In Tuesday’s 111-76 win over the Washington Wizards, LaMarcus Aldridge turned the lopsided matchup into a offensive spectacle, scoring 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting and 8-of-8 from the line, all in just two quarters before the halftime buzzer sounded.
But just as soon as Aldridge registered his double-digit points at the break, Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews started to heat up themselves, on the defensive end.
“I didn’t take one shot in the second half,” said Aldridge. “That’s perfect for me. As long as we win and I get that full fourth quarter to rest, I’m definitely down with that. G [Wallace] was going in the second half.”
Wallace ended with a game-high 28 points, eight rebounds and ripped out a season-high four steals, while Matthews scored 15 points and also picked away four balls for a career high.
Portland posted a season best in steals, 14-12, which jumped off in the second quarter. Matthews intercepted two Washington passes and Wallace clawed away his third ball on Hamaday N’Diaye that tallied 12 first-half turnovers by the Wizards that gave up 15 points.
Matthews continued to pick away Washington’s offense in the third quarter, snatching Mustafa Shakur’s outlet pass after a Portland free throw. Matthews tried to score on a hard driving lay-in that sent him crashing to the floor, but was recovered by Rudy Fernandez’s tip-in.
Then, on the next play Shakur got a double dose of Matthews after he stole the ball again in 12 seconds at midcourt that led to an alley-oop dunk by Wallace and an 87-59 Trail Blazer lead with 1:32 left in the third.
“We gave up 33 points off turnovers,” said Wizards’ Head Coach Flip Saunders. “[The Trail Blazers’] physicality… they got into us. It was a situation where you saw a very young team get taken out, get into quick sand and just kept on sinking.”
And the “quick sand” approached has been McMillan’s plan–get aggressive early–since inserting Wallace into the starting lineup, where the Trail Blazers have raked 8.8 steals a game since his promotion.
Wallace made his first start against Dallas at home on March 15, and since then he’s averaged 17.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, two steals, while also shooting 60.7 percent from the field in five games.
But just as much as he’s settled into Portland’s offense, which has gone on to win 4-1 since becoming a starter, his gritty defense has helped force 16.6 turnovers in the five-game stretch, including a season-high 27 given away from Washington.
“The quickness against you ends up being a problem,” said Saunders. “A lot of times defense and rebounding boils down to being quicker. [The Trail Blazers] were quicker in a lot of spots than we were, especially up front.”
It was the type of defensive stand that Portland needed coming off the disappointing loss on Sunday in Los Angeles, where the Trail Blazers failed for a second time to shut out the Lakers after holding a substantial lead with minutes left in the fourth.
If Portland (41-30), which ranks fourth in the league in steals per game (8.17) and second in steal-to-turnover ratio (.62), can continue its ball hawking nature, a fifth, or even possibly a fourth seed, is in sight.
Eleven regular season games remain until the playoffs kicks off, but ask McMillan if he has any expectations down the stretch and he’ll tell you that he’s taking everything one game at a time.
So his comments on last night’s win? Simple.
“I liked that we took care of business.”
What do you guys think of the Trail Blazers' defensive presence? Are we playoff ready? But most importantly, can we get out of the first round?