Ben checks in with his Media Row Report from a shocked Rose Garden...
It never should have come to that. How did that possibly happen? Why did a team that seemed to be gunning on all cylinders break down at the most inopportune moments? How did one man whose teammates didn't seem to make the flight to Portland devolve the contest into a high school game: 9 people standing around watching 1 star, 5 Blazers getting caught up in the magic act and forgetting their roles just long enough to let the win disappear.
Lebron James is an amazing basketball player. He is the best player in the league and a noticeable cut above great basketball players. He's bigger, stronger, quicker, smarter and tougher than just about everyone who has ever laced them up. And yet the situations he creates, the games he wins, when taken in total, are aesthetically undesirable. Often, this is not his fault. His sidekick Larry Hughes put up a miserable 2-11 from the field (0-9 on non-dunks). Young players with names like Boobie and Ira offered encouragement and elaborate handshakes but little else. Damon Jones provided his personal highlight of the night by sprinting full speed off the floor for absolutely no reason when checking out of the ballgame.
How Lebron deals with this 3 ring circus on a daily basis is a mystery; how he finds the time, energy and motivation to work miracles like he did tonight - back-to-back-to-back 3s and a tough layup to win the game single-handedly--is beyond comprehension.
The Blazers' players and coaches wore frustration and sadness all over their faces and bodies after the game. Martell whispered words of encouragement and support to Brandon, who slumped in a chair with a towel over his head. Nate just looked bewildered. Most of the reporters looked like they had post traumatic stress disorder. Lebron napalmed our minds.
There were chances aplenty; this game will be remembered as the quintessential "one that got away." The coach knows it; the team knows it; the fans know it. It never should have come to that but it did. Lebron made sure of it.
Nate on the team's performance down the stretch: "To me it looked like we played that game not to lose. As opposed to the team wanting to attack and playing the game to win. We played a solid game, pretty much, until the last five minutes of the game."
Nate on LBJ: "Tonight Lebron stepped up and knocked down some threes, he was shooting 20 something percent from the floor, he hasn't made his shots all night long, and you know he made 3 3's down the stretch which were big 3s."
Nate on LBJ's winning layup: "They went with an [isolation], he put his head down and went to the basket. We gotta step over and help on that. We gotta contain him. It starts with containing him and keeping him in front of us. But then we gotta step over and give help."
Nate on his defensive strategy on the last play: "We thought they would probably go to a screen and roll with Ilgauskas, and we wanted a defense in there that could switch and guard the basket. I had Joel up but ended up going back with Lamarcus. We needed to be able to play if they ran something quick where we had to switch, [in which case] Lamarcus could switch out, [and] if they had something going to the basket, Lamarcus should be able to step over."
Nate on the defeat: "It hurts. It's a game you have control over. They were in a desperate situation. They had to have a sense of urgency. They gotta put their head down. They gotta go to the offensive glass. In that situation, you can't be outworked. Lebron just made some big shots and they got a couple offensive boards, and offensively ...we gotta score and we didn't do that."
Nate on his approach to stopping LBJ: "He stepped up when he had to. He made some big shots. You feel like you should be able to control that. We stayed with the game plan of trying to make him shoot the ball. But you have this lead going down the stretch and yea you know what he's capable of doing. Part of the game plan was to deny him, when he gave up the ball, don't let him get it back. A few times we allowed him to get the ball back and run the sets. Guys like that, the best defense is to not let him touch the ball."
Nate on the end result: "We gave up one. What they've done all season is to be able to finish. Tonight we had the opportunity to put this team away. We did. We gave up baskets and we didn't make plays down the stretch."
Brandon on his first reaction to the game: "This is the toughest [loss]. Anytime you lose on a last second shot. I would rather [lose] by 15 or 20. Losing like this is tough. But we gotta be ready in the fourth quarter to get stops and try to win the game on the defensive end."
Brandon on LBJ: "All game we did a good job forcing him to miss shots. Just in the fourth quarter he made some big shots, and when he's making 3 pointers it's really tough to guard him because he can get to the basket. I thought we did a good job but when it counted he did a better job."
