Media Row Report: Blazers 87, Pistons 81

When I last spoke to Brandon Roy, prior to last week's road trip, I asked him how he wanted to play down the stretch, how he envisioned his role on this new-look Blazers team.  His simple, confident, declarative answer: "playmaker."  With teams getting hip to the Blazers 1-4 fourth quarter offense, Roy's thinking was straightforward: get by his defender, read the help defense, make sound decisions (pass or shoot) and lead his team.

Since that conversation, the Blazers put away weak competition on the road, Travis Outlaw went down with a serious foot injury and the team collapsed down the stretch against a playoff quality team in Atlanta.  Roy logged the most minutes of any Blazer during the road trip, looked dead tired during overtime against the Hawks on Monday night, was held below 20 point per game for the trip despite the overall weak competition, and continued to adjust to guarding small forwards rather than off guards.  

The wins over the past week helped obscure some of these struggles and changes.  But tonight a new, less certain perspective from Roy was unmistakable.

During the Portland Trail Blazers' 87-81 home win over the Detroit Pistons, Roy provided the offensive spark that blew the game open during the third quarter and then watched as his team nearly blew a 20 point lead during the fourth quarter.  Rushed back into the game to put out the fire, Roy failed to score a point, notch an assist, grab a rebound and only took one field goal attempt in nearly five minutes of fourth quarter play.  The Pistons regularly ran a second defender at him to force the ball from his hands, then did a solid job of rotating defensively, necessitating extra passes. His shot-making taken away, his passing countered, Roy was as neutralized as I can remember seeing him down the stretch, a bystander as his teammates committed turnovers and struggled to break a scrambling Pistons trap.

The Pistons's wild fourth quarter comeback was surprising and confusing and, surely, frustrating for Roy who is now dealing with the dual prospects of playing without Travis Outlaw and playing out of position at small forward for the foreseeable future.  

So after the game I addressed the same topic that we had spoken about prior to the trip: how does Roy envision his role on this team right now?  Does he still see himself as a playmaker? "Nah," Roy admitted. "I wouldn't necessarily say playmaker," he said, pausing to think about it. "I don't know. That's a good question. How would you describe my role?"

It's generally not a good sign when your franchise player turns back to the inquiring writer for help answering this type of question.  It doesn't happen often with a player as cerebral as Roy who is coached by someone as discipline-minded as Nate McMillan.  Roles are generally established in late September, refined in October. It's now more than halfway through November.

"I don't know," I answered honestly. "That's why I'm asking. It seems like you're thinking pass first some times. And then other times you're really looking to get your shot. It seems like it changes play to play, quarter to quarter." 

"Yeah," Roy nodded. "Maybe even game to game [too]. Some nights I think opportunities are there for me to be more aggressive. Other nights I'm maybe not as aggressive as people have seen me in the past. For me, it's just trying to do whatever it takes to help this team win games."

Tonight, Roy relinquished control of the ball and the flow of the game down the stretch. It's not something we're used to watching as observers and it was somewhat terrifying and dreadful.  Sure, a win is a win. But scraping by after giving up a 25-8 run to start the fourth quarter and with your team's star player and best ballhandler taken almost entirely out of the offense during crunch time isn't how you envision it going down.

Through it all -- the double teams, the injuries, the juggled lineups, the mismatches -- Roy has remained impressively flexible, impressively ego-less.  Many doubted that he would last this long playing out of position in a three guard lineup without raising a fuss, either publicly or privately.  But it was clear tonight that Roy is in limbo, forced by recent circumstances into repeating a cycle of reading situations and making adjustments, reading and adjusting, reading and adjusting. "A lot of things have changed," Roy stated. "I'm just trying to make sure that everyone is keeping a rhythm. Now with Greg in the lineup and Dre, I'm trying to figure it out and make sure our offense continues to flow better." Less playmaker, perhaps, and more dance instructor.

At times tonight, things flowed very well for the Blazers, who notched 22 assists on 29 field goals through the first three quarters.  Roy handed out five himself and watched Andre Miller dole out a season-high 11 as well.  One of Miller's dimes found Roy for a pretty break-out dunk, a sign that a connection between the two players continues to develop.  Which made it doubly frustrating when that connection seemed to disappear in the game's closing minutes.

Perhaps buoyed by the victory, Roy remained cautiously optimistic about where he stands.  Although he might feel uncertain about how things will shake out long-term he doesn't feel uncomfortable.  "I'm settling in more and more to [the lineups and rotations]," he said. "Earlier it was tough but now I'm starting to settle in to see what the team needs me to do and just trying to do it." Tonight, against an inferior opponent, Roy did enough to get the win.  On many nights, against many opponents, Roy is capable of delivering victory whether he's settled or not, through his skills alone. 

But with only seven guys playing like they deserve real rotation minutes right now, the physical and mental burden on Roy will only increase.  And sooner or later, clarity will either emerge for Roy or it won't. 

Both for his sake and the success of his team, hopefully the next time we talk roles Roy won't need to turn to writers for help answering the question. 

