New Orleans sting Portland and win 95-91
In a game where playoff positioning mattered the most, one of the most important games down the line for the Portland Trail Blazers let this game slip through their fingers and lose to the New Orleans Hornets 95-91 in the Big Easy and fall 1-3 on the final leg of their short road trip. With the loss, Portland is now tied for the seventh seed out West and losses the season series with New Orleans 3-1 and the tiebreaker. With David West out for the season, New Orleans nipped at Portland’s heel all night long and gain control in the fourth despite hot shooting from the Blazers early on. Andre Miller and LaMarcus Aldridge had productive games while the bench had their most active game in a long time, led by Patty Mills. Chris Paul, Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor take command while Portland can’t capitalize on Hornet misses and free throws ice the game away.
Both clubs were even in ways of scoring to start things off. The Hornets who usually rely on jumpers were hitting up points in the paint like they were free as NO hit their first four shots in the paint, mainly by Okafor. Miller going to work early on Paul and had eight early points as well as reaching up for offensive rebounds. Both teams were tied throughout the halfway point but three straight threes from Marco Belinelli give NO a measurable lead. One bright spot was the production of Portland’s bench as Rudy Fernandez and mainly Patty Mills were hot from the start, Fernandez dancing through the paint and Mills connecting for two deep threes have Portland’s bench outscoring NO’s bench 10-2. Thanks to Mills, a 10-2 Portland run takes shape and end shooting 61% from the field and take a 31-25 lead after one.
Aldridge gets to work over Okafor and connects from everywhere, at the baseline and at the top of the key for the deep jumper. His pick and pop plays with Brandon Roy work for a while but the Hornets shut that down quickly. The Blazers build their lead to ten and improve their shooting to 74% while NO hang around. Halfway through Portland start getting into foul trouble as Fernandez gets 2, Mills with 2 and Marcus Camby with 2 which leads to sending the Hornets to the foul line on every, single, foul. The Portland lead grows to 11 but as soon as it happens, quick NO buckets cut the lead to three and a 8-0 run ensues. Portland go cold near the end of the quarter shooting 1-6 from the field and their percentage down to 57%. Gerald Wallace who was just about everywhere tonight gets decked by Okafor as he runs into his shoulder and is slow to get up. New Orleans end on a 13-4 run and take momentum into the locker room only behind Portland by two. Portland hang onto slim 50-48 lead.
Just like what started the first quarter, both clubs go at it again on the offensive onslaught, Aldridge and Wesley Matthews scoring the first few points. The Blazers maintain the lead to just six but another Belinelli three give the Hornets their first lead in a while at 61-60. Wallace answers right back with a three of his own but just like that, five quick Portland points edge them back to four. And while New Orleans cannot find themselves to get a basket, Portland can’t make them pay, missing too many open shots in the paint and missed dunks as well as Okafor. Mills connects for this third straight three and fuels a 10-2 Blazer run however they are still only up by five. The quarter ends with Paul stealing from Mills and an AND1 play have Portland still up, but very slim once again, 70-68.
Remember the last game in San Antonio where the Blazers only managed 9 points in the third? Well it was like dejá vu as Portland went cold at the wrong times and allowed New Orleans to regain the lead, for good. Paul and Willie Green start things off hot while only Miller was the only one looking to score. Portland turns the ball over, fouls and send them to the free throw line. You get the idea. They end up going on a 21-5 run as Portland shoot 3-10 midway through the quarter. This game was pretty physical throughout but it got to a boiling point as Fernandez and Jarrett Jack tussle and technicals are issued. Roy hits a fadaway jumper to cut the Hornet lead to five but CP3 has the final say as he cruises down the paint for the easy lay up to keep Portland at bay. As the Blazers are down five with seconds left, Matthews connects for a hail mary three to keep things interesting only down by two. Laundry ices the game with free throws and the Blazers drop another game in the Big Easy to lose 95-91.
WHO WAS HOT
Carl Landry continues to step up in light to losing David West to an ACL injury. He finishes with another double figure outing with 21 Pts, 6 Reb and makes key free throws to ice the game. Marco Belinelli who was hot in the first half has 16 Pts on 4-5 from distance. Emeka Okafor dominated the paint with 15 Pts, 10 Reb and 3 Blk. Chris Paul had a productive night finishing with 11 Pts, 12 Ast, 7 Reb and 4 Stl. Willie Green leads the Hornets bench with 12 Pts. New Orleans make 22-29 free throws thanks for all the Blazers fouls. They poke the ball loose 8 times thanks in large part by CP3 and score 38 points in the paint.
A couple of days off for LaMarcus Aldridge helped somewhat to get those legs fresh, he collects 24 Pts and 15 Reb on 11-19 shooting. Andre Miller continues to work hard on all ends of the floor and scores when no one else can get in a shot. He finishes with 19 Pts, 3 Reb, 5 Ast. Gerald Wallace is another who despite being constantly knocked to the ground, gets back up and hussles down the court, he has 14 Pts, 10 Reb, 3 Ast and 1 Blk. And it’s nice to get Patty Mills up here once in a while, he had the hot hand off the Blazer bench, he had 13 Pts on 5-5 shooting and 3-3 from deep. Portland shoot well in the first half of the game but dip to 50%, they outrebound the Hornets 39-35 but that is probably the only bright spot.
WHO WAS NOT
Probably missing some key shots late in the game such as free throws and overall easy baskets. Portland went 12-16 at the line and I know they are much better then that. Going 5-14 from distance doesn’t surprise me as some of those were indeed contested shots at the shot clock buzzer. Portland turns the ball over 11 times and commit a whooping 26 fouls. I do give Nic Batum major credit for holding Chris Paul to just 11 points and working on him all night long but he could’ve had a better production offensively, only scrapping two points.
With the loss and thanks to the Houston Rockets for losing in Philadelphia, the Blazers are now tied for the seventh seed and if the playoffs started today we would face the Lakers. I think we have to start watching games for the teams on top to see who finishes with seeds 1-3 as LA is creeping up on San Antonio. The schedule doesn’t get easier for Portland as we face Oklahoma City, Dallas and Memphis in the coming weeks with the Thunder at the Rose Garden on Friday.
photo courtesy of nba.com/blazers