I have to be honest with you. Even though I was on the edge of my seat most of the night because of what this game meant and how many times the Blazers came back, it was still tough for me to watch. It was like seeing a great puncher go up against a guy who really knows how to box. The Blazers were throwing wild lefts and rights and then trying to catch their breath. Meanwhile the Mavericks were saying, "Wait for it...wait for it... jab...jab...BOOM! Ratta-tatta-tatta! Wait for it...jab, duck...BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!" Every time the Blazers would land one on their chin they'd just back off and come back with a smart combination. In the end it went to the judge's decision, but the Mavs clearly won. AUGGGHHH! But for a few more years and a couple more players healthy! Stupid, stupid Trevor Ariza! You are now officially on my "I don't <3 you" list!
As was semi-expected the Blazers came out of the gate slowly. The TV crew mentioned several times that they were a step behind. The Mavericks came out to push people around and score, and that they did. In the opening minutes the Blazers were launching jumpers and were one-and-done...the greatest fear playing against the Mavs. Then Nicolas Batum turned things around with an amazing transition block from behind on a sure Dallas layup and Portland's defensive intensity picked up. Joel Przybilla started giving marvelous help defense and offensive rebounding on the other end. Channing Frye came in and gave a good defensive effort as well. Portland hit a few shots and threw the clamps down on Dallas and we found ourselves up 1 coming out of what could have been a disaster of a quarter.
Then the second unit hit.
Or wait... "hit" and "second unit" should not be used in the same sentence tonight without including the word "bottom" somewhere in there. As soon as Dallas saw Portland's reserves they threw up a zone defense. Almost immediately Portland's offense looked uglier than an Arby's dumpster at midnight. We saw horrific jumpers. We saw late-clock possessions. We saw point guards unable to get anybody into the offense. It was frustration city. You had players in there who weren't used to each other, the situation, or the zone. This is the fallacy in the argument, "Why doesn't Nate just throw in Player X or give Player Y more minutes?"
Once they smelled blood the Mavericks really pinched the Blazers even when Portland's starters returned. Their late-quarter technique was to get physical with anybody who came in the lane. The refs were calling the game loose on both ends. Pretty soon nobody in red and black wanted anything to do with the paint. The Blazers looked tentative and at times lost. The result was a 30-19 quarter for the Mavericks and a depressing deficit going into the half.
The third quarter started with Dallas employing an old, familiar Blazer-killing technique: the screen and roll. For a couple of minutes there the game looked to be a painful rout. But the play leveled off and the Blazers stayed even until about six minutes left in the period. Then, out of the sky...what is it? Could it be? Is he back? It's...it's... Is it Super Trout? Well, yes, he showed up briefly in the second half, but forget that. Who's the guy standing next to him? He's throwing down dunks!!! He's blocking shots!!! He's wagging a finger at Dirk Nowitzki and saying, "No more crazy shots for you! Take THIS! And THAT! And hi-ya-choppa smacky-smacky... whazzat? WHOOP! Made ya look! Ka-POW! Ka-SPLAT! Did you eat your Wheaties today? No, you couldn't have ‘cuz I ate the WHOLE DAMN BOX!!!" My gosh...I do believe it's LAMARCUS MAN!!! And OH, LaMarcus Man was a sight to behold! He literally took this team by the scruff of its neck, pulled it up to his face, and told it to get its butt back in this game. And get back in the game we did. All of a sudden that middle looked far more open and nobody was paying the slightest attention to the Mavericks throwing their weight around. The refs started tagging Dallas with and-ones and the score looked respectable again.
The game fell apart briefly when the second unit came in again at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth, but they didn't get much of an audition this time. Things remained pretty tight throughout the rest of the game. The Blazers would climb within 2 or 3 and then the Mavericks would stretch it out again. The Blazers would reel them back and then they'd escape. LaMarcus continued to play spectacularly and Outlaw made some great buckets but Roy looked worn down. The TV guys speculated he could be ill. They said he was chugging Pepto on the bench. I'd guess it was a sponsorship deal but Nate would be the more natural choice for that. "Need something to stop you from running?" (OK, that's a cheap shot. Nate was actually telling the Blazers to push it tonight. But when you have the slowest-paced offense in the league you're going to get some of those jokes.)
The Blazers ended up losing for a couple of reasons.
First, the Mavericks put the zone back on and even our vaunted fourth-quarter offensive guys looked flummoxed by it. Each player was holding the ball for 2-3 seconds before making any basketball-like move. The idea behind beating a zone is movement and quick attack. You want that ball and those feet to slip through the cracks in the defense. You want to force the defenders to make tough decisions about who to cover and where. When you hold the ball at all against a zone it just lets everybody recover and set up anew. Against a man-to-man you can set up a great individual move that way, but that's not what the Mavs were playing.
