Portland Trail Blazers Prove They Can Tangle with Best of West

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistNovember 24, 2013

USA Today

The Portland Trail Blazers are for real, and they reinforced that notion with a gritty 113-101 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night. 

Although they defeated the San Antonio Spurs at the beginning of the month, the Blazers' 10-game winning streak has been riddled with wins over unproven squads like the Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets

Naturally, many have been quick to dispel the Blazers' early success as the product of a soft schedule. 

However, thanks to Andrew Bogut and the Warriors, a feisty Blazers team is now firmly on the radar as a legitimate contender in a loaded Western Conference. 

The Blazers trailed by 12 late in the third quarter at Oracle Arena, but then a fight broke out that changed everything. 

After the tape was reviewed, Wes Matthews and Mo Williams were ejected, while Bogut, the instigator, was hit with a technical and allowed to play on. 

That fired up the Blazers and their team president. Chris Haynes of CSN Northwest had this tweet:

Apparently the skirmish did more harm than good for the Warriors, who were well on the road to victory when Bogut and Joel Freeland got tangled up. 

From there on out, the Blazers kicked things into high gear. Portland outscored Golden State by 15 in the final period, and limited the Warriors to just 17 points thanks to the stingy defense that has anchored their lengthy winning steak. 

“We did not respond once the altercation took place. ...They elevated their play, and we did not," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said after the game, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Rusty Simmons.

While the Warriors have been hyped up as the next big thing in the West, the Blazers have quietly gone about their business, gashing opponents with the league's fifth-most efficient offense, one that is averaging 107.1 points per 100 possessions after Saturday night's win, according to NBA.com

As he's done all season, LaMarcus Aldridge served as the Blazers' rock on both ends of the floor against the Warriors, dropping in 30 points while pulling down 21 rebounds, blocking three shots and racking up three steals. 

And while he was tossed in the third quarter, it would be a crime not to mention the play of Matthews, who has been simply phenomenal over the season's first 14 games.

Prior to lighting up the Warriors to the tune of 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting (5-of-6 from three), Matthews was shooting 54.8 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc. He's now sitting at a cool 56.8 percent from the field and 52.5 percent from three. 

Factor in the play of point guard Damian Lillard and Jack of all trades swingman Nicolas Batum, and along with Aldridge the Blazers have pieced together a rather potent "Big Three" of their own. 

It's also important that we acknowledge the Blazers defense, a unit that has improved by leaps and bounds from a year ago. 

A unit that ranked 21st in opponent's points per game and 26th in defensive efficiency last season, per Basketball-Reference.com, the Blazers now rank among the league's top-10 scoring defenses, surrendering a shade over 98 points per game. 

In addition, the Blazers ranked tops in the NBA in opponent's three-point field-goal percentage (29.5) and second in blocks, all while limiting opponents to 44.4 percent shooting from the field, prior to Saturday night's contest. Last season, Portland ranked 29th overall in opponent's field-goal percentage (47.4). 

It's time to cast aside all doubt. Terry Stotts' team is playing with purpose and they're doing so on both ends of the floor.

At 12-2, this team is undeniably for real, and a gutsy win over the Warriors proved as much.