Maybe I'm crazy, or maybe I don't understand the game, but all the gnashing of teeth and rending of cloth (not to mention most of the media hype) over last night's game seems to miss the point entirely. This outcome was ENTIRELY PREDICTABLE. If you will forgive me for patting myself on the back for saying something that is pretty obvious, I explained my thinking in a post on Wednesday titled "WHAT 50+ WINS LOOKS LIKE" :
1) Elite teams rarely loose at home, no matter how good the competition: elite teams (those winning over 60 games in a season) typically win over 85% of their home games during the regular season. Occasionally, they will loose a game when they come out flat and the opposition gets hot. When a good young team comes to town and national coverage is on tap, they are not likely to come out flat. Even in the playoffs, home teams win over 75% of all games and blowouts are not uncommon.
2) Good young teams have to learn how to win on the road, and they have to learn how to beat elite teams. Portland is just learning how to beat NY and Washington on the road. We are just learning how to beat good teams at home. Occasionally, we can win against good teams on the road when we have a good shooting night and fresh legs like we did against Detroit. Our chances of winning against a truly elite team, like Boston, on the fourth road game in six nights, were lousy from the start. In my earlier post, I pegged our chances at 1-10.
This game said little about the Blazer's talent level and future prospects and a lot about the context in which it was played:
3) Besides the physical burden of four road games in six nights, the psychological atmosphere of this game did not bode well for the Blazers. All the discussion about needing to be "tough" and "not being intimidated" had to make the Blazers tense. Combine that with the big national spotlight and the memories of the Lakers game on opening night, and the Blazers had to have a lot of subconscious anxiety. It is almost impossible to shoot well when you are tense, anxious, and have tired legs.
So what happened?
The Blazers came out and played Boston straight up for a quarter and a half. Their shots, not surprisingly, were not falling at a good clip, but they hung in there by playing decent defense. Because the Blazers couldn't hit from the outside, Boston started packing it in and clogging the middle. The Blazers couldn't hit from outside and couldn't drive, so they started putting up a lot of difficult mid-range jumpers. This is exactly what happens when the Blazers look "ugly": no ball movement, no player movement, lots of difficult shoots. Boston started grabbing rebounds, leaking out their guards, and the Blazers looked bad.
DON'T BE DISCOURAGED
There is a difference between loosing because your shots don't fall and because you do not know how to respond to the opposing teams ability to control the style of the game, and loosing because the other team clearly has better talent. I would argue that this game showed the former, rather than the latter.
This game demonstrated Boston's experience rather than their superiority. They clearly know how to win. They know how to play defense, and when the refs allow them to impose their style of play, they are darn tough to beat. They found a weakness in the Blazer's rebounding scheme and transition defense and they exploited it relentlessly. Portland's bigs got mugged all night going to the boards and when they tried to push back they got called almost every time. Home cookin' is home cookin'; it tastes good to the home team. This is one of my least favorite aspects of the NBA. The game is simply not called the same way on both teams. Star players and star teams get star treatment. I wish the league wouldn't allow teams to play the way Boston does, but it is what it is. Hopefully, we will get a few more calls when Boston comes to town.
Nate and the coaches need to address our problems in transition defense. This has been a consistent problem and the Celtics clearly put a spotlight on the issue. Other teams are going to continue to try to exploit this until our guys get it figured out. Our inability to control Rondo was, IMHO, the biggest concern coming out of this game.
I would argue that Portland needs to beat elite teams at home, before they will have enough confidence to have much of a shot on the road. If we get waxed when Boston and the L@kers comes to town, I will be far more concerned than I am now.
Remember, even elite teams loose on the road against other good teams. I think Boston dropped seven of eight road games in the first three rounds of the playoffs last year. It happens. Last night does not mean that the Blazers are not a good team. It means that they have yet to learn how to respond to a team like Boston and the way that the game was called. There will be other nights when the shots fall, when the refs call a little more of the pushing, shoving, and grabbing.
If nothing else, time will extract its revenge on KG and the Celtics. The old alpha-dog is in charge until one day, when suddenly, the young dog stops being afraid and figures how to take advantage of the fact that the old dog has lost a step. It will happen, be patient. We will be the alpha team before you know it.