Here is a game that was a pretty good argument against tanking. Sure, neither team is going to win the championship this year, and it’s highly unlikely either of them will win it in the next five years. But it was a high-quality game with the Blazers passing and shooting brilliantly and defending just enough, as the Pistons crashed inside again and again (60 points in the paint).
Portland started this game with a bang, with 4 of its first 5 field goal makes coming from beyond the arc. And while that ridiculous pace was unsustainable, the long ball (11/23 from deep with 3 hits from Dorell Wright and 5 from Damian Lillard) is what differentiated the Blazers tonight. When the Pistons committed to stopping Aldridge or were less than enthusiastic in tracking back on defense, the Blazers deftly and patiently found the open man from deep. When the arc was covered, Portland willingly worked the ball inside for easy opportunities in the open spaces.
Robin Lopez was the primary beneficiary of this, hitting for an efficient 17 points (including a delightfully oafish and-1 dunk on Greg Monroe), although Joel Freeland also took advantage of an extended Pistons defense to sneak in for four offensive rebounds. With the ball moving side to side on multiple possessions seeking out the best shot inside or outside, multiple hustling big guys seeking out dump offs, and a stretch four commanding a double team, Terry Stotts had to think this is about as close as he’s come to emulating his success as the Mavs’ offensive coordinator outside of Dallas.
The defense in this game is a bit hard to evaluate, as the Pistons are essentially the opposite of the Blazers. They generate almost no space on offense with their perimeter players. The goal of Mo Cheeks’ scheme appears to be to let Jennings or Stuckey shoot as quickly as possible to allow for an offensive rebound without the possibility of a turnover. This strategy worked pretty well as Andre Drummond was the beneficiary of the brick house constructed by the Pistons’ guards (Drummmond was 8/9 with 7 offensive rebounds) while the Pistons only committed 7 turnovers.
In the end though, you can’t really brick your way to a win, and the Blazers’ approach was sufficiently more efficient over the course of the game.
Those last two minutes
The only reason the game gained a sheen of competitiveness in the final minute is because the Blazers got slack after taking a 105-92 lead. It’s hard to write about this part of the game because it was like a totally different game, as Portland stopped trying to generate good shots and got sloppy with the basketball. A few nice Brandon Jennings shots later and it was a four point game giving Detroit ample opportunity to win the game without even playing the foul game. Fortunately for the Blazers, after a canny open court foul from Batum on Jennings, the Pistons failed to hit a good look at a runner for Monroe, and the best chance for the Pistons was gone.
–Thomas Robinson got a very quick hook after getting worked by Detroit’s interior players on the glass a couple times, and generally not appearing interested in the game. He did not play in the second half, indicating that in games where defensive rebounding is a priority, the Freeland/Aldridge/Lopez combination may shoulder all the big man minutes. It’s unfortunate too, because on a team that generates as much space as the Blazers, Robinson’s athleticism should be a huge asset in the pick and roll and on dump-offs under the hoop.
–Mo Williams made everything in the first half. I’m still not a fan of him being the #1 minutes guy among the subs especially since it seems to move Lillard off-ball, but it’s hard to argue with 32 minutes when a guy is 7-9. Still, an ugly shot chart, especially with some of them coming in semi-transition when the Blazers had been working for 3s:
–Having not really seen the Pistons this season, I personally was underwhelmed given how hyped they were by the hoops “intelligentsia.” It’s obvious they are a big and athletic team, and will win some games doing that. It’s equally obvious that Josh Smith just doesn’t work at the small forward, and their offense is an eye-sore with little planning and with way too much Rodney Stuckey involved. On defense the personnel is decent, but they are nowhere near the terror some people were anticipating, as the Blazers found high percentage shots over and over again.