Knee Jerk Reactions: Nets 98, Blazers 85
photo courtesy of the NY Daily News
For the second consecutive road game, the Trail Blazers started on foreign turf without the comfort of playing five healthy starters. Last Wednesday in Phoenix, center J.J. Hickson sat out with a sore shoulder and this afternoon in Brooklyn, power forward LaMarcus Aldridge complained of back pain. Makes you wonder if all the physicality against Minnesota’s Kevin Love on Friday night might have led to this.
Just like on Wednesday night, rookie Meyers Leonard slid into the starting lineup. And early on, as you can imagine, life without Aldridge made the Blazers look stagnant. With no 6-foot-11 All-Star who could set high screens and peel away and drain 18-foot jump shots, who would take his place? The answer, surprisingly, was Leonard.
The Blazers ran a pick-and-roll on their first play (Damian Lillard moving around Leonard’s screen to the top of the 3-point arc) resulted in Leonard shorting a hook shot. But on the next play, Blazers went to the other side with a pick-and-roll with shooting guard Wesley Matthews and Leonard and this time, Leonard cut down the lane, caught the pass and scored on a floater. But the movement wasn’t always as fluid and Brooklyn went on a 12-0 run.
MORE ON LEONARD
The Blazers broke out of that first-quarter funk with some scoring from the usual suspects (Nicolas Batum and Matthews draining long jumpers) before Leonard showed some flashes of his offensive game. Leonard scored six straight, spanning from the end of the first quarter to the beginning of the second, and even led the team in scoring at halftime with 12 points.
Great first half for the rook – but it would end there. Leonard didn’t score again. It was lot like the Phoenix game when he dropped 10 points through the first half, then only scored two points through the final 24 minutes of the game.
So breaking down Leonard’s two career starts, he’s 11 for 14 for 22 points in first halves and through the third and fourth quarters, he has disappeared with 1-5 shooting and 2 points.
UPS AND DOWNS OF THE BENCH
The Blazers led 50-46 at halftime with scoring from the five starters. That’s right – a big goose egg on the scoreboard for the bench. But, I still thought the reserve guys played well through the first 24 minutes.
Why? Because the bench veterans Jared Jeffries and Ronnie Price each contributed three assists and rookie Will Barton provided another. They worked well in harmony with the starters, and the Jeffries-to-Price-to-Leonard slam dunk was the highlight of the Blazers’ late first-quarter run. Jeffries even showed some point guard skills, handling the ball after a Brooklyn make and zipping a one-handed pass to Batum for the slam.
The seven assists from Jeffries, Price and Barton consisted of half of the team’s entire first-half total and set up the starters for at least 14 points. Additionally, Barton and Jeffries had two rebounds a piece through the second quarter and played on the unit that extended the Blazers’ lead to four points by the break.
They are a unit of “little things” and you have to take the Blazers’ bench for what they are. They aren’t scorers and that is painfully evident every time Joel Freeland enters the game. Freeland airmailed a baseline jumper near the end of the third quarter and Jeffries twice tried to play two-man ball with him in the fourth quarter and both plays ended poorly (Freeland got blocked at the rim one time, and lost the pass on the other instance). Freeland got stuck by the twos in his box score line: 0 for 2, 2 turnovers, 2 personal fouls. Zero points.
But it’s hard picking on Freeland, who plays the least frequently as any of the bench players in rotation. But on Sunday, he was the shining example of how this bench cannot be expected to score.
After a rather clean game from the Blazer backcourt in Friday’s win over the Timberwolves – only two turnovers from Matthews and none from Lillard – the pair combined for six on Sunday.
Lillard also struggled with his shot, one of his four field-goal makes was a banked-in 3-pointer and he only went 1 for 7 from inside the arc. Lillard had to deal with the Deron Williams, who’s got strength packed in that 6-foot-3, 209-pound frame.
Although Lillard showed individual defensive improvement by blocking two of Williams’ shots at the rim, the veteran point guard was a big reason why Lillard got into early foul trouble and finished with four personals.
Matthews, for his part, knocked down a couple of shot-clock saving 3-pointers and as usual, contributed in other areas with three steals, three assists and three rebounds. Matthews had to take 18 shots to get there, but he led the team with 20 points.
BROOKLYN’S INSIDE JOB
The Brooklyn bigs clearly got under the skin of their Blazer counterparts. Early in the third quarter, Hickson and Kris Humphries got tangled into a jump ball. After the whistle, Humphries forcefully pulled the ball away. Hickson didn’t like that and so – in front of the official, Kenny Maurer, no less – he shoved Humphries in the back and got called for a technical.
Later, in the fourth quarter, Jeffries turned to face the rim for a defensive rebound when Reggie Evans threw a forearm to his back. On the replay, the contact appeared to be minimal but Jeffries dropped to the floor then immediately got in Evans’ mug. That resulted in another ‘T,’ this time from referee David Jones.
The Blazers might have been annoyed by their antics, but the Brooklyn bigs certainly handled their business. Humphries produced 14 and 10 while Mr. Floptastic Reggie Evans grabbed 14 rebounds in just 22 minutes of play.