Media Row Report: Blazers 96 Grizzlies 106

The Portland Trail Blazers' 106-96 home loss to the Memphis Grizzlies -- one that featured a remarkable 29 point deficit and a 31-2 first half run -- was bad.  The post-game mixed messages -- sure, call it finger pointing -- were worse.

A visibly frustrated Nate McMillan put the loss on his team's lack of effort and pointed to Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge as the guys who could help remedy the disjointed play.  Twice McMillan said "not that we're calling [Roy and Aldridge] out" and then immediately proceeded to do just that.  First, "I think Brandon and LaMarcus are our captains and our leaders. We need to feed off of that. That emotion. Not allowing us to play this way. Not that we're calling them [out] -- they are the guys we feed off of, they are the guys that can do a lot, encouraging support. We need that. We need that. We're going to play off of them." 

And then again, "In a situation, a game like this, we need that. Somebody to gather the troops and we ride them. It's not calling them out, those are our guys. Those are our go-to guys. Those are guys that have made it happen. That we're playing off of. We need them. We need them."

In the locker room after the game, Roy acknowledged that McMillan's message to the team had been the same as it had been to the media and he looked just slightly miffed that his coach had publicly challenged his captains.  Roy deftly avoided giving any detailed response to McMillan's challenge but did admit that, "me and LaMarcus have got to make sure that guys are ready defensively." 

Roy did pointedly disagree with his coach's assessment that this loss was a product of being out-worked.  In Roy's eyes, the real problems lie in the kinks that still need to be worked out when it comes to roles and rotations. "We've got a number of guys who can play and we're still trying to figure how to share it around. We go through stretches where we look like we don't have energy but I don't think it's energy," Roy said flatly. "I think it's guys a little bit [unsure] who we're going to, how we're going to go inside-out or outside-in. Whether we're going to pick and roll. Because of that sometimes we're going to go through stretches where we can't score. I don't think it's anything like guys not playing hard , it's guys still confused, trying to figure it out."

Roy didn't elaborate much past that.  Frankly, his explanation doesn't make a lot of sense at this point in the season, particularly in light of how well the team has played using the same starting lineup earlier this week in a win over the Chicago Bulls.  Is the confusion coming from the players believing the rotation should be handled differently?  That seems like a logical explanation. If so, let's hear it.  Is it coming from learning to play with new teammates? It's been two solid months since training camp opened, so I don't know about that one.  Is there another explanation that you can think of? I'd love to hear it.

I'm inclined to mostly agree with McMillan, at least for tonight.  The team showed very little pride when it took its big 31-2 licking: allowing multiple easy buckets, watching as passes went over the top for layups, forcing bad shots on offense, eschewing ball movement and playing with an attitude that they expected someone else to step up. Certainly it didn't help that McMillan pulled Greg Oden and the Grizzlies immediately went on a 20-0 run before McMillan decided to put Oden back in.  Pulling a hot Martell Webster for a cold Rudy Fernandez looks bad in hindsight.  But this loss was about much more than a few substitution issues. It was about failing to close out on shooters, failing to play solid perimeter defense, settling for trading baskets during the second half, and getting killed in the paint all night long.  

Kudos to Webster (25 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks) for getting his shot going and playing with heart.  A head nod to Roy for his near-triple double (26 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists), which looked far better on paper than it did in person.  Otherwise, it was a eyeroll-inducing outing, one that ended with Nate McMillan uncharacteristically sitting Steve Blake for the entire fourth quarter in favor of Andre Miller. McMillan told me after the game the decision was made because he liked what Miller had going.  Left unsaid?  Blake's 0 point, 2 assist, 2 turnovers and pitiful attempts at defending the Grizzlies guards.   

Let's be sure not to overlook the fact that Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge both played the entire fourth quarter even though they had played heavy minutes throughout the first three quarters, their team entered the final period down 14 points, and they are set to play the second half of a home-and-away back-to-back tomorrow night against a major division rival.  No courtesy substitutions.  No chance for the youngsters to inject some energy.  No short blow at the start of the quarter. Just 12 straight minutes -- minutes that even featured some full court pressing -- against a sub-500 team that was stomping on their pride and leading by double digits.  

Was this decision made because McMillan felt he had no other way to win the game or because he was trying to send a message? Although he couched his post-game commentary with "not calling them out" I thought McMillan's lack of fourth quarter substitutions for his captains told the whole story: this embarrassing deficit is your bed, captains, you'll dig us out of it or sleep in it.  

Tonight they slept in it.  Let's see how Roy and Aldridge respond tomorrow night in Utah.
 

