Thursday, December 21, 2006

All I want for Christmas is a six-game win-streak

I forgot to add the bullet points when I first published this, so this is what it should have looked like.

Last night I was in attendance as the Blazers won a fifth straight game for the first time since the 2003-2004 season. That streak was in February, and we beat a bunch of teams that weren't very good that year. Those five games consisted of the Clippers at home, the Warriors down there, the Celtics at home, the Heat in Miami, and the Magic in Orlando. We did win four straight last year, all at home, against the Lakers, Magic, Cavaliers, and Raptors. But for us to win five straight this early in a season that most "experts" thought would find us at the bottom of the league again is pretty exciting. And exciting is one of the best words I can use to describe the game last night. Another important aspect of this streak is that it equals our longest losing streak of the season, and if we can beat the Raptors at home tomorrow we will have a longer longest-winning-streak than our longest-losing-streak. For a bad team that's a good thing.
  • The first thing I noticed was how empty the Rose Garden was. The saddest part of that was how happy my friend Josh was to see the stands filled up. Yeah, it's been that bad. But we produced a good amount of noise when Przybilla got the tip-off, beating Yao to the ball. The first quarter was pretty ugly at the start, but the Blazers picked it up a bit. Here are the most important things that I noticed in the first quarter:

  • Zach wasn't getting quick double-teams, so he scored 11 in the quarter. He was also rebounding well, with all four of his first-quarter boards coming off the defensive glass. Most importantly, he was running back on defense and showing good energy on both sides of the court.

  • Martell Webster, although he didn't score, was doing exactly what I want him to do: putting shots up as soon as he got the ball. And man, his shot looks so good. He didn't hit that many of his shots during the whole game--he finished with seven points--but it was great to see him taking quick shots when he was open.

  • Brandon R-O-Y brought the house down simply by going into the game. He also brought it down by looking pretty good immediately. I'm not much of a basketball connoisseur, but I had to remind myself that he's a rookie and that he's missed twenty games. This kid is good. This kid is mature.

  • What I said a few posts ago, that Zach has confidence in R-O-Y, was evident even in the first quarter. But the other thing that was evident was that Randolph has developed more confidence in his other teammates as well. Good to see.

  • Przybilla certainly didn't stop Yao, but he made the big guy work really hard for everything. It was great to see. Actually, for the most part the whole team did pretty well on the defensive end.
The second quarter was perhaps the best one of the game for Portland. A lot of players got involved during this period, and it looked like the team was playing with great cohesion. This was even more impressive than it might have been because Jack wasn't having a very good game at this point. This quarter may have been the first time McMillan used the three-shooting-guard lineup, playing R-O-Y at the one, Dixon at the two, and Webster at the three. I liked watching this lineup, especially because of the energy Dixon was bringing. Have I mentioned how much confidence the city of Portland has in R-O-Y? He was playing point in his first game back after missing twenty from injury. And he's a rookie. And he's a shooting guard.
The other main observations from the second quarter:
  • Travis Outlaw has really grown into his role. He followed his one block first quarter with four points, one rebound, and one block in the second. But the second quarter block brought the crowd to its feet. The Rockets ran a play that had Yao moving well, and he caught the lob on his way to the hoop. He pulled up from five feet and shot an easy jumper, only to have Outlaw fly in and send the ball five or six rows into the crowd. It was beautiful. Outlaw played well the rest of the game, too.

  • I love watching Sergio Rodriguez. He wasn't even in for a full minute, just the last five seconds of the half. But I got so excited to see what he could do with the ball. I look forward to seeing him develop into a good NBA player.

  • Przybilla had to leave the game because of foul trouble, as the officials were calling anything on him that they could. That brought Jamaal Magloire into the game, and even though Yao made him look like a little boy, Magloire kept running up and down, putting energy in, and trying to prove that he's worth it to somebody. Maybe even Portland. In fact, Magloire decided that he could do what Zach does on offense, which was pretty good. The main problem is that he can't do exactly what Zach does, because he doesn't have the same nose-for-the-ball, the same arsenal of moves, the same touch on his shot, or the same free throw ability. But his confidence and energy were good enough to get him a few points and rebounds and help while Zach was out of the game.
  • Ime Udoka is such an important player on this team. There was one play, either in this quarter or the third, in which it looked like he and Webster got confused on defense. Well, I have no doubt that Martell was the confused one, and that Udoka nearly covered both men. As they went off the floor for a timeout Ime pulled Martell aside and coached him a little bit. He plays and acts like a veteran, and he's a journeyman getting his first real shot in the league. That is huge. He also does little things, like pulling down a defensive rebound and running the floor. He had one defensive board, four points, and an offensive rebound and assist on the same possession during the second quarter. I hope that he's a part of this team for a long time, even if that should be in a bench role as the young guys progress.*
The third quarter was another good period of basketball for the Blazers. They started slowly, but then picked it up and kept the ten point lead they brought into the second half. Some of the things from the third quarter:
  • Jarrett got into a better rhythm and had a good third quarter. He had two assists and seven points. At one point he made a ridiculous three-pointer. The ball had gone out of bounds with only a few seconds left on the shot clock. After the inbounds pass it looked like the Blazers didn't know they needed to shoot. With four on the clock Zach passed it to R-O-Y, who held it a second and then got it to JJ a few feet beyond the arc. Jack realized that the clock was winding down, set his feet and released an ugly leaning three-pointer right before the buzzer went off. He hardly even hit net it was so pure. As he ran down court he nearly did the Michael Jordan shrug. Jack's confidence and awareness are two things that get me excited about his future with this team.

