Trail Blazers-Pistons: Travis Outlaw Returns to Fourth-Quarter Heroics
The names are impressive. Brandon Roy. Rasheed Wallace. Richard "Rip" Hamilton.
And those are just the guys who did not play in this game. The guys who did play weren't half bad either.
Allen Iverson has had a Hall of Fame career and isn't done yet. LaMarcus Aldridge is doing damage down on the blocks to go with his silky smooth mid-range jumper. Rodney Stuckey has shown enough to make trading away Chauncey Billups seem like a good idea.
Tayshaun Prince and Travis Outlaw are outstanding role players who fill key functions on their respective teams. Greg Oden is showing some flashes of developing an offensive game to go along with his defensive presence.
With all that talent, it seemed like a pretty good game might break out.
Instead, we were treated to a slow-paced game that looked much worse in person than the shooting percentages of 50 and 48.5 would indicate. That had a lot to do with the Pistons getting off just 72 shots and the Blazers going six better (worse?) by hoisting just 66 shots.
It got worse. From the charity stripe, the Pistons managed just 56 percent, while Portland was marginally better but still embarrassing at 63 percent.
The third most entertaining portion of the game occurred outside the confines of the shot clock.
One possession late in the second quarter, Joel Pryzbilla attempted a lay-in and missed. He got the rebound and went up again—but missed. This is newsworthy, since he is shooting 75 percent from the field for the season. Fortunately, he was fouled on the second attempt.
He grabbed the ball as the players shuffled around and flipped it up...only to watch the ball rim out. So he did it again, and missed again. So he did it a third time after the whistle—and fifth time, counting the two attempts during actual play. When the ball went in, the Rose Garden erupted with cheers.
And then he missed the free throw. It caromed to Channing Frye, who promptly laid it in to "take the lid off the basket' before handing the ball to the official to allow Joel's second free throw.
This also drew a cheer.
These types of moments are spontaneous and highly entertaining.
Entertaining and memorable describes the second-most entertaining portion of the game. That would be the Jerryd Bayless show.
Prior to the season, Blazer fans were in love with Bayless. He can get into the paint seemingly at will, has the defensive tenacity of a bulldog, and a driving, forceful personality.
Then, however, the season started and he could not penetrate the guard rotation of Steve Blake, Brandon Roy, Sergio Rodriguez, and Rudy Fernandez.
When Roy went out with injury, he started getting his chance. It has not been a smashing success. He has struggled offensively, including shooting 1-14 in his last three games.
In this game his line was little better. He dialed up six shots and hit just two.
But what a game he played en route to a career-high eight points. In a key second-half sequence, he was everywhere. He was stealing the ball on defense, passing to LaMarcus Aldridge for dunks on the fast break, and providing his signature moment of the year so far.
A steal defensively saw him leak out. A long pass was stolen by Iverson. Somehow Bayless stole it right back, and in one smooth move went up for a two-hand dunk that electrified the crowd.
During that section of the game, lasting about five or six minutes, he provided the spark that took Portland from a seemingly insurmountable deficit into the most slender of one point leads.
But the most entertaining portion of the game was the end.
When Portland went down by three at 83-80 with only 1:19 left in the game, it was crunch time. Normally this year, Portland in this situation puts the ball in the hands of Brandon Roy and wins.
They are pretty good at it: 9-1 in games decided by five points or less. However, with no Brandon Roy, Portland would need scoring from somewhere else.
Enter Travis Outlaw.
He was being defended by Tayshaun Prince, the Piston's do-it-all stud.
All night Prince tortured the Blazers on both ends of the floor. He had harassed everyone he defended into tough shots. This time, Outlaw managed a tough, rolling hook shot. Portland was within one.
But then came a crushing possession, as the Pistons ran the shot-clock down and got a contested three attempt from Prince. It missed, but Antonio McDyess grabbed the offensive rebound. There were only 46 seconds left.
The Pistons are a smart, disciplined team, and they did what good teams do. They ran the shot clock down and got a shot from their best offensive player—Iverson. Fortunately, it missed and Fernandez knocked the rebound out of McDyess' hands to gain possession.
After a time out, Portland looked back to last year when Outlaw was hitting so many key fourth-quarter buckets that Blazer fans fell in love with him. Once more he got the ball, foul line extended. He drove on Prince, spun into a double team, spun back, elevated, and over the outstretched hands of two defenders put the Blazers back up by one with just eight seconds left.
It was deafening in the Rose Garden for the entire ensuing Pistons time out. Yet there was nervousness, too. Roy, the best wing defender, was out. Batum, the second-best wing defender, was on the bench. Iverson, the Hall-of-Famer in waiting, had the ball and the last shot.
Aldridge came off his man at the last second and forced the shot to arch higher than Iverson wanted. Blake grabbed the carom and eluded the Piston's attempts to foul him long enough for the clock to run out on their improbable win.
How did they do it? Inside, inside, inside.
Aldridge was a beast on the blocks. When he set up on the right block, he punished everyone sent against him with sweeping hooks across the lane or spins top the baseline.
Greg Oden scored just four points, but they were authoritative.
And everyone else pounded it inside. Despite having success from long range, Portland did not fall in love with the three-pointer. They took just eight on the night, hitting a ridiculous six of them.
Despite going inside, they were badly outrebounded on the night, 40-28. I am still shocked they won this game. But I was also highly entertained.
Sometimes, the slow, plodding game works. Hard to watch, but the game goes in the W column just the same.
And no matter how ugly the game, wins always look good.
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