The most frustrating losses are the ones that are the most predictable. Tonight's 108-94 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Oakland certainly qualifies as predictable.
Every possible goal that would have been included in a game plan was not achieved. A brief list: limit turnovers, limit fast break points, pound the ball inside, exploit the Warriors' lack of depth, keep track of Golden State's shooters, play hard on the road, keep a level head during disagreements with the referees, remain open to the idea of strategic flexibility while playing against perhaps the most unconventional team in the NBA.
Of that list, the last one was perhaps the most difficult to watch, as Nate McMillan clung inflexibly to his "2 fouls and you're done for the half" rule, benching both Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge for the entire second quarter. The players combined to finish with just 6 fouls for the entire game, and their significant size and skill advantages were forfeited not only during the time they were on the bench but also during much of the third quarter, when both players struggled to get themselves back in a rhythm after such a long rest.
As things fell apart on cue -- the Warriors outscored the Blazers by 12 in the second quarter, by 4 in the third quarter -- McMillan stood by clapping his hands, hoping to exhort effort from the rest of his players who seemed quite content not to respond. On Wednesday night, Brandon Roy admitted to me he didn't know his role on this team. Tonight he played like it. And the rest of his Blazers teammates, except Rudy Fernandez, followed his lead. When all was said and done, the Blazers laid a big, nasty, egg on the road, playing without heart, composure, effort, pride or much thought.
Timeouts were spent ignoring their coach's instructions, offensive possessions were wasted with terrible decision-making, defensive possessions were spent halfheartedly rebounding and griping at the officials, and crunch time was spent with the starters on the bench and the game out of reach, an ultimate embarrassment against a Warriors team that gave minutes to a same-day call-up from the D-League signed just to meet the league's healthy body minimum and who allowed the Blazers to jump out with a season-high 37 points in the first quarter.
If Wednesday night's win over Detroit was a lesson in playing a full 48 minutes, then tonight's loss was a lesson in showing up for more than 12. Nothing more needs to be written.
After reading back through these, they might be a little bit harsh. Just pretend I'm one of the assistant coaches chewing the guys out. Maybe drink half a fifth of Jack and then read them aloud while shouting at your monitor and throwing pillows. Liven things up a little bit. Things will return to normal tomorrow but, tonight, a reality check isn't the worst thing in the world.
Rudy Fernandez was the lone bright spot, the only Blazer that fulfilled his role and played with determination throughout his time on the court. 19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and 4 turnovers in roughly 38 minutes. He was slightly trigger happy, especially from distance, but his shot was falling and the Blazers needed that aggressiveness.
Brandon Roy struggled from the field (just 6 of 17 overall, 1 for 5 from distance), had more turnovers than assists and got lit up by Monta Ellis when the two players matched up. He spent more time arguing calls than rebounding, couldn't get easy buckets when his team faltered down the stretch, didn't help exploit interior mismatches after the first quarter and carried himself during the second half like he didn't expect his team to mount a comeback. Not an $80 million dollar performance for The Natural.
LaMarcus Aldridge should replay tonight's game tape in his mind's eye any time he starts dreaming about this year's All Star game in Dallas. A refined, established offensive player with go-to moves, he should be the biggest beneficiary of the mismatches presented by Don Nelson's uber-small lineup. Instead, he forced shots in traffic, committed dumb early fouls that limited his minutes, was a non-factor on the boards, watched plays develop around him as he wandered the perimeter and was neutralized by Corey Maggette. The fact that his coach doesn't trust him to play with two fouls -- and he seems OK with that -- are not good signs.
Steve Blake is still missing shots as I type this. 2-9 from the field; 0-4 from three point line. More difficult-to-watch defense against small, quick guards. Now more than ever the Blazers need offense from Blake.
Andre Miller looked like a player who didn't particularly care whether his team won or lost. He played grumpy. Like something was bothering him -- the refs, his ankle, the starting lineup, his role, who knows, whatever -- and he couldn't get his mind right long enough to concentrate on properly setting up his big men. 2 assists against 7 turnovers in a game against a team that cares as little about defense as the Warriors is unacceptable from a starting point guard on a playoff team. The coaches should be in his ear. And, unlike during timeouts tonight, he should be listening.
Greg Oden played a fine first quarter and then disappeared for the middle two quarters, making a brief re-appearance in the final period. 16 points, 6 rebounds in 24 minutes. Too little, too early. His shooting was efficient (6-8) because he's pretty solid at making dunks and he was attacking the basket when given the ball in good position, which was not nearly enough. Whatever lesson McMillan is trying to impart by sitting him for extended stretches is not getting through.
Joel Przybilla had one phenomenal defensive possession (back-to-back blocks before the Warriors finally cashed in on their 4th shot attempt of the possession) and hit the boards (9 rebounds in 20 minutes) but remains a shade of the all-around center that we saw last year. He didn't hit a field goal, didn't look for the ball against smaller competition and essentially tried to stay out of the way on offense. Like Blake, he needs to provide something on offense if he's going to play 20 minutes with Travis Outlaw injured.
Martell Webster is playing so poorly it's a wonder Nate McMillan can find 14 minutes for him. Don't be deceived by his +7, that came from garbage time buckets by his teammates that helped make the score look a little bit more respectable. No defense, no court sense, a missed corner three that the team expects -- needs -- him to knock down. His performance is likely as frustrating for him to live through as it is to watch. Whatever the exact opposite of "seizing the opportunity" is, Martell Webster is doing that. Maybe we can call it "Letting opportunity run out into the middle of a highway and get run over by an 18 wheel truck." Yeah, that has a ring to it.
Juwan Howard scored 0 points, had 5 rebounds and was -11 in 12 minutes of play. I'm not sure how much longer the Juwan Howard era can continue before his play becomes a Nate McMillan problem and not a Juwan Howard problem. There are few situations where Howard's number gets called and your first reaction isn't "Oh dear, here we go." Just play Cunningham. Let's see him play worse than Howard before Howard gets extended minutes again.
Jerryd Bayless brought some energy and it was jaw-dropping how long Nate McMillan waited to give him a chance, given how lackadaisical and out-of-sync the rest of the guards were playing. 6 points, 1 assist in 9 minutes. Adequate effort defensively. Nothing game-changing on offense but he played within the team framework alright. Deserved a shot to inject some life during the first half.
Dante Cunningham got 3 minutes of play in garbage time with his team losing by 20. That's not how it's supposed to go down.
Final Thoughts and Links
The Blazers fall to 9-5 but will enjoy the ultimate panacea tomorrow: a home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Let's hope the plane ride home features some soul-searching, some player-to-player accoutability.
Before you clock out for the night, be sure to celebrate unconventionality in every form over at Golden State of Mind. A Grade-A website, period.
-- Ben Golliver | (firstname.lastname@example.org) | Twitter