  • This quarter was characterized by the numerous contributors on the offensive end. Randolph had eight points this quarter, JJ had seven, Outlaw had four, Udoka had three, Przbyilla had two, and Webster had two. Most of the shots were good shots, too, with the exception of Jack's expiring three. One of the prettiest plays in the quarter was on Udoka's three-pointer. Randolph established deep position and got the ball on the right side. He quickly wrapped a skip pass around his defender to Udoka in the left corner, who drained the open shot from range. It was pretty basketball, and exemplifies what has been going well for the Blazers in this winning streak: team play.

The fourth quarter wasn't pretty, but it was telling. I would have had Udoka in the entire quarter. Instead, McMillan showed that his confidence in R-O-Y didn't wain while the rookie was hurt. Randolph got his usual rest at the beginning of the quarter, when Magloire was in, and Przybilla was kept out until the last three minutes because of his foul situation. Otherwise, the core during the fourth quarter was JJ, Dixon, R-O-Y, Outlaw, and Randolph. Przybilla came in for the last three minutes, Udoka came in at the very end, and Magloire started the period. The team did enough to win the game. Randolph, who struggled with his shot the whole game, made one from the floor, and then was one-for-two from the line (right at the end of the game, when McMillan had him intentionally miss the second). So the offense in the fourth came mainly from Jack (6 points), Outlaw (4 points), and R-O-Y (4 points). Outlaw made several huge jumpers in space he created with the dribble. Brandon drove for both of his field goals, and the second shot he made in the quarter deserves its own sentence. R-O-Y drove the lane, got pushed left, and made a left-handed hook over Battier and Yao. McMillan said that the play broke down and Brandon just created with the ball. The play came after a timeout, with Portland only up by two and 30 seconds left in the game. The confidence that R-O-Y displayed in himself, and that the team and coach were willing to put in him, really made me believe all the fantasies I have about him being the savior of this franchise. I know that my ideas are unfair to him as a player, but I have them anyway.

It really was a great game to watch. The Blazers out-rebounded the best rebounding team in the league, got a bunch of hustle plays from everyone on the floor, and played like winners. I'm hoping they can continue this and take care of the Raptors tomorrow. If they do, it would be their first six game winning streak since they won eight straight in December of 2002. Who all was on that team? Rasheed Wallace (18.1 pts, 7.4 rbs, and 1.0 block), Bonzi Wells (15.2 pts, 5.3 rbs, 3.3 ast, 1.6 stls), Derek Anderson (13.9 pts, 3.5 rbs, 4.3 ast, and 1.2 stls), Scottie Pippen (10.8 pts, 4.3 rbs, 4.5 ast, 1.6 stls), a young Zach Randolph (8.4 pts and 4.5 rbs in 16.9 minutes per game), an old Arvidas Sabonis (6.1 pts, 4.3 rbs, and 1.8 ast in 15.5 minutes per game), and role players like Ruben Patterson, Damon Stoudamire, Dale Davis, and Jeff McInnis. Yeah, getting the longest winning streak since that team would be a pretty good birthday present.

*I was a little off. Those stats were actually from the first quarter. In the second Udoka had two points, two defensive rebounds, one offensive board, and two steals. Did I mention that he's really important to this team?


Lew said...

Nice work, and I am glad that you were able to go to the Blazers game. Also, good work providing insight/feelings that you felt from being at the game. I felt like I was reading an old SG artcle from when he was describing his experiences with the Clippers.

In an unrelated note, the Hawks blew a 21 point 4th quarter lead last night to lose to the Jazz at home. Very disappointing. People in Atlanta are calling for the GM and coach to both be fired (and while I don't love Knight and Woodson's work), there is no point firing anybody until the ownership squabble is settled. Hopefully it will be before the season ends so another off-season isn't wasted.

Josh J said...

Sorry you didn't get your six-game winning streak. The game was really ugly. The blazers had their moments, like the 12-0 run in the 3rd/early 4th quarter and an awesome layup by that the telecasters said compared to an "MJ move." But overall, shooting and turnovers were lousy and the blazers gave up too many opportunities to win the game.

Josh J said...

the MJ move described in the previous comment was performed by B. R-o-Y. Somehow I missed it in my edit.