Good morning Blazers fans, Antonio here. Thursday night was unexpected, to say the least. With Damian Lillard out nursing an abdominal strain, the Blazers had only nine men healthy on the roster and were missing four starters. Against the team with the best record in the NBA in the Philadelphia 76ers, I expected to tune in to a blowout.
It was a blowout. The bench Blazers, with nothing to lose, beat down Joel Embiid and the 76ers, winning by 16 in a game that was not close in the second half despite Embiid’s 37 points. Let’s take a bit of a deeper look.
Starting Out Strong
Against the Wizards, I mentioned how it was promising that Portland performed well to start the game, even with Damian Lillard not scoring. The Blazers used that lesson and translated it into scoring without Lillard the entire game. The Portland Bench 121 points scored while missing Lillard, McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic.
A big part of that was how they started the halves. When undermanned like the Blazers were, it’s important to come out of the gates strong and prove you can compete. Opening the first quarter up 11–10 might not seem like much, but it proved the Blazers could compete with the Sixers.
The start of the second half was when the game turned. Knotted up at 57 at halftime, the Blazers sprung out of the locker room and scored the first 14 points of the half. Philadelphia never recovered.
A New CJ in Town
Through the first 20 games of the season, I was thoroughly unimpressed by rookie second-round pick CJ Elleby. The Washington State product looked out of his element, struggling on both sides of the ball. The pace of the NBA seemed to catch him off guard. After Thursday night, I hopped on the Elleby hype train.
Playing 30 minutes thanks to an Anfernee Simons minutes restriction, Elleby racked up 15 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks. His outside shooting is not there yet, but he provided hustle plays defensively and pulled down three offensive rebounds.
Neil Olshey has had a history of good second-round picks, and if Elleby can play to this potential again, he may have another one.
Handling the Doubters
Backs against the wall, six players down, nobody expected anything from the Blazers. But there’s something to be said about a team with nothing to lose. For all the criticism about Coach Terry Stotts and his defense this year, his rotations and coaching showed their full form against Philadelphia. No one outside of Embiid could score for the Sixers.
For all the hate GM Neil Olshey has received for being “too conservative” over the past few years, the depth of this team is remarkable. Say what you want about the Evan Turner and Meyers Leonard signings, this year’s team can go 11 deep, just what is needed come playoff time.
For all the criticism Carmelo Anthony has received over his career, he stepped up last night, shooting an efficient 8/14 from the field. This team proved the doubters wrong last night, and the coaches did too. The game last night left me walking away with a smile on my face.
Next up for the Blazers: A battle in Manhattan against the New York Knicks.