Blazers 113, Wolves 102: Now we know
Remember the incredible Warriors-Mavericks playoff series from 2007? The Warriors used psychological and stylistic warfare against Dallas and ended up getting one of the biggest playoff upsets in NBA history.
The Warriors made the Mavs go small ball and play an up-tempo, frantic style they knew Dallas was completely comfortable playing. The Mavs had left their gunning ways when Avery Johnson replaced Don Nelson and were willing to defensively grind out victories and let Dirk carry them to wins. The Warriors on the other hand were able to make Dallas play small from the get-go and not utilize what brought them so much success.
Getting a team to conform to your style play can be winning half the battle. But we all remember the tagline of GI Joe that stated knowing was the other half of said skirmish. And knowing your opponent and how well they play in certain matchups is really the key in prepping for victories every night. Clearly, the Wolves didn’t know that trying to get the slowest paced team in the league to up their tempo was a bad idea.
Look at the win-loss profile of the Blazers on 82games.com. When Portland is playing a fast-paced team, they’re at their most successful. Portland is 10-6 when facing teams in the Top 10 in Pace. Now, looking at the list of those 10 teams isn’t exactly look at murderers row of the NBA (only the Knicks and Nuggets have a winning record), but Portland still tends to be most successful playing a faster paced team.
The Wolves seemed a little unprepared in this game in a few ways and ended up shooting themselves in the collective feet. They did four fundamental things wrong in this game.
– The transition defense was not good. Portland is not a fastbreaking team. In fact, they are near the bottom of the league in transition points. But they managed 18 transition points in this game because the Wolves were either too sloppy or too inconsistent in their ability to hustle back and find their defensive assignments. This isn’t supposed to happen when you have a fast team full of athletic perimeter players. If the shot goes up, there needs to be a man back. If the ball gets turned over, you’re supposed to have the gazelles on the court to retreat.
– The Wolves gave up too many points off their 16 turnovers. Their miscues fueled 22 points for Portland who just seemed ready to pounce on the Wolves whenever they got a chance. It was almost as if the Wolves thought they could push the tempo against the Blazers and not have it pushed back at them. It was a race between the tortoise and the hair, only the tortoise had rollerblades with little rockets attached to the sides.
– Minnesota also couldn’t stop LaMarcus Aldridge in this game. I mean AT ALL. It’s not really their fault either. Over the last month, LaMarcus Aldridge has been banging his own All-Star drum by simply destroying every frontcourt in his path. He doesn’t really settle for bad shots anymore. He’s putting himself on the block or in the mid-post and using his unfathomable length to get his shot over defenders. It looks like Nick Cannon became a Monstar and then decided to play like Dirk Nowitzki. Love had to no chance against him. Darko couldn’t stop him. There wasn’t a single scheme or double team that seemed to slow him down or fluster him in any way.
– Free throw shooting wasn’t good. It’s hard to look at the margin of victory being 11 and then seeing the Wolves missed 11 free throws and then try to restrain yourself from setting your head on fire. It’s unrealistic to think the Wolves would make all 34 attempts in a game. But even cutting those misses in half completely changes the dynamic of the end of this game. At least get the ball to the final couple possessions so we can see which clever way the Wolves blow this game.
With all of that said, I sort of enjoyed the effort in some weird way. 64 points in the paint is an impressive outcome. Again, my theory that Darko having a good scoring game is the last thing the Wolves need on offense proved to be correct. He had a lot of confidence in his hook and was pretty much money inside of 10 feet in this game. But when he seems to be dominating the offensive sets, the Wolves are almost out of sync. 22-point game for Darko and it resulted in him having a negative plus/minus (yes, take it with a big heaping of salt but still take it).
Kevin Love’s numbers looked sexier than they felt but still 22 and 17 (even if the last few rebounds were unintentional stat-padding in some way) is still a heck of a game. But like Darko, Love can’t be the number one guy on offense. I really enjoyed the fact he didn’t take a single 3-pointer in this game. The percentage is great so far but the Wolves don’t need Rashard Lewis efforts from him. I like the 3-point shot as a safety valve from him and the majority of the arsenal.
Seeing the Wolves match this Portland team rebound for rebound (and then some) and actually win both sides of the glass is a nice little win for morale and all that crap. No, it doesn’t actually mean anything but being able to dominate on the boards against even the best rebounding teams is a nice thing to hold onto while you convince yourself Rubio is on his way.
It’s hard to really be happy or mad at this game. Aside from the third quarter in which the Blazers had all of the answers and the Wolves had none of the adjustments, it was pretty darn competitive. The Wolves played pretty ugly with a limited performance from Michael Beasley and still hung tough with a middle of the road Western Conference opponent. The game wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It sort of just was.
Minnesota tried to turn the matchup into the Mavs-Warriors by dictating their style. Little did they know Portland has great success against that style and the players probably welcome it in order to break out of their Rascal-paced attack. Next time, hopefully Rambis and friends will know better.
And knowing is half the battle…