By Jonathan Ryan Davis
Just a quick review for the readers about Portland's two biggest struggles/flaws for this year:
1) Winning close games
2) Winning on the road
If the Blazers had won all of their close games (5 points or less), they would have the best record in the league. Simply looking at point differential, Portland should be third in the Western Conference behind OKC and San Antonio. If Portland had simply won 5 of their 9 losses by five points or less, Portland would be tied with the Spurs for second in the West. Unfortunately, Brandon Roy is gone and Portland has struggled in close games and have been abysmal on the road.
So, heading into last night's game against Golden State, a team that had won three straight games and is a team on the rise under the tutelage of Mark Jackson, AND factoring in that Portland was on the second game of a back-to-back-to-back, AND considering Portland was without their All-Star and the most consistent player the team has had this year, AND understanding that Portland would rather play the Lakers at home than Golden State at Oracle...Portland was destined to lose.
Last night started out how most people probably expected. The Warriors dominated the boards, out-shot the Blazers, and extended the lead multiple times in the first quarter, to as many as 8 points. But Portland fought back. By focusing on controlling the defensive boards, corralling and putting back multiple baskets, and FINALLY hitting outside shots, Portland climbed back into the game by scoring 37 points in the second quarter and taking a three point lead into halftime. Then, as we all expected against one of the best shooting and higher scoring teams in the league, the second half was all about defense. Portland combined to score 36 points in the half, one less than they managed in the second quarter alone. Yet Portland's defense was just as stifling against Golden State.
Going down the stretch in the fourth quarter, the inevitable pattern was playing out. Portland was within a couple of possessions of their opponent. They started to miss shot after shot while their opponent steadily hit baskets. Portland throws away possessions, and eventually, they lose by three points. But this night was different from all other nights.
Without Aldridge, Portland ran their offense through Gerald Wallace and Jamal Crawford. Crash was stellar, knocking down four clutch threes and slashing to the hoop. Crawford was off and on all night, but hit every key free throw and the deciding three point shot that gave Portland the lead in the closing minute. Then, the Warriors played the role of the Blazers by fumbling their final possession where they could have forced OT or won the game outright. Instead, BLAZERS WIN!
So, what does this tell us about the formula for winning close games? Let Crash let it fly from beyond the arc. Ensure LMA is in street clothes. Give Elliot Williams plenty of playing time. And most of all, play every close game on the road.
Who knows if Portland can use this victory to propel them in the right direction; but it was sure nice to go to sleep after winning a close game. We can all hope that the Blazers are learning about what it takes to win close games. I'd rather them learn now and build on it going into the playoffs than forget how to win close games down the stretch.
Great game last night and one more to go tonight!