I know the last-second loss is bumming everybody out but that shouldn't obscure the fact that there are a whole lot of things we did right in this game. We played a real, grown-up basketball game tonight even when our shots weren't falling. In many ways we beat the Cavaliers at their own game.
How do we usually play? We get creamed in points in the paint, rebounding, and transition buckets but we hit enough jumpers and get enough heroics from Brandon or Travis to pull out the exciting win. I know it's more complex and varied than that but if you average out the sum of our games that's about what's happening. And that's good but it's not really sustainable. As games and months wear on and people get more and more tired jump shots are going to break down. And how many games can Trout and Roy Wonder pull out for us before opposing teams just start tripling them on every critical possession? We've seen a lot of good basketball from this team--a lot of winning basketball too--but we haven't always seen sustainable basketball. That's why even in the midst of the 13-game December win streak a lot of people were saying there were more shoes to drop. The only question was how many, how hard, and how much they would affect us.
Tonight, though, we did some pretty cool stuff in the sustainability department. We actually beat the Cavaliers in points in the paint. And, by the way, we held them to only 28 points in the paint out of their total of 84 and you KNOW they were trying to get inside. They beat us in fast break points 14-6 but we still didn't leak that badly and we did a pretty good job managing their secondary break. We got beat pretty handily in the rebound department when all was said and done but much of that was a function of our missing more shots than they did. We didn't let them slaughter us on the boards all game long at least. We actually hung with one of the best rebounding teams in the league most of the night. What's more we got to every...and I mean EVERY...loose ball out there. We hustled way more than they did and that's a big part of how we got up in the game in the first place. We continued our season-long trend of being very stingy with our turnovers (8) and points off turnovers (5). We shot 80% from the line and drew almost as many foul shots as they did. We had assists on 60% of our buckets. We played good defense, holding them under 40% shooting. Nobody but King James even got into double figures. The defensive game plan was solid and for the most part well-executed.
In short tonight we made them win by making a whole rash of long shots coupled with some last-second heroics from their superstar. It just so happens that Cleveland is very good at that. This was their 18th fourth-quarter comeback in 44 games. That's about 41% of the time they play. On most nights, against most teams, we win with this kind of game.
That doesn't mean everything went right. The 35.3% shooting for the night tells you how many other things we did right just to stay in the game. Our point guards were a combined 4-23 which not only shows you they had lousy nights, but that our point guards were shooting 27% of our overall attempts. That's not good for us. We also shot a wholly atypical 3-14 from three-point range (21.4%). The bench had another sub-par performance. They were 7-33 from the field and combined for only 25 points. The Cavaliers made the White Unit defense look anemic as well. And, of course, there was the collapse in the closing minutes of the game. We let LeBron get some open shots and then single-covered him on the game-deciding drive. He blew by Brandon Roy so completely that our interior defenders had no chance at all of stopping him. Basically we did the old "deer in the headlights routine". On Sunday against the Hawks we were the vehicle. Tonight we were Bambi. This will go down as another one of those learning experiences. Three years from now when we're battling to advance in the playoffs against a team with a great player and we're up 9 points with 5 minutes to go we will bear down harder.
Much was made of the fan that supposedly taunted LeBron during the game. King James mentioned it himself during his exit interview. I have two things to say about that.
Officially speaking, if LBJ needs taunting to get him worked up into winning basketball he isn't much of a player. Obviously he is a player (and a fairly winning one at that) so I think we can dismiss this as mostly drama.
Between you and me, though, it gives me a chance to say something that I've always found important. When we were down the people we appreciated most--in the media, in other blogs, and just as fans--were the people who showed some decency and respect. We are in the process of ascending and the sky is the limit for this team. This will change how we view ourselves as fans and as the community surrounding the team. It would make my heart glad if, when we are at or near the top of the league, we remember the kind of people we appreciated when we were at the bottom. In other words it would be nice if Blazer fans themselves were the people who showed some decency and respect. There is nothing worse than a team that has just gotten out of a six-year lease in Crappytown getting its first taste of success and immediately its fans become pompous jerks...and this before the team has won a darn thing. This is NOT directed at the fan tonight. Who knows what was said? Maybe it was just good-natured heckling. But speaking in general terms I'd say you don't see this team trash talking and rubbing it in people's faces when we win. You don't see a lot of pompous, loud-mouthed jerks making promises and threats while wearing our uniform. It would be really nice if the fan base reflected the team in that sense.
--This was the best game I've seen Joel Przybilla play in a long time. Forget the 4 blocks, 9 points, and 9 boards. He really, really helped our perimeter guys contain their explosive counterparts. He moved and shadowed the opposing wings and intimidated them into shooting over the top. He brought energy and guts. It was just a super game. Before you ask, no...I don't know why he wasn't out there on the last defensive play. I'm guessing I would have put him out there. But he wouldn't have stopped LeBron there any more than Lamarcus did. LeBron blew by Roy like lightning and got completely free in the lane. Lamarcus got over as quick as humanly possible but had to make a decision when to go up and challenge the shot. As soon as Aldridge was committed James simply went around him and used the rim as protection for his shot. Przybilla wouldn't have gotten over there any quicker. His arm couldn't have bent around the rim any more than Lamarcus' could. If you're wondering what we should have done differently on that last possession, it was leaving Roy out there with his underoos swinging in the wind to begin with. We probably should have doubled LeBron hard and forced the ball out of his hands then plugged the lane in front of whoever caught it, forcing them to shoot over the top for the victory. What happened at the rim--Przybilla's domain--happened too late for him to have made any difference.
--Brandon Roy wasn't half bad tonight with 16 points, 8 assists, and 7 boards. He didn't score at a LeBron level, of course, but he didn't look completely outclassed either. It was a decent game for him...maybe not his best, but plenty good.
--Lamarcus had a couple of really nifty post moves and drew 6 foul shots en route to 16 points and 9 rebounds. This is good because his face up jumper from distance has really left him. He still doesn't look comfortable out there on offense. He seems to have actually lost some confidence since the beginning of the year. I wish he'd find it again. Unlike many I don't mind if he's out a little farther shooting as long as he makes it. Greg Oden will fill up that middle space soon enough anyway.
--Martell once again had trouble finding his range and didn't fill the stat line up much but he did harass LeBron a little.
--All three point guards combined for 13 points and 7 assists. That's a good (not great) night for any one of them. Enough said.
--I liked Channing's energy tonight but he wasn't hitting his shot and so couldn't stay on the floor long enough to make a big impact.
--Travis only shot 4-10 but he drew 6 free throws and ended up with 13 points in 24 minutes. As with Roy this wasn't a bad game but wasn't superb.
--James Jones shot 1-5. It was a bad game for him.
One-Sentence Game Summary:
What's good for the goose...