As the team heads out on the road I’ll share my thoughts on the highs and lows of each quarter and their importance to the game, team and season going forward. Let’s discuss!
Loved: Pace, defense, Kurt Thomas
How about that pace!?! The Trail Blazers ran the floor out of the gates and saw results with 13 fast break points. In the last matchup with the Jazz Portland only had eight fast break points in the entire game. Topping that in the first 12 minutes of play led to a total of 25 after four quarters. Hammering the defensive boards to get plays in motion so consistently demonstrates the teams commitment to running. Funny how interconnected the offensive and defensive schemes are, huh?
Best play from the first quarter? Nicolas Batum getting the block, a quick pass down the floor to an open Gerald Wallace and a finish with a foul for the and one. So smooth.
Defense, defense, defense. When Nate McMillan said defense and rebounding were the keys the guys listened. They crashed the boards with guts and earned fast break glory.
The king of defense for the quarter? Veteran Kurt Thomas. He was on the receiving end of three offensive fouls in the first quarter. (He added one more later in the game to end with four.) Watching the savvy Thomas stand his ground was nothing less than impressive. He should teach a class on how to take a charge, his demonstrations are straight out of a textbook.
Loathed: Early fouls, jump passes
LaMarcus Aldridge and Raymond Felton picked up two very early fouls each. It’s a little easier to stomach due to the simple fact that it’s a preseason game, so it doesn’t count. The goal of tonight was to get the starters some run and let them gel. With this in mind McMillan let the two play on. A good choice because LaMarcus didn’t pick up another foul in the quarter.
One of my biggest pet peeves in a point guard is passing from the air. And not just passing from the air in general, but doing it when it’s completely unnecessary and limits your decision making time. Don't get me wrong, it's unpredictable and sometimes it works, but most of the time it doesn’t. If I had my druthers I’d put concrete in their sneakers. Stay on the ground please! It’ll give you time to observe and you won’t get caught turning over the ball or traveling.
Loved: Aldridge’s midrange jumper, Crawford stirring up the offense
When Aldridge hit his first midrange jumper of the year I let out a huge sign of relief. (I bet I’m not alone!) He went 5/17 from the floor, but when he hit it was as smooth as ever. His hook shot on the pass from Jamal Crawford was a flash back to last season. He’ll settle into his zone soon enough and when he does we’re in for a treat. Aldridge is the Trail Blazers number one option for a reason and tonight we started to see why.
The unpredictability of Crawford makes me really excited. As does his uncanny ability to stir things up. When shots weren’t falling for his teammates he took it upon himself to create off the dribble. His versatility in the production department will prove to be a lethal weapon for Portland off the bench. You can count on it.
The second quarter of play was like night and day from the first. Just as I loved the pace to start the game, I loathed it in the second. The team was clearly getting tired, and after such an up and down first quarter in only the second game of the year, its not a surprise. A running offense takes conditioning and these guys are still getting into shape. The problem here is having no structure to the offense at all if you’re not running. Some semblance of a half court offense, which hasn’t been practiced yet, will need to be installed for when the running game just isn’t happening.
Loved: Batum’s shooting
A summer of playing in Europe has been fantastic for Nicolas Batum’s game. His stroke is in mid-season form and looked absolutely effortless. He shot 5/9 from the floor and 50 percent from behind the arc for his 12 points.
Loathed: Pace, shot selection
The slow pace from the second quarter carried over to the third. That’s all I’m going to say about that. With the lagging tempo came fewer passes. The lack of options led to a poorer shot selection and missed buckets. Not a fun quarter to say the least.
Loved: Veterans stepping up, late-game experience, hustle
Watching veterans step up late in games is a great part of this game. Maintaining composure under pressure, coming up with clutch rebounds and following shots to finish buckets are just a few examples of what I’m getting at. The two who exemplified this for me were Wallace and Crawford. They didn’t stop pushing until the final buzzer.
The late-game experience garnered in this preseason—that didn’t feel like a preseason—game will benefit Portland going forward. Tying into veteran composure, the intensity of late-game situations is important experience for the team as the young players learn how to cope and the veterans reintroduce themselves to the pressure.
Holy hustle! It was exciting and invigorating to watch guys diving after loose balls, contorting their bodies for rebounds and powering through fatigue. The extra second advantage gained from hustling and putting bodies on the line changed the feel of the game in the fourth. The shift in momentum allowed the Trail Blazers to close the gap and put themselves in position to make a run for a win.
Loathed: Early fouls
Four team fouls in 56 seconds!? Are you kidding?! The Trail Blazers were in the penalty with ten minutes left in the quarter, which as it turns out could have been their downfall. I’d be willing to bet the late game push would have had different results had the Trail Blazers not been caught up so early in the quarter.
For a first go on the road I’m satisfied with the performance. I expected the pace to be like a roller coaster, up and down, so I won’t let myself get frustrated by that. The positives in Utah far outweighed the negatives. The most important lesson garnered from this short road trip is the late-game experience. I’m happy with just that, though the outcome wasn’t in our favor.
Share your thoughts, you know I want to hear them!