Second, every time the Blazers got within 2-3 points it was Steve Blake or Travis Outlaw taking the shot to tie or put us ahead. Granted Blake was hitting his threes early and Travis had a very nice offensive night, but you got back in the game on the backs of Aldridge and a little bit of Roy. Meanwhile every time Dallas needed a critical shot they got the ball in the hands of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry. I'm guessing they will take those odds (Nowitzki and Terry versus Outlaw and Blake) every time. They panned out tonight for sure.
The Blazers never took the lead and eventually time just ran out after one too many dagger thrusts from the Dallas stars and one too many mistakes from a Portland team trying to rush to get over the hump. Because of the shorthanded rotation we had the wrong guys taking the wrong shots. We needed some Rudy. Even a little Oden would have helped. Without them we just couldn't keep the fire hot enough.
The Blazers didn't play a bad game. The major deficits came in field goal percentage (41% to 46.3%) and in not taking a rebounding advantage. But Portland scored more points at the line and from the arc. Dallas just knew what they wanted and knew how to get it. The Blazers didn't. And there we are.
--You cannot say enough about the job LaMarcus Aldridge did in the second half. Offense, defense, rebounding...he was the superstar tonight. The way he stared down Nowitzki and then shut him down during the middle minutes of the half was amazing. It was everything you've ever hoped to see out of LMA. His aggression on offense was well-timed and executed. 23 points, 9-16 shooting, 5-5 from the free throw line, 10 defensive rebounds (YAY!), 11 overall rebounds, 4 assists, a steal, and a block. He better pick up some more fans after this.
--Brandon Roy had 22 points on a rough night when he mostly followed in LaMarcus' wake. He was fine when he got to the rim. He picked up a ton of fouls. But he was brutal with his jumper and his defense looked labored. 7-20 shooting, 7-8 from the foul line, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, but 4 turnovers.
--If Joel Przybilla were a girl and I had a stepladder I'd kiss him full on the lips for the job he's doing the last few weeks. He's been solid all season but he's really been amazing since Oden has been out. His help defense tonight was a thing of beauty. He just trailed people and timed their shots and swatted them into the next time zone. 15 rebounds, 6 offensive, 5 blocks, 9 points.
--Nicolas Batum actually did a pretty good job on Jason Kidd tonight I thought. I appreciate how he's quick and anticipatory enough to deal with screens. The block mentioned above was a real catalyst. I wish the confidence in the jumper would come back. The one time Nic was really set up clearly in the corner Blake hesitated big-time giving it to him. Nicolas showed why the hesitation was warranted by missing handily. The effort is still there and he really changed the game with his defense but we so need him to be a threat offensively...at least a minor one. He could stay in the game longer that way.
--Steve Blake started out the night as the only guy who could hit a shot. And all the shots he hit were threes. Unfortunately he never hit a three after the first quarter buzzer sounded and ended up 5-12 overall for 13 points. He had 4 assists and was really the only true point guard we could go with tonight. His 1 turnover killed us though. Travis Outlaw had just poked the ball away from Jason Kidd on the defensive stand of the night with 41 seconds in the game and the Blazers down 2. Outlaw dove on the floor to rescue the ball and shoved it up to Blake. Blake turned and fired a pass downcourt straight to...Antoine Wright. No, that's not a Blazer. It would be royally unfair to pin the loss on that play but it pretty much summarized the frustration of the night.
--Travis Outlaw played as poorly as the rest of the bench early on but came around late in the game. He was a complete non-factor on the boards and his defense left something to be desired until the possessions really started to matter. But when the game got crazy intense it was go-time, as usual. 7-13 for the night, 4-5 from distance, 20 points.
--Channing Frye played 16 minutes and looked keenly aware that his defense would help preserve this game. He was more active than effective but at least he knew what time it was. He tried to bother Dirk as much as possible. He never connected on a shot. He got 3 boards.
--The backup point guards were, in a word, horrible. I know somebody's going to point out Sergio's 4 assists in 12 minutes but those were isolated zip passes in a sea of blech. His shots wouldn't have gone in if the rim were the size of a kiddie pool and his defense was...hmmmm...not sterling? And Bayless' 8 minutes were worse. The only guy who would have solved this problem tonight was Rudy. As it was Steve Blake couldn't get back in quickly enough. Sorry, I don't mean to be all harsh on the young guys. But this was playoff basketball time and we have to look at things in that light at this point. They weren't ready and they're probably not expected to be.
We're still OK overall even though this loss was to a team in the thick of the Western Conference race with us. Remember the record that matters belongs to the Phoenix Suns, who now stand at 34-30. That's 6 more losses than the Blazers have. As long as Portland beats out one team in this race they're in the playoffs. The very best thing the Blazers can do (had better do, really) is beat New Jersey on Friday. That makes a 2-1 record in a tough week, 3-1 on the homestand overall. That's plenty acceptable. Just don't lose Friday.
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