Brandon on whether he has heard anything about playing in the All Star Game: "This loss is tough enough; I don't want to think about anything else right now."
Brandon on LBJ's three pointers: "The strategy was to go under [the picks], and then he started making threes, and [so then the strategy became] to switch [on the pick and roll], and a couple of times we were late on the switch. He made 3 3's in a row which were pretty big... he just made them... You gotta give him credit."
RANDOM GAME NOTES:
No, he's not Michael Jordan, but Lebron James draws a crowd: fans were lined up outside the Rose Garden as early as 4:15, a full 45 minutes before the doors opened... James jerseys could be spotted throughout the Rose Garden tonight, a number of fans opted for LBJ's Green St. Vincent St. Mary high school jersey. Lebron's Blue Cavs jerseys were also visible in an unexpected location: the Blazers gift shop was selling them side-by-side with Roy and Aldridge home jerseys...Don't mean to go ESPN on you and turn this into all-Lebron all-the-time, but, yes, he did the pre-game hand powder toss and, yes, it looks as obnoxious in person as it does on TV. It drew some cheers from the crowd. Why? I have no idea... As mentioned, the fans came early tonight and they came to cheer: one memorable sequence early in the game had Martell dunking on a fast break and then Joel taking a charge on the other end. The crowd was on its feet in the first quarter (you don't see that every day)... Every single Box Suite was full tonight. I don't remember this happening at any other time in the last month... You know how some guys -- Jerry Sloan comes to mind-- project an aura of "this guy is a great coach?" Mike Brown doesn't really do that. In the first half, he spent the entire 20 second time out trying to signal to the ref that he wanted a 20 second time out. This is not an easy feat so don't try this at home... Brown did earn a technical defending Lebron when he was called for a charge, so he gets some credit for that... Due to the ESPN telecast, the timeouts were longer and more frequent than usual, leading to some really ridiculous time-filling adventures. A blindfolded lady was able to win a washer and dryer as the crowd cheered her across the court and one of the referees provided a much needed assist, directing her to the finish line... Also I think Blaze the Trail Cat had a few extra clips of t-shirts in his t-shirt gun because that bad boy was put to heavy use tonight... Sports Illustrated reporter Phil Taylor was in the house tonight... There were a number of signs. Some of the better ones were: "Queen James", "Roy Wonder Boy", "B-Lieve in B-Roy" and my personal favorite "Get Louder or Go Home"... How powerful is Nike? Phil Knight was shown on the big screen and was cheered raucously by the home crowd. How many billionaires get near standing ovations when they are shown on TV? It can't be many... Neil Everett, who often shouts out random Oregon references when he is hosting Sportscenter, was also in attendance... So was Jacoby Ellsbury. Jacoby can't get enough of this team!... A rare sight tonight: Darius Miles was hanging around the locker room hall postgame, signing autographs, politely answering John Canzano's questions and generally looking quite happy. Haven't seen him around postgame at all in the past month... Yes, there was a lot of pregame chatter about the potential trade reported on Yahoo! Sports. The consensus: Travis ain't going anywhere. More people than not thought Devin Harris would be a big upgrade at point for us and that he was worth acquiring but only if the deal was right... Przybilla did some amazing weakside help work on Lebron tonight. Jason Quick surely took note of this as he made a point to ask both Nate and Brandon why Joel wasn't in on the last possession... I wasn't a huge fan of the play the Blazers ran on their last possession. They had .3 seconds on the clock so obviously their options were limited. But the lob play they tried to run (to the far side of the hoop) has such a high degree of difficulty you had to wonder if there was another option in that situation... When Lebron made his layup to win the game, I have never seen the air taken out of the Rose Garden that quickly. It was really a one punch knockout... The good news: Channing and Travis were already focused on Friday's game by the time the cameras showed up postgame... Torn up by this loss? Here's an idea: cheer yourself up by welcoming Zach back to Portland! Just be sure to keep it classier than the Pit Crew's treatment of Kevin Love.