For masochists that take a strange joy in watching a basketball team give away a game in the most frustrating way possible, the Portland Trail Blazers 109-105 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in Portland Tuesday night had it all.
A fourth quarter comeback to get your hopes up? Yes. Double-figure scoring from six different players to get your hopes up even further? Yes. Particularly hot shooting from a maddeningly inconsistent wing who seems to finally be putting it together? Oh yes.
Higher and higher and higher you go until it's Blazers 104, Grizzlies 96 with less than four minutes to play on a home court where the Blazers always hit the big shots, always get the calls, always find a way to milk the clock and eek out the victory.
And then. Boom. The Cardinal sins came raining down, painting the court red.
Give up an offensive rebound on a missed free throw? Check. Turn the ball over? Check. Have your superstar defer to your octogenarian power forward when a single basket would have iced it? Check. Have your superstar force up an errant shot to make up for the previous possession, claim two offensive rebounds and still come up empty? Check. Foul to stop the clock and then turn the ball over again, leading to a breakout layup? Check and check and check. Get careless with the ball while running off some time with the score tied in the final minute of the game, allowing a over-ballsy referee to make a game-altering call? Check. Have your superstar defer to a tertiary scorer who has been hot all night but isn't known for sinking daggers in the final 10 seconds? Check. Miraculously get to the foul line with a chance to tie with less than five seconds, only to miss the first free throw and then forget to miss the second free throw on purpose, all with no timeouts left? Check and check and check.
That, ladies and gentlemen, was the shocking final four minutes of the game tonight. The Grizzlies outscored the Blazers 13-1 in that time period, the only Blazers point coming when Jerryd Bayless accidentally made a free throw he was supposed to miss. A pyrrhic make, if you will. The Blazers missed their last 5 shots and committed 3 turnovers during the stretch. If any one of those five shots goes down the Blazers walk away victorious. If any one of those 3 turnovers doesn't happen -- especially OJ Mayo's strip of Brandon Roy at midcourt with 21 seconds left that led to a more-than-surprising loose ball foul on Roy -- the Blazers hold on.
The grotesque final stretch -- ok, just call it a meltdown -- obscured what was an overall solid team performance. LaMarcus Aldridge was back in the lineup after missing time due to a sprained ankle; he was effective, although limited. Both Bayless (13 points on 5 of 10 shooting) and Martell Webster (21 points on 8 of 15 shooting, including 5 threes) found their strokes again. Roy was his typical efficient 27/3/9 self. Juwan Howard broke out his flagrant foul hatchet on Marc Gasol and added 13 points. Despite being short-handed, they were in a position to win this one.
Instead, Memphis took it. Mayo had a sparkling 27 points and 2 steals and was crucial down the stretch. Zach Randolph again went off in a return trip to Portland, finishing with 27 points and 14 rebounds. Gasol had 18 and 10 and seems to improve by the month. The Grizzlies have far more talent than anyone (even themselves?) has given them credit for and they were able to put the pieces together at the end.
Portland meltdown or not, this Memphis team deserves to be above .500.
Random Game Notes
- After the disappointing loss, Nate McMillan gave what I believe was his shortest post-game press conference at a home game this season.
- Both Brian T. Smith and Joe Freeman are reporting that the Blazers will waive Shavlik Randolph tomorrow as predicted here on December 30. No solid word yet one way or the other on whether Randolph will be offered a 10 day contract as was anticipated.
- Despite metal detectors for the fans, there were no additional security measures in place for media (as far as I could tell). After the foul call on Roy at the end, though, I was thanking my lucky stars that the home crowd had been metal detected. I haven't heard so much loud, vile language since I listened to a Dontonio Wingcast interlude. The Rose Garden jumbotron operator tried and failed to quickly pan past a man who was giving the two-handed one-finger-salute to the referees only to encounter a young lady excitedly doing exactly the same thing. This after cutting away from another man who seemed to be quite upset -- outright shouting! -- about his ducking tadpole. Oh, the humanity.
