Friday, January 22, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Celtics: Game 44

Portland (26-17) heads into Boston (27-13) to take part in game three of the four-game road trip, a place the Trail Blazers have not won at since the 03-04 season. In fact, the Celtics have had recent dominance over the Blazers by winning seven of the past eight meetings. It looks like the win in Philadelphia proved to be a very costly one as Brandon Roy will be out for at least the team's next four games and has left the team to fly to Seattle to get a 2nd opinion on his hamstring. Portland is 2-1 in the three games without Roy, including wins over San Antonio, in their house, and against Orlando, but it took 31 from Jerryd Bayless to get that road win and although Boston has been struggling lately, 4-6 in their past 10 games, the Celtics are a much more talented team that doesn't match up well at all with the Blazers. To make matters worse, it appears that power forward, Kevin Garnett will try to make his return tonight from his nagging knee injury suffered last season. Garnett has not played since December 28th.
Without Brandon, Portland is going to need to win this game on the defensive end of the floor. Obviously without their superstar, buckets aren't going to come as easy or be so plentiful, so it is imperative to keep Boston's second-chance points below 10, grab the defensive rebounds and get out and push tempo. Roy doesn't really flourish in the open court the way Andre, LaMarcus, Rudy, and Jerryd do, so without Brandon, just run, run, run. Also, a big key to victory tonight is the 100 point mark. Boston is 18-2 when they hit the century mark and without our leading scorer, I doubt the Blazers can win a shootout.
When you play the Celtics, the one thing you must do in order to come away victorious is take care of the ball. Portland is 5th best in the NBA at taking care of the ball as they commit 12.97 turnovers a night. The C's will cough it up if pressured at around 15 a night, but their calling card is and has always been, with this current core, forcing turnovers. Boston is 4th in the league at forcing the opponent into a turnover at 16 per game. KG has made a name for himself on the defensive end by his countless 1st Team All-Defense honors, but who knows exactly how effective he'll be tonight, Rasheed Wallace is one of the best low-post defenders in the game, and Rajon Rondo leads the NBA in steals per game at 2.51 a night.
The X-Factor tonight is Bayless. Rasheed still has enough left in the tank to contain Aldridge, especially if LMA is content with just shoot turn around jumpers. Also, Rondo is the best defender at the point guard position, which really could hamper Andre Miller tonight. There will be no taking Rondo into the post, so the only way I see Andre making noise is on the break. Back to Bayless, he is the one player we have who can win this game for the Blazers at the foul line. He needs to pick and choose his spots when to attack, when to shoot the jump shot, and when to dish it off. He should have no problem getting a shot off on Ray Allen, but he'll have to knock down a few jumpers before the lane will open up for driving.
This game is a tough one to predict. Portland is in the thick of an Eastern road trip, without their franchise player, while Boston has looked absolutely awful lately. I do think this is a great time to be playing Boston, but there is always the thought that this will be the game to break out of their funk, especially if they get the emotional burst of energy from KG returning. Bottom line, if Roy were healthy, I know Portland would finally get a win in Boston, as he is the one player they have no answer for. Look for Rondo and Sheed to assert themselves on the defensive end and force the Blazers into some ugly possessions.
Game 44 Prediction: Trail Blazers 87 Celtics 95
Post-Game Thoughts
That loss stung. If you would have told any Blazer fan, even the most optimistic fan, that Portland would go into Boston without Roy, Batum, Outlaw, Oden, Przybilla, and lose Bayless at the half and still have a chance to win the game in overtime, they would call you delirious. I am continually baffled, amazed, and proud of my team and they way they just continue to fight no matter how much adversity gets thrown at them. Although I am proud of the effort they put forth, the turnovers are what I feared heading into the game and are what ended up biting us in the butt. In total, Portland committed 14 turnovers, but each one seemed like a monumental mistake when you are playing with such a depleted roster.
No turnover was bigger than Juwan Howard's fumbled rebound. Portland had the ball, up two, around a minute to go and missed the shot. Like always, Portland sent someone crashing the boards, 16 offensive rebounds in all, an Juwan came to the rescue in the midst of three Celtic trees. Unfortunately, he could never get a grip on the ball and was stripped. Boston immediately went down and nailed the go-ahead three.
"There's no moral victories, but we let another one slip away," Miller said. "We talked about our execution down the stretch, we had turnovers at the wrong time, and that's the game."
"We didn't come here to be close," LaMarcus Aldridge said. "We have to learn from it."
Not only did Portland suffer a loss in the standings, but a loss in player personnel. Jerryd Bayless rolled his ankle going up for a rebound near the end of the 2nd quarter and forced him to miss nearly all of the 2nd half. It's a shame he got bit by the injury bug as he was having himself a great first half. He had 12 points (4-7) and 4 assists and was getting to the foul line at will, with 4 trips to the charity stripe in 20 minutes of action. It was evident Bayless was one of the players the blazers could ill afford to lose as they became a much more perimeter shooting team.
Is anyone else noticing this team just is not getting blown out anymore? I believe the last time we lost by more than 12 points was the 16 point drubbing at Utah on November 28th. The main reason for this has to have been the acquisition of Andre Miller. Just when you think a possession is wasted, he'll dig into his veteran bag of tricks and pull something out. Last night was no different. Dre was simply sensational with a season-high 28 points (11-23), 8 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 steals in 48 grueling minutes of action on the court. In January, Dre has been playing at an All-Star level with averages of 20.4 points, 6.9 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game.
The key to the game ended up being points in the paint and field goal percentage. Boston scored an unbelievable 56 points in the paint and shot 48.7% from the floor, while Portland only found a way to score 32 in the paint on 38.2%. One of the reasons Portland shot so poorly from the field was the combined 9-34 shooting from Blake, Fernandez, and Webster. I'll give Marty a pass on this night due to his recent hot streak, defense, and he hit the game tying shot in the 4th. On the other hand, Rudy and Steve need to step up. For supposed "shooters", Blake is shooting 40.5% from the floor, his lowest output since his 33 games stint with Milwaukee 3 years ago and Fernandez's percentage has dropped 4% to 38.5%. It's not as if they aren't getting open looks either, because they are getting set up on some nice catch and shoot situations off of dribble penetration. With Bayless being questionable for today's game, these two must be on from downtown for us to have any chance. Martell, LaMarcus, and Andre can't continue to do it by themselves.
Box Score

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