Early in the Raptor-Blazer game, it was all about the big men. The Blazers, as they often do, went to LaMarcus Aldridge. In a statement that will be summarily dismissed by Raptor fans, I will argue Aldridge has a similar skill set to Chris Bosh, though of course Bosh is the better rebounder. Bosh scores more, but that has more to do with how many opportunities he gets than a massive disparity in ability.
For example, on this night Bosh got 17 attempts from the field and a further 11 trips to the free throw line as opposed to 13 field and 8 free throw attempts for Aldridge. This is true on a consistent basis. The Blazers have so many valid scoring options that Aldridge does not get enough attempts. And on this night, he would not even be the best inside option for the Blazers. That honor belonged to oft-maligned rookie Greg Oden.
Jermaine O'Neal and Oden were going at it tooth and nail while the referees kept their whistles in their pockets. It resulted in some pretty spectacular plays. First O'Neal got Oden with a spectacular block that demonstrated many of the issues Oden has had this season. He first tried to simply overpower O'Neal. When that did not work, he put up a surprisingly soft jumper. O'Neal held his ground and delivered the excellent one-on-one shot block. Normally, that would have settled the possession as Oden tends to get out of position when taking shots, and this is particularly true when his defender blocks his shot. On this night, however, Oden would not be denied. He demonstrated an aggressive streak and position awareness that has sometimes been lacking, got the ball back and demonstrated a little more authority as he then dunked on O'Neal.
With Aldridge and Oden scoring inside, that left Portland wings wide open for shot after shot. Unfortunately, as the game progressed, those shots clanged off the rim with regularity. Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez bombed away for trey attempt after trey attempt, most of them wide open. Unfortunately for Portland, those bombs were exactly that. They exploded left and right, threatening to shatter the backboard, rim, or floor, whatever they hit first.
Meanwhile, Toronto found a few holes in the Blazer defense, mostly outside the three point line. At one point Blazer fans started a "Defense! Defense!" chant. Judging by the 80% the Raptors were shooting from beyond the arc, perhaps they should have been chanting "Three-fense! Three-fense!"
By half-time, the Raptors' three-point percentage had descended to a more believable 75%. Only a 3/4 quart off-balance desperation trey by Outlaw kept the Blazer deficit in single digits. Fortunately, as Blazer fans can attest, there are still elements of the game that can be enjoyed even when a team they should defeat handily is kicking their tail up one side of the court and down the other.
We could also enjoy the start of the second half as a 10-3 run pulled the Blazers within two early in the third and a late 8-0 run put the Blazers up by four. The Raptors were reeling and ended the third quarter trailing by a deuce.
It is now time for a digression. I read a fair amount of NBA-related material and over and over see "MVP Candidate" lists. Those lists contain the usual and deserving suspects; LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Chris Paul. It is hard to argue against any of those choices. I am also seeing a few people talking about Chauncey Billups and Tim Duncan.
Blazer fans can attest, however, that there are very few players who do for teams what Brandon Roy does for the Blazers. This man is amazing. Every night he provides three or four spectacular, mind-blowing, acrobatic drives that somehow produce awkward, off-balance shots you know are going in.
More importantly, he provides whatever the team needs. If his running mates are scoring well, he dishes out assist after assist. If Portland is struggling on the boards, he suddenly starts coming out of big-man pile-ups with the ball. If they need wing defense, he takes on the tough assignment.
On this night, Portland needed scoring. They were sitting on only 69 points after three quarters. Chris Bosh was scoring seemingly every time he touched the ball. So Roy did what Roy does; he turned in an MVP caliber performance.
he scored nine of 11 Portland points in one stretch and then, when the offense faltered again, scored another nine straight. After scoring only 14 points over three quarters, he poured in 18 in the fourth.
He made it clear to all his teammates, to all the Rose Garden fans, and definitely to the Raptors the game was going to end in favor of Portland. He simply would not be denied.
He hit jump shots. He hit free throws, he drove to the rack and dropped in teardrops and lay-ins, he hit a pull-up three with a hand in his face. If Mike Tyson in his prime had been there, Roy might have hit him, too. He simply could not be stopped.
It was so impressive my brother and I actually started a "Roy-V-P" chant. This was the first game this particular brother has seen since Arvydas Sabonis was rolling around the Rose Garden court. You did not have to know much about basketball to know you were seeing yet another amazing performance.
The thing about it is, Rose Garden attendees are spoiled. We have come to expect this from Roy and are surprised when we don't. Roy is just that good.
So are the Blazers. By the time the final horn sounded they were up 102-89, a comfortable 13 point win but the game was closer than that. The differences in the game were two-fold;
First, the Blazers shut down the Raptor three-point attack. By the final buzzer they only had a 36.8% score from outside the arc.
Second, the Blazers rode Brandon Roy. On offense, the ball was in his hands for 3 assists on top of his 18 points. On defense, he directed traffic, boxed out, and forced the ball away from where Toronto tried to get it.
In the end, Roy will probably get at best very marginal consideration for MVP. After all, NBA fans think there are nine guards in the Western Conference better than Roy. Intelligent fans, however, will know; Roy belongs in that conversation.
Next time the Blazers come to your town, show you know. Start the Roy-V-P chant. For all of us. And whatever you do, when he is on the floor with the ball, keep your eye on him. You are likely to see something you would regret having missed.