LaMarcus Aldridge had what writers and commentators are calling a monster game last night; around here we like to say that L.A. went beast mode. He went for 33 points and 23 rebounds, padding out the stat sheet with 5 assists and 2 steals, easily forgiving his 6 turnovers. It’s important to note the rebounding stat, not only is this his career high, but rebounding was the key to actually pulling out a win tonight. How can I use the term “pulling out” a win with a 10 point victory that featured leads of around 20 points? Let me explain.
This game had trouble written all over it, which only got worse as the Raptors pulled to within 5 points late in the game. The Blazers are battling some physical exhaustion with the first prolonged road-trip of this shortened season. Worse than that, they are battling the physical and mental at the same time. There are multiple important players in shooting slumps, the team has lost 4 out of 5 and had strangely found themselves in a “must win” situation against the Raptors of all teams. Aldridge’s 23 rebounds, bolstered by 10 more a piece from Wallace and Camby helped to overcome most of the problems that continue to plague the team, enabling some of us forget about these troubles for awhile. But they’re still there.
Wallace’s 10 rebounds were big, he fought for position well and generally was disruptive on defense. However his shooting troubles and downed energy when away from the Rose Garden was still apparent. Against the Raptors, the rebounding made up for it. Raymond Felton broke out a little last night on the scoring siding hitting on 6 of 9 and nailing two 3-pointers, one particularly timely. He had only 5 assists with 2 turnovers, slightly concerning, but it makes some sense when you see how much L.A. scored with post play.
If you just went off of stat lines, Wesley Matthews would be a large area for concern as he went 2 for 9 from the field again. Happily he was 2 for 3 from deep and played some very solid defense, but the hesitation on shots is very evident and led to some really poor forced looks and turnovers. Jamal Crawford had a similar game, in that he had trouble with his shot again but had good defense (for him) and helped run the offense at times.
Batum’s game was so-so coming back from his eye injury. He really needs more minutes and a few more plays run during the game for him to be effective. He is particularly effective shooting off the curl after squaring up. There were more more solid minutes from the reserves, Thomas and the Smiths, Craig and Nolan. Coach McMillan was good to his word after the Atlanta game and Nolan, the rookie, got some some play again yesterday.
Then we come to the main men. I could talk forever about LaMarcus. Instead, just watch the highlights and know that he was obviously gassed heading into the fourth quarter, but continued to bring it on his career night. Without LaMarcus, no win in Toronto. However, the same thing could be said for Marcus Camby. Coming back from injury he has 10 boards, a couple blocks, a few assists and a steal. More importantly he takes up space in the middle and just plays smart as he always does.
The solid rebound and All-Star play from LaMarcus made up for the barely 40% shooting, Toronto’s 10 blocks and their 28 (to our 7) fast break points. The Blazers transition defense was awful, while their half-courts and traps, something I really enjoy watching that most teams don’t employ, were excellent. The transition allowed the Raptors to make numerous come-back attempts and kept the starters in the game longer than one would like when the second of the back-to-back on a late flight looms.
The fact that Detroit was blown out at home by more than 20 and that the Blazers are and will be tired and continue to struggle shooting the ball give this the feelings of a trap game. One that should be easily winnable, but turns out to be quite difficult. Detroit may be short-handed as well which increases the likelihood of possible upset for whatever reason. The return of Camby and hopefully the emerging ability of LaMarcus to push past the tiredness and hit that “other level” will be big factors.
Felton picked things up a bit, Nicolas did for several games before the eye-poke. Now, Wes and Jamal are due. And, don’t be surprised to see how well Nolan plays as he continues to get more game time. Also don’t be surprised to see LaMarcus go beast mode again sometime soon. In fact, he has to, it’s the only way to get him and our team an respect or attention again as his 33 and 23 performance does not even make the top 10 highlights on ESPN. Now that we’re not the flashy dark-horse pick anymore, they seem to have forgotten about our team… let’s change that by starting a new win streak tonight.