Friday, February 19, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Celtics: Game 57

Tonight marks the all anticipated Trail Blazer debut of Marcus Camby as Portland (32-34) takes on the 2008 NBA Champion Boston Celtics (34-18). Fortunately for the Blazers, Boston is on the second half of a back to back, after defeating the Lakers late last night in Los Angeles, 87-86, and not arriving into Portland until the wee hours of the morning. If that wasn't enough of a break, Boston will be without newly acquired Nate Robinson and Marcus Landry as well as Tony Allen, who suffered an ankle injury last night, which will force him to be inactive as well. The C's took Round 1 of this two part season series, 98-95 in OT, but it was against a nine-man Blazer roster, without Roy and Batum. If Portland could have only dodged one more Ray Allen 3 in the closing seconds, the Trail Blazers could have walked out of TD Banknorth Garden victorious.
Speaking of Ray, he is coming off a great shooting performance against the Lakers which saw him go 4-6 from behind the arc en route to a game-high 24 points. Back on January 22nd against Portland, he shot a pitiful 3-14 from the floor, but his looks were still pretty clear. Even though Allen has only shot over 50% from downtown in 15 of 51 games this season (29%), he still is a dangerous enough shooter that we must take serious. With Boston having one of the best 1-3 combos in the league, Rondo, Allen, and Pierce, there really isn't anyone the Trail Blazers can put Roy on to defend to help him exert less effort on defense. He most likely will get the call on Ray tonight, which means a lot of running around on the defensive end, especially around and through multiple screens used to free Ray up. To help mask Roy's hamstring, I would think Coach Nate would use a lot of switching when Allen is being ran off of picks to preserve not only Roy's energy for the 4th quarter, since he isn't in complete game shape yet, but so he doesn't put too much strain on his hamstring by trying to make that last gasp of effort in hopes of getting a hand in Allen's face.
With both teams in the NBA's top 5 in opposition points per game, Boston #1 at 93.5 and Portland #5 and 95.1, this has all the makings of a low-scoring, grind it out type of game. I think it is safe to say that players like Pierce, Aldridge, and Rondo will get their averages, but what will be the difference maker tonight will be role players. We all saw on Tuesday how Martell Webster broke the game open with his 28 points and 7 daggers from I-5. Without newly acquired Nate Robinson and recently dealt Eddie House, the Celtic bench takes a huge hit. On the other hand, Portland possesses Webster, Bayless, Fernandez, Cunningham, and Batum who are all capable of scoring in bunches to spark a Blazers win.
Okay, enough beating around the bush. Everyone wants to see what Marcus Camby is going to bring to the Blazers arsenal tonight. One commonality both of Portland's most recent acquisitions, Dre and Marcus, have is their intelligence on the court. Both are students of the game and knew most of our plays even before being introduced as Trail Blazers, which should make for a smooth transition for Camby. Dre has worked out fantastically to date and if there is one intangible factor that can measure potential success it is owning a high basketball IQ, which the "Camby Man" obtains. I wouldn't expect a world-beating performance out of him, as he is almost 36 years old, but look for a couple of blocks, double digits rebounds, and about 6 points. Hopefully his presence will be able to keep the Celtics out of the paint who got an inexcusable 56 points in the paint last meeting.
Boston is an aging team, with Pierce, KG, and Allen each at least 32 years old, and playing on the second half of a back to back, I really love Portland's chances to jump on them early and keep their foot on the gas pedal. Two factors play into this thinking. One, the Blazers have already played Boston very tough by forcing overtime and did so by giving up 56 in the paint and playing without Roy and Batum. Secondly, the crowd is going to be hype tonight. I expect all the loose balls to go Portland's way as they are the fresher team and the extra adrenaline rush the Rose Garden Faithful will provide. Boston will keep it around 10 in the 1st half, but look for a huge 3rd quarter from Portland to put this one away. As mentioned, LaMarcus will have his usual 22 and 9, but Rudy and Martell are going to continue their hot shooting ways and blow the game open. The Blazers bench is going to be the x-Factor.
