March 29, 2008 -- Bobcats 93 Blazers 85
If I put as much effort into this postgame write-up as Nate thought the Blazers showed tonight, this would serve as my first and last sentence.
Thankfully, I heard Nate's message of finishing strong loud and clear, so I am pushing onward like normal with the rest of the game wrap. Another reason I am continuing to write this is because the eyes of Joel Przybilla are staring deep into my soul and I won't be able to get any sleep anytime soon. The Thrilla left it all on the floor tonight (18 boards and 8 points) and he was an unhappy camper in the locker room tonight. While he was reticent in his postgame comments, his eyes said it all. I can't get them out of my head: intense, disappointed, frustrated and really angry. To his credit, Joel defended his teammates' effort. To most observers, however, it was not an effort worth defending.
On the bright side, Kevin Pritchard can call off the rest of his scouting trips. The Blazers' point guard of the future was in the Rose Garden tonight. Not Jack, not Blake, not Rodriguez. Raymond Felton. Mr. Pritchard, wherever you are, start working your voodoo on Michael Jordan and get Felton in a black and red jersey ASAP.
All dreams aside, Felton showed it all tonight. He displayed quick hands, poking balls loose on defense. He hit jumpers, shooting 8 of 13. He found Emeka Okafor in all the right places, leading to plenty of easy buckets. He threw on-target alley-oops for spectacular dunks. He ran the break flawlessly, getting to the basket at will and making the smart pass at the right time in transition. Down the stretch, he looked like Baron Davis or Chauncey Billups, embracing the top-of-the-key clear out and burying the dagger right in Blake's face. It was an all-around incredible performance from the former Tar Heel: 18 points 9 assists, 2 steals and only 2 turnovers.
The man would look absolutely perfect next to Brandon Roy in our backcourt.
The difference between Felton and our current guard play was most evident in one late stretch, in which Felton beat his man off the dribble, muscling to the basket for an easy layup. We then came down and Jack got caught in the air, resulting in a forced pass and a turnover. Felton, showing off a high basketball IQ, immediately took off the other direction. Jack was unable to catch up to him to take the hard foul and Felton finished another easy layup. A six point swing in roughly 20 seconds.
While this was just one sequence, it encapsulated everything that led to tonight's loss: our poor execution on offense, our inability to prevent penetration on defense, and a general lack of court awareness and hustle. Nate wasn't happy. You probably weren't either.
Coach Nate McMillan on how bad tonight's loss was: "Bad. I mean just really bad. The body language, the passion, I didn't sense the passion being there tonight, Even with that you have a chance to win the game, we're shooting 36%, we're getting 91 attempts at the basket, 2 things you've got to do is take care of the ball which we said at the beginning of the game, we had 18 [turnovers], and we have to shoot the ball, we shoot 36 percent from the floor, so we gotta knock down shots when we get them."
Nate on whether the team is looking forward to the end of the season: "You know what that's exactly where I went to. It's not over. We're going to play the season out... it would be a waste of a Year if they approach it that way. Because they've had a pretty good year. You'll waste a good Year by finishing off this season, the last couple weeks, with that attitude. Whether we are going there or not, we kind of felt that, you gotta show that you want it, that you want to win, and you're not just playing the game, going through the motions."
Nate on losing the game despite winning the turnover battle: "We talked about that. We get 91 attempts, 23 offensive boards, we had a couple guys that really struggled, you gotta knock those shots down, we had wide open looks that we didn't knock down."
Nate on whether you point to a lack of leadership on the floor as an explanation for this loss: "You can point to a lot of things. We have to come with a passion, to finish this season off, we are still looking at ourselves and it's an opportunity for a lot of guys to show what they are capable of doing. And if they want to be a part of it, this is an opportunity."
More from Nate on whether the team is looking ahead: "It's frustrating to just be in that type of game. You're trying to get them to go, go, go... if anybody has made any plans for the summer, then that is a sell out. If you're thinking that far ahead, that ain't the player we want or that we're looking for here. We have games remaining, it's an opportunity for us to look at some guys and look at ourselves against some very good teams. 2 of the last 3 teams were under 500. and we didn't play well against them and we've got some giants coming in here."
Nate on why he stuck with Jack late in the game despite Jack's struggles"Jarrett is one of the one guys that attacks the basket. He turns the ball over, he has turned the ball over, but he is one of the guys that can get to the basket. You look at some of the other numbers, where do you go? I don't think any of our guards played particularly well tonight."
