Into his eighth NBA season, LaMarcus Aldridge finally has a win over the Boston Celtics on the road, in yet another proof that the small additions made by the Portland Trail Blazers during the summer have made it possible for this team not only to get back to the playoffs, but possibly be an unnoticed rising force in the Western Conference.
With their 109-96 win over the Celtics, the Blazers won their fifth straight game. Aldridge led the way with a big night of 27 points and 12 rebounds, his fourth consecutive double double, followed by Nicolas Batum with 18, Mo Williams with 18 off the bench, Damian Lillard scoring 17 points and Wesley Matthews adding 13. In short – everyone who should be scoring, did, and when any team can get their top five players in double figures on a decent (or better) shooting night, it’s hard not to see them come up with the win.
Especially against the Boston Celtics, who are ranked in the bottom 10 of the NBA in most offensive categories. After four straight wins the Celtics are now back on the losing streak, which makes it similar to last year, although probably no playoff in the end for Brad Stevens and his players, who aren’t getting enough on most night from Jeff Green (14 points) and are waiting for Rajon Rondo to return so they’ll have a true point guard running the show for them.
The last time the Blazers won in Boston was on March 31, 2004. The TD Garden was still called the FleetCenter, and Darius Miles was leading the Blazers in scoring that night, while Ricky Davis was doing most of the damage for the Celtics. A lot of things have changed since then: The Blazers did have a slight improvement after drafting Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, but injuries derailed that team from getting past the first round in the playoffs. The Celtics bottomed out in 2007, but that opened the door for something of a short golden age with Garnett and Ray Allen joining Pierce and Rondo, leading to an NBA championship and another Finals appearance.
The Blazers, at 7-2, have the right to dream about getting that far. Mo Williams is the only “old” player on this team, while their core has quite a few more years to play together if they can keep things intact, and Damian Lillard doesn’t show any signs of regression after winning the rookie of the year award. He’s averaging 19.6 points per game this season, but sometimes it feels like he should be trying harder improving his point guard skills instead of showing just how much he can score.
How far are the Blazers going? If C.J. McCollum is back before the turn of the year, the Blazers might even be considered a team that has a shot at finishing in the top four of the West, barring any injuries and the usual flux in Nicolas Batum’s scoring ability. Defense, rebounding and road games are still an issue that they need to prove is behind them, but for the first time in three years, the Blazers have a huge reason to be optimistic about.