Game 57 Prediction: Trail Blazers 98 Celtics
Post-Game Thoughts
How do you lose a game in which you shoot 40 free throws? For starters, setting a new franchise low for assists in a game with 7 certainly does the trick. If that wasn't appalling enough, Portland gave up 34 first half points in the paint, which lead to an 18 point halftime deficit. The Trail Blazers did better in the 2nd half, only allowing an additional 10 points, but what good does that do when you're shooting 2-12 from 3 and 33.8% from the field. The straw that broke the camel's back had to be the untimely turnovers. Somehow, someway, after falling behind by 20+ points, the guys scrapped back and found themselves down only nine with about nine minutes to go in the game. Rudy got the ball on the fast break and not once, but twice recklessly ran down two different Celtics, getting called for offensive fouls on both occasions, wiping away potential back to back three-point plays.
"That's the best defense we've seen all season," Fernandez said. "We have to learn from the way they play."
Hats off to the Celtics for playing physical, tough defense, even suffocating at times. By no means was this a "we beat ourselves" game, as Boston definitely put the clamps down defensively and never let up. They saw game tape of our previous win over the Clippers and in particular shadowed Webster the entire game, never even letting him attempt a shot until garbage time in the 4th quarter. As good as the Boston defense was, the Blazers offense was that bad. I've harped on the team for a while that isolation-style basketball doesn't work and tonight was prime evidence. 7 dimes, that's it! It seemed like every play down the court was an entry pass into Aldridge and the other four players stood around and twiddled their thumbs. Not only does this cut down on ball movement, but totally plays into the hands of a tired, veteran Celtic team who was playing on the second half of a back to back. It allows Boston to be the attacker on defense instead of reacting to our movement and passing.
"I would love for everything to come together overnight, but that's wishful thinking on everybody's part," Camby said. "I still have to get familiar with the guys and get more time in practice and in game with those guys for us to be successful."
No, it did not come all together for Camby and the Blazers in Marcus' debut. 2 points, on 1-5 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks is not what Marcus nor Blazer fans expected, but it will take time for the chemistry to occur on the court. The 3 blocks were excellent, but our poor defense allowed Boston to shoot 53.4% which negated his biggest strength, defensive rebounding. One thing I did notice was he is not the best man defenders, rather doing most of his damage off of the weak-side help. Joel and Greg may not have the stats Camby produces, but one thing which can not be quantified is how amazing they are at manning up the opposition's best post player. Portland fans should be thankful we have a legit 7 ft'er to fill in their void, but this year we are really seeing just how important and valuable Greg and Joel were and still are to this squad.
In 35 minutes of action, Brandon Roy looked rather pedestrian again, going for 9 points, on 3-8 shooting, 4 rebounds, and only 1 assist. It is quite obvious his hamstring is still nowhere near 100%. No one outside of Roy knows exactly how healed it is or just how uncomfortable or painful it is to play on, but a couple of questions remain to be answered. First, by playing on a sore hamstring, if he risking further injury to his body which could put his future in jeopardy? Also, is Roy helping or hindering the Blazers while he is on the floor right now in his current state? Not unexpectedly, Roy looked non-existent on defense and too hesitant on offense for my liking. If the hamstring doesn't show signs of improvement soon, it may be best to just let him sit as future seasons are more important than this one.
"I have to continue to try to get my rhythm, get a feel for what I can do out there," Roy said. "I've had a lot of time away from basketball. I'm still trying to find my way with this team. They've been playing good basketball, and I'm trying to figure out how I can get in there and help, and get back to where I was. It seems like it's going to take a couple of games, and this was a tough team to come back against. There's some soreness, but I've come to the point where it's going to be there, and I have to figure out how to play with it," he said.
Official Game Photos
Box Score

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