Nate on Joel's play: "Well, he was big on the boards. Okafor is a tough matchup, I thought he did a pretty decent job of just trying to be big on him. But rebounding is what we need, he did a nice job of rebounding, but, again, we got one guy playing in spurts, doing one thing well, and we need a unit to execute on both ends of the floor. Once again, guarding the ball, guys were just going by us way too easily."
Nate on the fourth quarter execution: "The guys we were going to in those situations is LaMarcus and you try to go to Travis. Normally that's Brandon who is handling the ball down the stretch. Again, you've got guys who have had the ball late in games, but not as much, those guys have got to make plays, if there's a double team we've got to move the ball.
Joel Przybilla on his reaction to dropping a late pass from Jarrett Jack: "Yeah, of course, I was pissed. I should have had it. Big play of the game. I was mad at myself."
Joel on whether the team is looking too far ahead: "No. I don't even see it. No. that's what outsiders are saying. Nate brought it up in the meeting in the locker room. I don't believe it. I'm going there and playing hard... I've been around teams where they've hung it up and this team definitely hasn't hung it up."
Joel on the team's effort tonight: "thought we threw this game away tonight and we definitely wanted it. I thought it was good."
Joel on regrouping after this loss: "I think we have a great chance if we come with the passion that we've come with in the past."
Joel's final thoughts on Nate's speech to the team: "He brought it up in the meeting... I don't think anyone in here has given up. Me personally, I'm not. I'm trying to play every game as hard as I can. These guys in here, we've put too much in this year, to come this far and not finish it out."
Random Game Notes
-- Jarrett Jack picked the warm up music tonight, selecting the swell "I'm in da hood" by Brisco.
-- Bill Bayno was working with Sergio for awhile during warm ups today. They were playing a game of one on one with Bayno wearing the arm pads and swatting at Sergio every chance he got. Sergio had a great smile on his face the whole time. They were playing to 5 points, with Sergio scoring a point on all baskets and Bayno scoring a point on any stop or missed shot from Sergio. Bayno was offering advice in both English and Spanish, encouraging Sergio to take the ball to the basket with "mas fuerza" ("more force" ... stronger...).
-- Before the game, Antonio Harvey walked by Jarrett Jack and asked him "Who is this?" in regard to the pregame music. Jack responded "Lil Wayne" and Harvey just shook his head, suggesting the DJ should be playing some Public Enemy or Boogie Down Productions. Jack responded, "nah, the music has to go with the times." Burrrn.
-- Bill Schonely and Dick Bavetta shook hands before the game. It was like a mirror. Same height, same build, same haircut.
-- In my opinion, Violet Palmer deserves NBA Referee of the Year in recognition of her ability to not freak out at all the vitriol she is subjected to. She gets it bad every time here in Portland. She earned a lot of it tonight.
-- The scorer's table was like Santa Claus, only charging Jack with 4 turnovers. Very generous.
-- Back to Violet Palmer for a moment. Did you see Raef draw a charge, only to have it whistled as a block? He hopped up steaming mad, turning rapidly in frustration to the source of the whistle ready to argue his case, only to realize it was Palmer who called it. He gave up arguing immediately, as if he was accepting his fate. They showed the sequence in slow motion on the scoreboard and it was pretty funny.
-- Sean May was... not at the Rose Garden... choosing instead to watch his North Carolina Tar Heels qualify for the Final Four in a win over Louisville. I wonder if he went to Mr. Tar Heel Michael Jordan for the excused absence?
-- James Jones was whistled for a clear path foul for tackling Earl Boykins underneath the dotted line in the key. You don't see that foul called in that court location very often, but it did appear to be the right call.
-- Matt Carroll can shoot the rock. He hardly missed in warm ups. And his grandfather is the all time winningest coach in Pennsylvania high school history. Pretty cool.
-- The halftime performance tonight was the really insane and pretty awesome March 4th Marching Band. Anyone a fan? Apparently Willamette Week recently tabbed them "Portland's Best Band."
-- Nate was later than usual to his postgame press conference as he was talking to the team at length. One reporter noted that he was "giving them the Knute Rockne." After tonight's performance they needed Rockne, Rudy and Radio.
-- Sign of the night: "It's Bobcat Season."