Some reactions to yet another Trail Blazer come-from-behind win, this time over the Dallas Mavericks:
- Under Coach Nate McMillan the Trail Blazers played a lot of late-game hero-ball -- the term they use in the NBA for just clearing the floor and letting one player work for the game's final shot. McMillan usually just wanted to get the ball to the vintage Brandon Roy and let him find his own shot. That often worked, but there aren't many Brandon Roys around and even Roy ran into trouble when teams began to double-team him. But Terry Stotts has, for the most part, not used that hero-ball strategy. And the result has been that Portland has already, barely past the halfway mark of the season, had three different players -- Nic Batum, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge -- hit game-winning shots at the buzzer. That doesn't strike me as a routine thing in the NBA. Stotts is very creative with out-of-bounds plays and that's resulted very often in different players ending up with the ball for final shots. Rather than rely on the old, safe "just get the ball to our best guy and let him create" junk, he moves players around, asks them to set good picks and then expects the ball to go to the open man. When it's happened, those players have responded in many cases by knocking down the open shot. Such a philosophy breeds confidence within a team late in games and also makes it much harder for a defense to lock in on what an offense might do in late situations.
- Wesley Matthews had two critical steals in the final 1:18 of the game and three in the fourth quarter. Without even one of those, the Blazers could not have won the game.
- Nic Batum showed me a lot of guts -- and confidence -- by taking, and making, that three-pointer with 28.9 seconds to go that tied the game. Batum had uncharacteristically missed two foul shots with 1:15 to go but made amends with that three. After a couple of late free-throw misses, a lot of players would be hiding from any further shots.
- Dirk Nowitzki's three with 11.9 seconds to go was a beauty. I don't care what anyone says, he's been one of the game's great offensive players for a long time now.
- It's frequently unnoticed but I believe Luke Babbitt often impacts a game without a lot of people noticing. He scored just three points in 9:06 last night but led both teams in plus-minus with a plus-20. His range is so deep and he's gotten just reliable enough from distance that teams now honor him. They defend him deep. And that opens the floor for Portland's other players for dives and drives to the basket.
- JJ Hickson's 26 points and 15 rebounds were impressive and he kept Portland in the game almost single-handedly for a while.
- A big game, too, for Ronnie Price, who hit a big-time three and drew the key offensive foul on O.J. Mayo with a second and a half to play.
- Aldridge, in case you didn't notice, had five points in the final four and a half seconds of the game. That's Reggie Miller-esque, if I may.
- I wouldn't have thought this at the beginning of the season but the development of Batum and instant maturity of Lillard allows you to think about how good this team would be with just one more solid starter and a decent bench. And those are needs that could be addressed in just one off-season, if things break right for this team.