It felt like the Blazers were reeling. Brandon Roy had missed four consecutive games with a mid hamstring injury. The Blazers had scored hardly any points in the second half against the hated Lakers and gotten blown out. They lost at home to the Hornets.
Of course, somewhat overlooked by many fans was they also beat the Celtics and Pistons. Going 2-2 against those four teams would have been a huge week last season. This season it was disappointing. What a positive step!
With Roy returning and facing the hapless Golden State Warriors, all signs pointed to an easy Blazers win. But then something happened...the ball went in the air, Don Nelson's system went into action, and the ball wouldn't go in the hoop for the Blazers.
They jacked up a respectable 21 shots in the first quarter but only seven bottomed out. Additionally, they dialed up three turnovers and missed half their foul shots. The Warriors are noted for great offense and a complete indifference to defense, yet Portland had but 16 points after the first period. They needed someone to step up and put the ball in the bucket. Enter LaMarcus Aldridge.
He scored on the blocks. He scored with a mid-range jumper. He scored on follow dunks. When Portland got the ball in his hands, good things happened.
Indeed, that has often been one of the flaws with the Blazers this year. Too often they forget about Aldridge and the only points he gets are from offensive rebounds and broken plays. When they dedicate to pounding the ball in to Aldridge, good things happen.
First off, he draws the attention of his defender who cannot afford to leave Aldridge to help on double teams. Second, he commands double teams. When this happens, Aldridge has the court vision to rotate the ball to the open man. When this continues, it results in numerous open looks for the Blazer perimeter players.
Fortunately, with the return of Roy, Aldridge was going to get his looks. He got 18 shots and scored 26 points. This is not a coincidence. When it comes to Blazers you want to see putting up shots, the pecking order is pretty clear; Roy should have the most shots, Aldridge the second most.
Of course, they cannot carry the entire load themselves. Fortunately, the Blazers are developing some excellent secondary options. In the starting line-up, there is a surprising answer.
Early in the season Greg Oden possessions were terrifying things. They consisted of Oden getting the ball on the block and then traveling or running over his defender in an attempt to throw down a power dunk. It was all brute strength.
Lately, however, he has been working with Portland favorite Maurice Lucas and, much as Aldridge has done, has started to develop a post game. Oh, to be sure, it is not there yet. He is not a David Robinson by any means, but he shows flashes.
He has a jump hook as shown above. In his back downs, he now gets his defender moving left to right which opens up the baseline or key for moves that show a bit of finesse. He is also showing more and more quickness and agility.
When he is effective like that, it gives the Blazers a second solid post option which again opens the offense up and gets them points in the paint.
That is a huge step forward. Early in the season the Blazers fell in love with the three-pointer. The problems with that strategy were masked by them hitting a huge percentage but lately there have been nights where their shot was not falling but they kept launching from downtown.
On this night, against a Warriors team that encourages you to jack threes, they took just 17. That is largely because with Oden and Roy working the blocks and Roy penetrating, they get numerous opportunities in the paint.
Portland also has nice scoring options off the bench. Rudy Fernandez has been well-documented, but another player who deserves a great deal of credit is Blazer 6th man Travis Outlaw.
Outlaw is a gifted offensive player. He has the ability to create his own shot at will. When he gets into the lane and elevates, it takes someone with the unreal athleticism of a Dwayne Wade to even contest a shot.
With the excellent scoring options they now possess, Portland has the firepower to outgun a team like the Warriors and that is exactly what they did over the next three quarters. Following their embarrassing 16 point output, they dialed up 39 second quarter, 28 3rd quarter, and 30 4th quarter points.
The Warriors pretty much only win when they score more efficiently than the opponent. They tried on this night, but simply could not stay with the waves of scorers Portland threw out there.
After trailing by as many as 12, Portland came back to lead by as many 14. The Warriors made a few runs, but every time they did a Blazer would step up; Aldridge with six consecutive points, Roy with five consecutive points...and ultimately, they ended up outscoring the Warriors on a night when defense was all too often "let him shoot so we can hurry down court" or trying for steals.
In the past, Portland might not have had enough offense. With Roy back and Aldridge getting the ball, that would not be the case this night and all that was left was the celebration. Now, if only we had someone to celebrate with...