The Portland Trail Blazers went into their fourth and final regular season encounter with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers still looking for their first victory against Kobe Bryant and company. With the support of the Rose Garden behind them, the Trail Blazers pulled off a significantly important victory in what could eventually prove to be a first-round playoff matchup.
For the second consecutive game, the tempo was in Portland’s control. For the second consecutive game, Portland had 5 players score in double-figures. For the second consecutive game, Portland came away with the win. No coincidence here – it’s only simple math!
The game started competitive early, with both the Trail Blazers and the Lakers trading buckets en route to a 21-21 tie after the opening 12 minutes. Both teams’ offensive output was taken up a level in the second quarter, ending with the Trail Blazers outscoring the Lakers 32-26 in the 2nd quarter. Soon after the half-time intermission, Portland was rolling, outscoring the Lakers 21-3 to open the 3rd quarter, hitting their shots and playing with more steel defensively to limit Los Angeles’s opportunities. Portland eventually took a 5-minute siesta, not scoring any more points in the period, but still claimed the quarter 21-15. The final 12 minutes had the Lakers enjoy a bit of the momentum they carried in the previous period, winning the quarter 24-19, but it was the Trail Blazers that held off the Lakers as the final buzzer sounded.
A playoff atmosphere was certainly entrenched in this game from start to finish. Kobe had a mini-hot streak going, when he buried 4 threes in less than 2 minutes. Defensively, it was tight throughout, with neither team affording the other much in terms of floor spacing and positioning. As the game wore on, it became chippy, with Gerald Wallace and Ron Artest exchanging pleasantries once again, continuing a feud that began when the two met each other on March 20. A furious comeback ensued by the Lakers in the 4th quarter, but Portland’s solid play throughout and large lead proved to be too much for the visitors to overcome.
The whole starting five brought major contributions to the table against the champs, and despite a size mismatch still were able to overcome and produce solid numbers. LaMarcus Aldridge had another huge night at the office, scoring 24 points off of 10-19 shooting, hauling in 11 rebounds, collected 2 steals, and spiked 4 shots away for a masterful performance on both ends on the floor. Joining him in the double-double club was Gerald Wallace, dubbed the “MVP” by Aldridge himself. His numbers certainly warranted that tag, as he poured in 19 points on 5-12 attempts, while muscling down 13 rebounds, and adding 7 assists, as well as a steal in a 40-minute masterpiece, only blemished by 4 turnovers. Andre Miller was the third inductee into the 10X2 convention, collecting 12 points on 4-8 shots from the field, and racking up 13 assists, in addition to 6 rebounds and 2 steals. Like Wallace, he also had 4 turnovers, but still contributed in many important categories.
Although these three put on great performances of their own, the numbers and effort put forth by the other two starters, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews were just as crucial. Batum continued his strong shooting as of late, making 6-12 of his shots for 13 points, snatching 4 rebounds as well as a steal. Much like Batum, Matthews has been really heating up recently, his latest effort translating to a stat-line of 18 points on 7-11 shooting, 2 assists and rebounds, and a blocked shot. Portland’s bench was a complete non-factor, combining for only 7 points via 3-15 attempts, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals, but the starting five proved to be more than enough to counter-balance the lack of contribution.
For the Los Angeles Lakers, they had a night to forget offensively, with only 3 players (Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher and Matt Barnes) shooting 50% or better, with their combined output being a mere 7-11 from the floor totaling just 18 points. The results were not pretty for the rest of the purple-and-gold performers, with several of them engaging in a prototypical shooting-gallery nightmare experience. Ron Artest (4-14, 11 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal and a block) and Pau Gasol (4-11, 8 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals) were two of the unwilling participants who helped shoot the Lakers out of the game in the 3rd quarter.
Shannon Brown was also asking for his money back, misfiring for a 3-10 shooting night, totaling only 7 points and a rebound. While Kobe Bryant got his usual 20+ point game (24 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists), it took him 10-25 shots to reach that number on an inefficient night for one of the league’s best. Lamar Odom had a solid game off the bench for the visitors, tallying 13 points (5-11) and 14 rebounds for the double-double, as well as 3 assists, a steal and a block. He did give away a team-high 4 turnovers, however costing his team some valuable chances on offense.
As a team, Portland’s strong shooting carried them throughout most of the proceedings, save for that 6 minute stretch between the 3rd and 4th quarters. For the game, the Trail Blazers converted more often from the field than the Lakers (45.5% to 39.5%), as well as from the free-throw stripe (85.0% to 50.0%), while Los Angeles did enjoy a better success rate from beyond the arc (44.0% to 28.6%). Given the size advantage that the Lakers possessed, Portland were outrebounded by a significant margin (52 to 41). Even so, Portland collected far more assists (28 to 14), turned the ball over less (9 to 17), stole the ball at a higher rate (8 to 6) and blocked more shots (5 to 4), playing an all-around better game than Los Angeles.
All cylinders were clicking on a signature Trail Blazers performance on Friday evening, and the lift provided the starting five, as well as the Rose Garden crowd propelled Portland to victory. The win sees them improve to a 47-33 mark for the season, still a half game ahead of the New Orleans Hornets (46-33), after they comfortably dispatched Phoenix. Portland’s last two games see them playing against fellow playoff pushers Memphis, and Golden State. Both these encounters are considered must-wins, as even though Portland will compete in the playoffs this spring, it’s who they’ll be up against that’s still yet to be decided.