- Pre-game note: Sam Young still has an ugly shot. The assistant coach working with him on his ball fakes looked like he was trying really hard to pretend like he hasn't just given up. And yet there Young was, going 3 for 4 during the game and adding 4 rebounds.
- How many people in the world besides Brandon Roy are comfortable with Martell Webster taking make-or-break shots right now?
- On that note, it is absolutely possible for a bonafide star to be too unselfish in the NBA. It so rarely happens that it seems impossible. But it's possible. And we just saw it tonight.
- Before the game, Marc Gasol was wearing one of the now-ubiquitous blue NBA Fit t-shirts. A member of the Memphis broadcasting team asked him if the shirt was an advertisement for Gasol's sleaked-down conditioning. Get it? Because he's slim and dominant now and he used to be overweight and not as good. FIT.
- Zach Randolph slipped and awkwardly twisted his knee just feet away from where Greg Oden went down with his patella injury. The gasps were sustained and audible. I admit to cringing and looking away. It seemed impossible that Randolph would stay in the game, much less go to the foul line soon after the slip.
- Jerryd Bayless was (how does one say this politely?) "abrupt" with the media during his post-game comments.
- No Dre in the fourth quarter? No accident.
- LaMarcus Aldridge reported re-tweaking his ankle during tonight's game, stating afterwards that it affected his play and that he was thinking about the pain during the game. Although he was less than 100% in tallying 11 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists and was dominated again by Memphis's frontline, Aldridge filled the minutes better than any other available option. Tough situation for Aldridge to be in. He didn't look pain-free after the game.
- Speaking of which, Jeff Pendergraph's legs were iced out in the locker room and I'm not talking diamonds.
- Doug E. Fresh joined DJ OG One as the third quarter break entertainment. He requested that Portland sing along to the words of Sweet Home Alabama while he beatboxed into the microphone. It was unclear whether Mr. Fresh realized the scope of the geographical distance between where he was performing and where he was singboxing about.
- That being said... half-hearted group singboxing Sweet Home Alabama 2,000 Miles+ away from Alabama >>>>>>>>>>> Avery Watts.
- Heisman finalist Ndamukong Suh was in attendance tonight. My favorite celebrity to attend a Blazers game so far this year with the possible exception of Ken Griffey, Jr.
- Paul Allen was not in his courtside seat again.
- Attention "drones": Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm has a message for you.
Nate's Post Game Comments
Call on Brandon Roy at midcourt.
I don't think you make that call that late. I didn't see the contact. That's a big call late in the ballgame. Minimal contact is what I saw. You know, that's a tough one.
What are your emotions right now?
We had a game that we let slip away. You have to execute down the stretch. We got control of the game. We had some shots that we got to knock down. We had about five or six shots down the stretch that didn't go down. That's the difference in the game.
Roy's drive and kick to Martell, was that a designed play?
It was just what he's been seeing. If he can get to the basket, he gets to the basket, if the defense collapses, kick the ball out. We had a couple of those. Howard had one that rimmed in and out. Martell misses one. I think Bayless may have missed one. Those are opportunities that we have to capitalize on.
Team's composure in last 4 minutes?
Well, again, I thought we fought back. That group fought back to get back into the game. And then making plays. We have open looks that when you get those shots you have to knock them down. And we didn't do that.
4.3 seconds to go, no timeouts, Bayless misses first free throw, did you think about him missing the second free throw?
We wanted him to miss it. He didn't get the call.
Brandon went up and said something to him?
We wanted him to miss it. And because we didn't have any timeouts and to see if we could get lucky.
54 points in the paint.
It's killer. 54 points in the paint. 27 second chance points. I mean, we just got pounded. Really, the last two nights in the paint. I thought the first half the bigs, Zach and Gasol, controlled it and the second half, the fourth quarter, we started to play like we've got to play all year long. We don't have our centers. Our bigs have to be scrappy, have to be dirty down in the paint. And tonight this team averages 52 in the paint and they get 54 so a lot of the damage was done there.
No Andre in the fourth?
That group got us back. We were down and they got us back. Bayless was attacking. Brandon was with the ball and Martell had some shots going so I stayed with that group.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter