by Eric Woodyard
You’d think the Pistons would have came out with more energy with the Cheetah Girls performing the national anthem. Instead, the Trailblazers dominated with their size.
LaMarcus Aldridge looked rather Sheed-like as he led the way for Portland with 27 points on 11-19 shooting. He put on an array of post moves so dazzling that it had me thinking Nike should don him with the fadeaway emblem that they grace Sheed with on his sneakers. The torch has been passed!
Another writer told me his brother—a Blazer photographer—told him at halftime that the Blazers were getting in Sheed’s head. I noticed it worked because he only connected on 4-12 shots for 11 points.
After the game, Rasheed was last off of the bench. He came into the tunnel after me and sat there in a daze on the bench like, What in the hell just went on? He looked like he would pop at any moment.
Iverson also struggled. He didn’t even reach double figures as he shot 2-9 for only nine points. His mother, draped in her new numero uno Pistons jersey with her famous “Iverson’s Mom” name on the back, was silent. Gone was the chatter. Gone was the huge sign. She was just…there.
The Palace was dead silent—fans left the game early, but never really showed up. I went to Portland’s locker room. First, I stood outside with other journalists and chatted with the head coach, Nate McMillan.
SLAM: What did it take to beat Detroit at home?
Nate McMillan: It was a gritty effort when you talk about going into Detroit and beating this team. It’s going to be a gritty effort on anybody’s part, and I thought our team tonight stayed calm and we stuck to our game plan and pulled out a very big win.
SLAM: How did you feel about Aldridge’s performance tonight?
NM: He had his jump shot going and when he has his shot falling, it’s really tough to guard us because we now have an inside player that’s established himself shooting from the perimeter. It’s just nice to see him get into rhythm.
SLAM: Can you see the Sheed and Aldridge comparisons?
NM: Yeah. They both are long and they can shoot over the top of the defense. Rasheed can take you inside and out, and LaMarcus can do the same. They have a big impact on a game, and they can basically control a game with their ability to take you inside and out. When they’re knocking down shots they’re a tough cover.
SLAM: What was the difference between how you guys played tonight and how you have been playing on the road?
NM: Tonight we were able to finish. Teams have made runs like that before and we gave in to the pressure, but I thought our guys tonight came out after Detroit made their run and they were calm. They didn’t panic in those situations and they executed offensively. Defensively, we needed to get stops and we started to get stops and we were able to pull away.
SLAM: How were you able to slow Allen Iverson down? You held him to just nine points.
NM: I thought our guards did a nice job at squaring their shoulders and staying in front of him and our bigs. You don’t guard Iverson with one guy, so we tried to commit two to three guys to his penetration.
After this, I talked with LaMarcus Aldridge.
SLAM: Did you feel any extra energy to outduel Rasheed Wallace tonight?
LaMarcus Aldridge: I think I felt that the first time we played but by now I’m kind of used to it and people always compare us.
SLAM: Do you like the comparisons?
LA: I do because he’s a great player, a hall of famer, and he’s one of the best big shooters around so I don’t mind it at all.
SLAM: What are some of the things that are useful that you have taken from his game?
LA: I watch how he releases when he goes to the baseline. When I use that, it’s tough to block.
SLAM: Does he ever help you in any kind of ways by talking to you or anything?
LA: Naw. I don’t really see him, I just watch his game and study film and the things that he does. When I was in college, I watched him a lot and how he released and took things like that.
After talking with L.A., I went to Brandon Roy who seemed to knock down every clutch shot in the fourth quarter. Roy finished with 19 points, and he was also very cool and humble.
SLAM: When you saw certain players on you down the stretch, were you thinking, This is an automatic bucket?
Brandon Roy: I changed my mentality. I used to think, ‘OK, if he’s guarding me I’m going to do this’ but now it’s, ‘No matter who’s guarding me I’m going to be aggressive.’ They have a great team defense, and I knew I was going to have to make some tough plays but it didn’t matter, I’m going to try to be aggressive no matter who’s guarding me. I can’t try to pick and choose because that means if somebody is guarding me a certain way then I will let them take me out of my game and I can’t let them do that.
SLAM: How did you get to that point? Was it something that you did in the off-season?
BR: Last year I made the All-Star team, and it gave me confidence seeing how those top guys carry themselves. Watching how LeBron and Kobe and how they prepare. It doesn’t matter who they’re playing against, they’re preparing the same way, and I’m still learning. This is my third year, and I feel like I’m getting better at it. I work on my game all of the time so I just got to have confidence in it.