Let's get a simple reality out of the way to start with: one more free throw made and this game may well have ended differently. It wasn't a great effort by the Blazers but it was probably good enough to win but for the horrible 16-31 performance at the line. Brandon Roy was the main culprit, shooting 3-10 on foul shots. When has that ever happened? You can't harp on it too much because it's not a Blazer trait, let alone one of Brandon's. It just happened and there it is. There should be little or no extra hemming and hawing tonight just because this was a loss.
Another truth: as predicted we missed Steve Blake's three-point shooting terribly. Our point guards did about as well as can be expected and each distinguished themselves during minutes they're not used to getting. But that doesn't change the 5-17 clip from the arc nor the fact that nobody on the team outside Rudy was making any. (OK, Travis made one but he was 1-5. Nobody else hit one, period.) As you already know this cripples the Portland offense because it allows the opponent to pack the lane. Because Charlotte is a fairly poor defensive team on the wings we still got our share of drives but our rebounding and interior finishing were hampered.
Another key factor was the rebounding disparity which went solidly in Charlotte's favor. It wasn't just the damage that Emeka Okafor did, though he had 11 boards himself. The problem was that Charlotte killed us in small-position rebounding, with only Brandon Roy putting up a statistical fight. Gerald Wallace alone got 16 boards which more than matches Travis Outlaw, Nicolas Batum, and Lamarcus Aldridge combined. We didn't give our centers enough help even by boxing out, let alone outright snagging the ball.
More than anything else, we just didn't have flow tonight on either end of the court. I know that's not a scientific description but it's still apt. We had some great individual efforts tonight on offense but little cohesion and few scoring opportunities outside of those great individual efforts. It was even worse defensively with blown coverage, missed rotations (forget late or slow...missed entirely), and a seeming lack of communication or help. Nobody was intending it this way. This is what happens when players aren't used to playing with each other. The rhythm isn't there. Give Charlotte tons of credit too. They knew to exploit the high pick and roll. They knew to attack at the point guard and small forward positions. They knew how to draw attention, causing our big men to give help and leaving Emeka Okafor all alone. In the end it was enough for them.
Back to the flow for a minute...we're not used to seeing this from the 2008-09 Blazers but there were more offensive endpoints than conduits out there tonight, to the point where it started looking like 2006-07 Blazer offense just without Zach scooping up half of the shots. Lamarcus Aldridge is an endpoint. Travis Outlaw and Jerryd Bayless are as well. When the three of them were on the floor together with Joel Pryzbilla (who is neither an endpoint nor a conduit offensively) it was going to be 0-1 passes and then a move and a shot. Even when we got multiple passes they weren't the kind that damaged the opponent. It was more like passing it around the wing until somebody decided it was their turn to shoot. It's great to have all of these scorers but I've got to tell you I'm way more comfortable with the Roy-Blake-Rudy work for the open man style than I am with Roy and the Gunners.
After a scoreless first half Brandon Roy came on in the final 29 minutes of the game to total 17 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and a block. Our friends at RufusonFire asked me in an interview what made Roy special. This is part of it. This was a really off game for him. He looked out of it. His timing was unusually bad. His jumper was wild. Then there was that completely unheard of 3-10 free throw line performance we just mentioned. Yet he has a contribution that would make 90% of the league proud. In that point-free first half, however, you saw part of the opportunity cost of the ball being in someone else's hands besides Roy's. I really liked Jerryd's game tonight, as I'm about to tell you, but that can't happen. When Roy started initiating in the second half he really got going. He's more important to us than anybody on the team and will remain so until Greg Oden grows into the player he will become. Roy's in the game first, everybody else get in line. That ought to be the rule anyway. This is not only because Brandon is a terrific contributor but because Roy being in the game gets everybody else in the game too because of his passing and the attention he draws.
Lamarcus Aldridge had a classic LMA night: 21 points, 9-15 shooting, 6 rebounds, 2 steals. He committed 4 turnovers though. His inside game was really affected by Okafor and the collapsing Charlotte defense. Other than that, it was the usual Lamarcus.
Greg Oden had a couple of nice offensive moves tonight and did a credible job of backing down Emeka Okafor in the post. Okafor is no joke down there but Greg didn't make it look any harder than backing down most big men he faces. At least Emeka got him to take the jump hook instead of dunking. Oden couldn't fight for enough rebounds, though. His hands were too full. Also he got exposed on the pick and roll and on switches multiple times again. He's not that great at getting his body in position even when he knows what his teammate will do. He and the guards might as well be from different planets with the new guys out there. Predictably he collected fouls like they were ultra-rare foil covered trading cards. He ended up with the whole set midway through the fourth quarter and got to admire them from his seat on the bench.
Cut and paste any description of Nicolas Batum in the last month and insert it here.
Sergio Rodriguez had a rough start to the game but more or less switched roles with Jerryd Bayless midway through, with Bayless playing with the starters and Sergio getting the sub minutes. After watching Bayless drive and finish on the weak Bobcats defense all night Sergio got the picture and did some damage himself, which seemed to loosen up his game. Confidence in tow he managed 10 points on 4-7 shooting plus 5 assists.
I liked Jerryd Bayless' game more tonight than I did against New Jersey. The stats weren't quite as impressive, with him scoring 14 on 6-9 shooting and drawing 3 free throws as opposed to three dozen. But he played a better all-around game. He stayed in front of his man defensively, fought through a couple of screens, got 4 rebounds, and even hit a jumper and passed the ball effectively a couple of times. He didn't get credit for any assists but he should have had at least one on a dish to Outlaw in the corner. He drove a little more selectively, though still a very high percentage of the time. The Charlotte broadcasters had his game pegged the second time he scored. The Bobcats just didn't have the defensive chops to do anything about it. Also, as we just said, it was mostly either Bayless or Brandon scoring, not Bayless and Brandon scoring. Gotta fix that.
Joel Przybilla did his usual fantastic job subbing for Oden. He had 10 rebounds and tightened up the defense considerably.
Rudy Fernandez provided the three-point shooting we really, really, really needed, going 4-8 in that department and scoring 15 with 4 rebounds and 2 assists. The opportunity was there for him to score a little more in the first half but it didn't happen. We would have lost this game by double-digits had he not shot well though.
Travis Outlaw had a tough outing. He scored 10 on 4-15 shooting and hit only 1-5 from distance. His defense wasn't that great either, though he did manage 2 blocks. Not one for the video files for him.
We saw a lot of Gerald Wallace tonight. He seems to save special games for us. I think Nicolas Batum can one day be a somewhat similar player, if not so dominating offensively. Wallace's effortless style in the air reminds me of Batum.
A 2-2 road trip isn't a disaster. It would have been much more encouraging to come back 3-1, but again the important thing is what happens Monday against Milwaukee. That's another winnable game and it'll be one we need to pick up.
Check out the celebration at RufusonFire.
View the Jersey Contest results for this game and enter Monday's game here.