Rivalries typically aren’t made in the offseason. But after nearly plucking Nic Batum this summer, signing Brandon Roy, and trading spots with Portland as the country’s top bike city for the past four years, Minneapolis sure does look like its begging for a fight. With thousands of Ducks and Beavers fans in the crowd and ready for Saturday’s civil war, the Rose Garden was treated to the closest thing Blazers have to an NBA rivalry right now.
Though billed as a battle of the power forwards, it was the Portland backcourt who shined. Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard shot a combined 23 of 34 and put up 58 points on the night. Lillard added eight assists while Matthews connected on five of six from behind the arc for the best offensive effort from the starting backcourt for Portland this season. After trailing by as many as 13, Portland came back and out-scored Minnesota 53-40 in the second half to win its fourth of the past five games.
Matthews’ big night: Generally one of the more boisterous Blazers on the court, Wesley Matthews is one of the most muted players in the locker room after the game. Crowds with audio recorders tend to cluster around him, leaning in close as he typically stares straight ahead and answers questions politely but with little modulation.
To be fair, my experience covering the Blazers came last year during a dreadful season where Matthews was asked night after night what the Blazers needed to do to succeed; one of the key answers of course being Matthews himself needed to improve on both ends of the floor.
Tonight, in his purple striped socks and relaxed smile Matthews explained that he was satisfied with the team’s defensive effort more than anything else. Leading all players with 30 points on 12 of 17 shooting, Matthews filled in on the offensive end for LaMarcus Aldridge who had trouble staying on the floor before fouling out.
Wesley spent just two sentences of his locker room interview talking about his own impressive performance, instead focusing on the issues the team worked to address after the discouraging defeat in Phoenix.
Love/Aldridge: LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love have been jockeying for position as the Western Conference’s leading power forward for three seasons now. The pair was handed technical fouls early in the third quarter, which proved costly as Aldridge was playing with three personal fouls. LaMarcus fouled out of the game with just 13 points on a substandard 6 of 13 shooting night, with many of those attempts coming well outside of the paint. All but one of his shot attempts in the first half were away from the basket, leaving him without a single free throw attempt during the stretch.
There were flashes of passion for Aldridge, and not just the altercation with Love. And it’s not that his first half was bad, but like Barack Obama’s first debate performance, at this point we expect him to come out, understand the stakes, and try to set the tone early. Instead, Aldridge was satisfied taking his outside jumpers while Lillard and Matthews carried the team offensively. LaMarcus remains content so long as his team ends up the winner of the contest, but after four years of watching him try to win the power forward battle with his turnaround jumper, it will be welcome when Love is the one fouling out after Aldridge repeatedly takes the ball down low.
You get one guess as to which was the last opponent to send LaMarcus to the bench with his sixth foul.
The new kid: He really is that good. 28 points, 11 of 17 shooting, eight assists and not a single turnover on the night. More impressive than the gaudy numbers Lillard is putting up to start the season is his ability to influence the personality of a team with plenty of guys who have been around the league. He’s not going to chuck shots when he’s hot. He’s not going to panic and look for the home-run play when the teams needs a bucket. He’s going to keep playing his measured game within Stott’s system and trust that the game will come to him.
With five seconds left in the second quarter and the Blazers down eight, Lillard calmly stepped behind the three point line and nailed the shot. He didn’t celebrate–though the Rose Garden did–he got back on defense and made sure Luke Ridnour didn’t turn around and nail a last-second three at the buzzer. It was extraordinary to watch him remain so incredibly focused after connecting on the biggest play of the half.
Batum was in the building, I swear: Four points in the first half, just five in the second, and you know, he actually didn’t have a terrible game. Yes, Batum was quiet offensively, and he could stand to attack more– especially on nights where Portland only gets to the line once in the first half–but he kept the ball moving which this team desperately needs. Even in a more liberated offense, Portland still struggles to keep the ball moving and the defense reacting. Batum notched five assists and was a big part of Portland’s success in keeping Andrei Kirilenko quiet with just 3 of 9 shooting and 10 points on the night.
- Stott’s presser can be found here
- Lillard’s 28 points tie the rookie record for the season
- Portland has defeated Minnesota 13 of the last 14 meetings at the Rose Garden
- Lillard’s 28 points is a career high
- Gary Payton was in crowd tonight, rocking some OSU Beavers gear much to the pleasure of the orange-shirted crowd contingent
- Ricky Rubio was spotted outside of the visitor locker room chatting with Victor Claver
- Dante Cunningham checked out the Blazer locker room remodel and approved