Random Game Notes

  • Austin Daye will be an NBA All Star before he retires. Watching his thorough, impressive warm-up routine, it was easy to see why, despite his slight frame, he was a darling of the scouts during the pre-draft process. His movements with the ball are crisp, precise and fluid, recalling a slightly less confident Kevin Durant. His footwork before and during catches was excellent, his shooting form consistent and his competitive desire was oozing, even two hours before the game. During the game, he disrupted Steve Blake during the fourth quarter by trapping 3/4 court and he knocked down a three.  His frame is a liability and will remain so for a few years -- not unlike Durant -- but the sky is the limit.  If I was Joe Dumars I would view Daye as my least tradeable asset, Stuckey and Gordon included.  
  • Bill Simmons was spotted chatting up Kevin Pritchard before the game but was not shown on the Rose Garden's big screen. Ken Griffey and Ken Griffey, Jr., however, drew cheers when shown on the Jumbotron and drew autograph seekers to their courtside seats. Juwan Howard and Jerryd Bayless both made a point of getting/giving daps from/to Griffey Jr. during halftime warm-ups.
  • The official box score seems to be in error tonight.  They charged Steve Blake with just 2 fourth quarter turnovers. In actuality, he had 1,378.  Hopefully the NBA will step in and correct this.
  • A clash of generations occurred when 52 year old Juwan Howard posted up 13 year old Austin Daye. It was like slamming together a Discman and an iPod, only in human form.  
  • Rudy threw a pass between Kwame Brown's legs to Greg Oden for a dunk. It was sweet but would have been sweeter if you didn't have the suspicious feeling that Rudy is looking to nutmeg someone on every possession. 
  • Blazers Owner Paul Allen drew cheers when shown on the big screen and dropped in on the locker room after the game. Be sure to read Nate McMillan's heartfelt response to a question about Allen below.

Nate's Post-game Comments

It almost slipped away in the fourth quarter. Thoughts?

You play the game 48 minutes. I've often been criticized for not playing guys down the stretch, you don't play with the game. You don't ever. It was a good game for us. A good lesson. You play that game 48 minutes and you play it the right way and you don't relax because it's never over. I think a bad shot or a turnover can always give a team momentum. That's how I coach -- to win games. When we feel like we have that game under control we'll make substitutions. But we had our guys in there and we had to bring back that group that got us there. We stopped doing the things that we needed to do. Execute both ways. You start launching quick j's, turning that ball over, being loose, playing the scoreboard as opposed to playing the game the right way anything can happen.  I thought for 3 quarters we were good. Coming off the road we wanted to give a strong effort on both ends of the floor. Defensively as well as offensively. And we did that for 3 quarters.

Margin of error slimmed down due to injuries?

I think it's just that it's the margin for error is where it's at because of the group. It's a young group that is still trying to learn how to win and how to win big. We have a lot of work to do. We have one year where we won some games but we're not there yet. We have to play that game the right way for 48 minutes.

What caused the collapse?

The thing is, turnovers and I thought maybe we just relaxed. You turn the ball over, you don't execute offensively. You lose your rhythm. You lose a little bit of confidence. They get excited. And you know make some plays, get some momentum and you start to get a little tight. I know we had turnovers, I don't know how many. I thought some shots, we may have taken some quick shots. And all of a sudden it's a three point ballgame. It was a positive that we won that game. 

Blake's 3 at the end of the game

Well we needed it. We don't want him to hesitate. He had an open look. He can knock that shot down. As you mentioned, last game he had some similar shots that didn't fall. Big shot. Big free throws for Blake. And then those other guys down the stretch.

Brandon and LaMarcus offensively

Those are the guys. We gotta get them going. Tonight to see both of them score, we haven't seen that this season. We had a third guy with Blake, and Miller being able to score. So we were able to, I thought our assists were really good throughout the night for the most part. Turnovers were pretty good until that fourth quarter.

Andre missed his first four free throws. Were you nervous with him at the line at the end of the game?

Those are our best free throw shooters. Miller is an 85 or 86 percent career free throw shooter. Blake is shooting well. And Brandon. So you get up there and you have to knock them down. And he ended up doing that.

How did you address the team in the locker room?  Tough love?

It's a lesson. I've said this always to the team, you don't play the scoreboard. We said that at the start of the fourth quarter. This team was down 25 points last night to the Lakers and came back. And that's what we said to them. This team is not going to quit playing. And we don't play that scoreboard. You play this game the right way. You keep pushing the ball, get into their legs because their legs are tired, they're heavy. And defensively don't give them anything. Offensively keep executing because they've been down before and last night they were down. Now it's a lesson. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way. Lucky us that we were able to pull it out.

Martell

Well, he's getting good looks. Those are shots he can knock down. He's just got to keep shooting that when he gets them. Of course, don't hesitate.

Paul Allen's presence at the Rose Garden and his interaction with the players

We were surprised that he was here. I saw him and just hugged him. He's a strong man. He loves his Blazers. I think it showed the fact that he was getting medical attention just a couple of days ago and as soon as we come back he's here wanting to see us. I think the guys were probably surprised to see him and I didn't see it but I'm sure just like I did, I was happy to see him and we're praying for him. He's a strong man. That's the man. I'm sure they were happy to see him.

Anything unusual with their press or trap at the end that gave you trouble?

Nah, they were scrambling. And just trying to create some turnovers and we gave it to them a couple of times.

-- Ben Golliver | (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com) | Twitter

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