Game report: Blazers 101, Timberwolves 98 (OT)
What was supposed to be a boring mid-season NBA game between two mediocre teams turned into an action-packed barnburner at the Rose Garden tonight, and the Blazers prevailed over the once-proud Minnesota Timberwolves in an overtime game that left most of the sparse crowd hoarse.
The Wolves had just fired their coach and were coming in on a four-game losing streak. Portland had been fizzling out of late, with some early-season successes fading into a distant memory. It promised to be a sleepwalk, following a typical NBA script -- one team building a big lead, the other making it close near the end, but the initial leader holding on for a victory.
Surprise. This thing was in doubt from start to finish, and neither team ever had a chance to get comfortable. Various players went through their ebbs and flows, and it was anybody's game. Eventually the road team's legs got just a tad rubbery, and the home team edged them out.
Just about every Blazer had some great moments. Zach Randolph, the team leader, had a frighteningly slow start, but he warmed up as the evening wore on. Backup point guard Sergio Rodriguez, normally an assist machine, found himself open for shots, which he took, and mostly made, pouring in 18 points. When Sergio's golden touch started to fade, coach Nate McMillan re-inserted Jarrett Jack into the lineup, and he made key plays on offense in the overtime period.
The performance of the Blazer big men was its usual spotty self, but McMillan wisely switched LaMarcus Aldridge and Jamaal Magloire in and out for each other down the stretch -- the former for offense, the latter for defense. It wasn't exactly a vote of confidence for either man, but they took it like the pro's that they are and did their jobs pretty well. Aldridge, who had jocked up a bunch of ugly shots early in the game, redeemed himself with two crucial free throws that saved it in the fourth quarter. Joel Przybilla spent a lot of time banging with T'wolves star Kevin Garnett. At one point, the two squared off and looked as though they might start some extracurricular activity, but they checked themselves in time to avoid that. Joel did get himself in foul trouble, however, and his night ended long before the excitement did.
Martell Webster, who was left standing around throughout much of the first half, wound up making some pretty drives and playing some gritty basketball (including snagging some fine rebounds) toward the end. Nate always has Martell in there when the chips are down, and tonight it really paid off. Ime Udoka did a workmanlike job for the relatively short time he played; his offensive rebounds were a nice contribution.
That leaves Brandon Roy, who wasn't terrible tonight but wasn't very good, either. Given his many talents, he made a difference just by being out there, I guess. And like Webster and Udoka, he worked hard on the boards -- a place where Aldridge pretty much got schooled.
Here's a word you haven't heard in connection with the Blazers in a long time, but after tonight's game, I'll say it:
It's entirely possible. The young Rose City squad isn't great, but they're very good, and coach McMillan is simply excellent. Tonight's game was a real chess match, and Nate showed his mettle. The team to beat for that last playoff slot is Minnesota. A gutsy Blazer squad showed tonight that, at least at the moment, they're actually the better of the two teams. If the Blazers play the way they're capable of, the T'wolves could be watching them on TV, and not vice versa, come the post-season.
O.k., now for the bad news. So logy was I when I left the house for this game -- as I say, I wasn't expecting much -- that I accidentally left my camera behind. Thus, you won't get the usual out-of-focus photos taken from my vantage point. But thanks to one of this blog's many patrons, we were sitting in beautiful seats, near the tunnel over by the Blazer bench, where we sat last year for this game. Yes, Paul Allen was there next to Steve Patterson, and Mo Lucas looks like he's dropped a few pounds, which is good. So now, just picture Garnett and monster guard Ricky Davis (whose great night ended a little early, thank heaven) in their visiting uniforms, and the Blazers in their home whites, and you'll have the picture. If not, there are some professional photos of tonight's game here.
I'm serious about the playoff thing.