A back and forth series was certainly expected, but perhaps not to the epic proportions we were privy to on Sunday night in Game 1 of this best-of-7 (please let it go seven!) series. This one had franchise records, late game heroics, injury concerns, questionable calls and of course the ever-so-entertaining hack-a-Howard technique. The latter being the turning point in this game.
Before the series started I spoke with Mike DeMoor, who covers the NBA for Rant Sports, regarding what he was most excited to watch in this series. His response, “It’s gotta be (Patrick) Beverley and (Damian) Lillard. Beverley has already gotten under his skin this year, so put them together for six or seven games in a row and there’s a guarantee of fireworks.” This was Damian Lillard’s playoff debut and much like his pro debut last season; he did not disappoint. Lillard finished with 31 points, five rebounds and nine assists on the night and as usual hit some clutch shots late to help Portland steal this win.
Such a steal that even the Portland Police Department joined the fun via Twitter:
— Portland Police (@PortlandPolice) April 21, 2014
Not to be forgotten was the franchise record night for LaMarcus Aldridge as he posted 46 points and 18 rebounds! The 46 points broke the previous playoff record for the Blazers that was held by none other than Bonzi Wells (who scored 45 once). The Rockets had ZERO answer for Aldridge and he continuously went to work exploiting the smaller, less-experienced Terrence Jones who looked like a little brother trying to guard an older brother though they have no chance.
In my conversation with DeMoor we discussed Aldridge and here’s what he had to say, “Even though you have the most dominating player in the series (LA), I don’t think he gets it done in the clutch … if I’m wrong about that, then we’re in for a fair fight.” Challenge accepted and demolished by a Mr. LaMarcus Aldridge.
Aldridge and Lillard joined rare company with their big scoring nights:
— NBA History (@NBAHistory) April 21, 2014
Pretty impressive right? So, Portland fans must be overcome with joy (they are) and they must now be thinking that Portland will take this series with relative ease (they shouldn’t be); however that will almost assuredly not be the case.
Here are the reasons this season will still go seven games — I have the Blazers winning.
1. The Bench
This bench has been abysmal all year scoring only 24.4 points per game, good enough for LAST in the association. Sure, that average is up almost six points from last season but the bench still isn’t getting it done. Exhibit A: in Game 1 of this series the Portland bench was outscored 21-7 and they shot a combined 2-for-14 from the floor.
2. Patrick Beverley is unrelenting
You might glance at the box score and think “Lillard had 31 points? I thought Beverley was a stopper?” but Beverley’s unyielding effort takes its toll and by the end of games and as the series goes on, it will have an effect. When asked about Patrick’s place in this series DeMoor states, “Beverley is an absolute wild man … he’s a gamer and he’s always running on competitive fumes.”
3. Lack of perimeter defense
Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum are holding their own on the defensive end; although Harden had 27 points and Parsons 24 points in Game 1 — however Dame is a different story. There were many occasions where I found myself watch Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley blow by Lillard like he was standing still. This wouldn’t be all that big a deal except it hurts other areas as well. For instance, Robin Lopez fouled out of Game 1 and he will have his hands full with Dwight Howard all series long — two of his fouls came on plays where Lillard failed to contain penetration and Lopez was left out to dry.
Game 1 was a barn burner extraordinaire and I suspect all of the games will be like this and they will get even more chippy as it goes along. The good news for Portland is that they stole home court from the Rockets. The bad news — it took a Herculean effort from LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard to accomplish it; and even that only got them a two-point victory … in overtime.
I don’t mean to be the face of negativity here, but I do want to be realistic; this is a difficult matchup for the Blazers due to all of the penetrating players the Rockets have, so if they can keep up the defensive intensity and keep exploiting Aldridge’s mismatches then I think they will win this thing. It’s going to take seven games and it’s going to be supremely entertaining, but if you’re a fan of either of these teams you might want to get your blood pressure checked periodically throughout this opening round.
One thing we know about Portland — GOONIES NEVER SAY DIE!