookie and is still learning how to play against what the opponents D throws at him; and last but not least, the starting five is still developing trust and communications and DEVELOPING Synergy, and it would be unfair not to try to win every game just for no other reason then to show respect from the coach for playing so hard.

    In short, IMO, we are trying to win and develop at the same time as we did the whole year and are doing a fantastic job. Question did you think the Blazers would be just 3.5 games out of the play-offs (lakers own tie breaker) this late in the season? I sure didn't.

    Peace

    by Hg on 3/23/2013 6:44 AM
  9. Hg;
    My short answer is no. I did not expect the Blazers to be in the position they are in. People that get paid to make predictions on sports teams had it wrong as well. The Blazers have had some things go right for them this year. First of all Damian. A pick at 6 that turned up roses. A hard working coaching staff. No major injuries (blazer fans deserve that).
    No matter how it turns out. This year has been a success. I am so looking forward to the years ahead.

    by Divotking on 3/23/2013 7:02 AM
  10. An amazing victory; fun to watch.
    I am glad that it was Wes' night. He is the team leader. I love watching him stir the pot when that is what is needed. On the other hand, why does Stotts leave Nic in the game so long when he is not contributing. You said it Mike. Batum couldn't hit anything so he stopped trying. That's Nic. Give someone else a chance. Please!

    by allie-oop on 3/23/2013 7:26 AM
  11. Players have been playing like they are the true championship contenders to me. They fought back into the game after being down double digits, came back when the opponent thought they had us hammered. After the loss to Memphis at home, my faith started to fade away(even though I never stopped believing in them!?). But they proved that I was wrong. We can sure get back the race with a win over the top three teams in the entire league, OKC, on their homecourt. I have to admit that there's a small possibility for us to do both( beating OKC and make the postseason), but I cannot ask for more from our hard-fought army. YOU MAKE ME PROUD.

    ONCE AGAIN WE CAN SAY, PROUD AND LOUD, IT'S A GREAT DAY TO BE A BLAZER.

    by Kingpdx on 3/23/2013 9:53 AM
  12. @Allie-oop. While Nic is not shooting or making shots, he is doing many other things that help the team win.

    One thing, he is unselfish, if someone else has a hot hand, in this case Wesley, he will work his butt off setting the table for Matthews, he is getting assist after assist taking heat off Aldridge and Dame, just his reputation alone as being an outside shooter attract attention, I know this because I watch the games on NBA pass and often listen to the opposing announcers.

    The second thing is we have many great shooters on our team, but only one basketball, he is in the position to demand the ball, but usually concedes that to LaMarcus, Dame, JJ and now Meyers. That is team play.

    The third thing is his defensive play, him and Matthews are the heart and soul of our Defense along with LaMarcus. When one of the three is out our team D suffers.

    So your belief is that if somebody is being guarded by a good defender and can't get opened for good shots, bench him and put in a less experienced player. or if a Player misses a few shots and starts doing other things then shooting, then bench him. Aldridge and Dame had a very cold first half also, do we bench Nic, LaMarcus, JJ and Dame as all of them was struggling in the first half?

    I am not trying to pick on you, I am just saying there are other things going on in the game other then shooting, besides I am not sure who you would put in that could do better then Batum even when his shot is not going in.

    peace

    by Hg on 3/23/2013 10:18 AM
  13. @Kingpdx: I like. It surely doesn't hurt to believe.

    When our last shot failed to go in for a win;

    When we were confused and bombarded like being attacked by a flying swarm of bees and got behind

    It was still a GREAT DAY TO BE A BLAZER.

    by Hg on 3/23/2013 10:23 AM
  14. @ Allie-oop, I'm not trying to pick on u either; Hg is correct in everything he said to u. If u have the NBA League Pass, I encourage u to watch Nico's play from last night's game (a lot of other 1's too ;) There's a lot going on in games so it's easy to miss much of the subtleties (I try to pay as close attention as possible BUT there's plenty that I KNOW I've missed. Hahaha!). Some of these things that go unnoticed r what make the great things that u can't help but c happen :) I'm not being/getting defensive w/ u Allie-oop but as my general policy, just 2 put this out there, I usually get pretty defensive if any1 picks on Nico ;)

    by Simpson on 3/23/2013 12:14 PM
  15. Matthews is not our best player. He is not the fastest. He is not the most athletic. He may have the largest heart.

    by the golden ladder on 3/23/2013 2:12 PM
  16. to any of you who want to discount what Nicolas is doing other than scoring (seriously, look at something other than points), this is the biggest stat: this season, which is not complete, Nicolas has 329 assists this season. in his first four seasons, he had 325 combined. i think a lot of people expected that when Nicolas signed the contract, he would only earn it if he averaged a bunch of points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Nicolas shows up every night, though people don't see it on the stat sheet every night. in my view, one of the areas where we've seen a huge improvement in Nicolas is in the team aspect. we all know he's the best defender we have, but he's working on offense extremely well as a teammate. those assist numbers prove it. the other thing i would mention is that with Damian and JJ, we have two other options we did not have before. shots are not always going to be available for Nicolas, but he's doing the most he can when they come his way.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 3/24/2013 1:11 AM
  17. Wes and all the starters seem motivated the last two games. Wes especially seems like a man on a mission to get to the post season. Need to win 9 or 10 of the remaining 13 games to have a shot though. Nic is maybe the least selfish player I've ever seen in a Blazer uniform. He's not about the numbers. Sort of a Shane Battier type guy. Great defender and given that he's played hurt since the allstar break, I think his efforts are commendable. Our starters are capable of doing serious damage in the playoffs and if we got the Spurs in the 1st round, I like our chances to finally get to the 2nd round. Especially now that the bench is contributing. Last two games have given me a spark of hope that I'd lost after the Bucks loss. Go Blazers! My only Nic criticism is the occassional lazy pass which is an area I thought he needed to improve in last season as well. JJ played the best defense I've seen him play against Atlanta which is a great thing.

    by riverman on 3/24/2013 9:04 AM
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