Game Notes: Nuggets at Blazers
Roy and Oden lead late comeback for Portland.
George Karl sat on a black folding chair outside the Denver Nuggets locker room talking to Brandon Roy who was standing holding his infant daughter and sporting a black and red Seattle Mariners hat, as the coach and all-star bantered about which teams were ready for the NBA regular season.
“I haven’t played a good game yet,” Roy said.
Karl didn’t roll his eyes but he easily could have.
For the previous two hours and forty-one minutes, the Nuggets head coach watched Roy transform from a foul-laden sub-par preseason shooting guard into “Mr. 4th Quarter” in Portland’s 98-96 victory over Denver at the Rose Garden. Roy along with Greg Oden – who also battled heavy foul trouble from start to finish – helped ignite a Blazers comeback after trailing by 12 points to Denver with roughly 8 minutes left in the game.
“For me, it was good to play in that fourth quarter and play in a game that felt meaningful,” said Roy afterward, with 9 of his 12 points on the night coming in the 4th quarter.
And who said the preseason didn’t mean anything?
With the win, Portland pulls to 3-3 in the exhibition.
Prior to the game, Karl said he wanted to win this game to send a message to a division rival, as Portland and Denver split Northwest Division honors last season. Nate McMillan however was less concerned with that memo and more occupied with the Blazers – who were without LaMarcus Aldridge (knee contusion) and Rudy Fernandez (back spasms) – playing “scrappy” and “with energy.”
McMillan got a little of both from a variety of players.
“What I liked from our guys tonight was we were down 10 in the 4th, and I remember during the timeout saying, ‘get your heads up,’ and we come back and we win that game,” McMillan explained. “We picked up our intensity. The focus was there.”
The game didn’t necessarily start that way though.
Fourteen seconds after tip-off, Oden picked up his first foul from Kenyon Martin and by halftime Portland’s novice center had played about 3 minutes of basketball and had 2 points and 3 fouls to show for it. It was Greg Oden circa 2008 all over again. At that point, Roy hadn’t fared much better — he shot 1-6 from the field with 3 points and 3 fouls. It was clear Portland’s offense would have to come from elsewhere, and it did. Both Andre Miller (18 points, 4 assists and 5 rebounds) and Jerryd Bayless (11 points, 5-7 from the free-throw line) kept Denver’s defense off-balance with constant head fakes and drives to the bucket.
On the other end of the floor, the Blazers defense finally showed. The team combined for 11 blocked shots and forced 17 Denver turnovers in the game.
For the Nuggets, the Carmelo Anthony show played early and often. Anthony – who battled the trio of Nicolas Batum, Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw for much of the night – was his typical active and aggressive self throughout the game. Aside from 9 points early from Nene in the first half, Melo received little help in the first two quarters. Apparently it’s nothing to worry about.
“Everyone is just trying to do something a little different right now,” Anthony, who was high-scorer with 21 points and 7 rebounds, said after the game. “Chauncey [Billups] is trying to teach Ty Lawson and then we’re just trying to get everyone back to where we were last year. We’re good though. I don’t see any worries though. We haven’t even gotten started yet.”
Denver – who is now 2-3 on the preseason — played their best basketball of the night in the 3rd quarter, outscoring Portland 26-19 in that stretch.
“It’s on us,” Kenyon Martin explained when asked what Coach Karl said at halftime to help get the Nuggets going. “He really doesn’t have to coach us. He doesn’t have to coach us from that aspect. We know – Melo is a proven veteran now, so we’re just bringing guys along and teaching them to play hard at all times and then we’ll make adjustments. So the adjustment we made was to come out and play harder.”
Shots began falling for Billups (11 points), Joey Graham (10 points) and eventually Martin (9 points). While the bench was a bit slow to show and prove from horn to horn, young guys like Arron Afflalo (9 points) and even rookie point guard Ty Lawson (8 points and 2 steals in roughly 6 minutes) provided solid spot minutes in defeat.
“This is a learning curve,” Martin continued. “It’s not much, but it’s a learning curve. We have to fix the things we haven’t done right and we’ll get it going.”
By the 4th quarter, Denver built a comfortable lead and Portland appeared deflated. Roy was on the bench with 4 fouls, sitting right alongside Oden with a mirrored four fouls. But with McMillan sensing the Blazers had a final push left in them and performing his “get your heads up” mantra, he re-inserted Roy and Oden into the lineup with Andre Miller, Juwan Howard and Martell Webster.
Portland was down 12. There were about 8 minutes left. The move paid off thanks to those five.
“We started to get stops and started to score and came back,” McMillan added, saying he liked what he saw from his guys.
The Blazers rattled off seven-straight points. Minutes later, Roy fed Oden for a dunk, Roy hit a one-handed floater in the lane, Oden spun baseline for another dunk and eventually converted two free-throws to tie the game at 89-89. Yet when Oden – who finished with 16 points and 7 rebounds — fouled out with about 2 minutes left in the game, Roy helped seal the win with a lay-up and close calls from the charity stripe.
Portland had to fight for it, but that was the plan all along.
“It was good for me to get a rhythm,” Roy smiled.
And to think he hasn’t played a good game yet.
Wendell Maxey is a freelance writer now in his third season covering the Portland Trail Blazers. You can read more of his writing at Beyondthebeat.net.