Random Game Notes

  • Kevin Pelton came away with the quote of the game: Grizzlies Coach Lionel Hollins on rookie center Hasheem Thabeet, "We're teaching him how to play the game of basketball like you would a 7th or 8th grader."  Wow.  Expecting a middle-schooler, KP2 and I were witness to what looked like a solid pro.  Great energy, absurd length, some nice finishing at the rim, very, very respectable numbers: 9 points, 6 boards, 3 blocks in 18 minutes.  Thabeet looked terrible in Vegas this summer and looked like a totally different player tonight.  Up his minutes! 
  • Thabeet's performance was all the more impressive in light of his pregame warm-up routine which had courtside observers gawking at how misguided the drills he was participating in were.  Thabeet was shooting 15 footers, 18 footers, turnaround 18 footers, 15 footers off the pick and roll, jab step 15 footers, 18 footers off the glass.  It was a wonder he wasn't shooting three pointers.  Please remember he's 7'3". The only time he practiced any shots at the rim came after he was instructed to pump-fake from the top of the free throw circle and dribble twice down the key before making a layup.  You think I'm exaggerating; I'm not. The average height of the Grizzlies assistant coaching staff (which includes Damon Stoudamire, Henry Bibby and Johnny Davis) might have something to do with this. Who knows.  I wanted to intervene.  Had it been Greg Oden, I probably wouldn't have been able to resist.
  • Pelton wants everyone to know that he was a fan of Marc Gasol "before being a fan of Marc Gasol was cool."  I guess that means Pelton somehow saw him before that first Geico commercial.  It is oh so cool to be a fan of a Marc Gasol that puts up 19 points, 15 rebonds and 5 assists and who is now a better ball-handler than countryman Sergio Rodriguez. I think it's fair to say that Greg Oden trails Gasol in the All Star balloting.
  • Joel Przybilla is in some kind of funk.  It's hard to remember him getting burned so bad defensively in consecutive games.  Non-existent offense; he's not even touching the ball. 
  • The court needed to be wiped up a few times because Zach Randolph kept licking his chops when single-covered by LaMarcus Aldridge.  21 and 9 for Randolph. 16 and 5 for Aldridge. Teacher. Student. Schooled.  After the game, Randolph was met in the back hallway by a large group of well-wishers and had a very big smile on his face (and a Yankees cap on his head...).  I think he enjoyed the win more than everyone, except maybe Lionel Hollins, who looked like a man who couldn't believe his team had just done everything he had asked them to do.
  • On second thought, maybe McMillan simply wanted to call out Aldridge, and Roy was inserted into his post-game speech as collateral damage so it didn't come off as a truly personal coach-to-player challenge? Thoughts?

Nate's Post-Game Comments

What did you think of your energy in the first half?

There was none. I mean, energy? There was no energy out there in the first half. That team comes in here and jumps on us like that. No energy. I thought for most of the game there was no energy and really no excuse for no energy. 

What was the message after the game?

I think Brandon and LaMarcus are our captains and our leaders. We need to feed off of that. That emotion. Not allowing us to play this way. Not that we're calling them [out] -- they are the guys we feed off of, they are the guys that can do a lot, encouraging support. We need that. We need that. We're going to play off of them. Greg has done some good things. We brought Miller in here. Our guys, that we feed off of, are those two. And when they have a nice rhythm going those guys on that floor gain confidence. 

Are you saying they didn't have it going?

I'm just saying we need that. We need that. In a situation, a game like this. We need that. Somebody to gather the troops and we ride them. It's not calling them out, those are our guys. Those are our go-to guys. Those are guys that have made it happen. That we're playing off of. We need them. We need them.

They dominated you on the interior.

They dominated the whole game. I just thought ... I think they had 32 points or something in paint (in the first half), defensively they pretty much got what they want. Not getting up and defending. Being down 29, that's all about mentally coming in here and playing. Tonight we just didn't. We didn't. We didn't come to play. I don't know whether we thought this would be easy or what. It just shows if we don't anybody can beat us.

Any concern about the loss to Golden State, the collapse against Detroit and this.

You've got to put those games behind you. You've got to put a win behind you and then you gotta play the next game. You've got to come and bring that effort to play the next game. We know what we need to do. We didn't do that tonight.

You don't see a pattern in some of those games?

Again, I've said this a few times this year. I didn't have to say this maybe once last year. Our effort is not where it needs to be to win some games. And to win. We've been able to win some games but our effort and scrappy and hunger and attitude is not where it needs to be for us to really win big. And I don't get that. We're missing some guys but tonight they outworked us. There have been some other games where teams have outworked us. That's not something we're known for.

Big first quarter run

Just outworking us. We couldn't score. We didn't score. That led to easy baskets. When we got back, offensively they were able to run their offense. It was mainly outworking us.

Worst performance of the season?

You know, it's a loss. That was a surprise.

Miller instead of Blake in the fourth quarter, was that upping the tempo or something else?

Andre had some things going. I thought that team he was in there with got us a rhythm and was able to make a run. I just stayed with them.

Did you like what you saw from the press in the fourth quarter?

You're gambling. You're down by so many so you maybe surprise a team a few possessions and we came up with a couple steals but being down that many eventually they'll get a read on your press and be able to execute against it, which they did.

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

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