In a Nutshell
In a game featuring almost no defense the first team to get after its opponent was going to win. That team was Philadelphia as the Blazers, continuing their humble homage to the 2000 Western Conference Finals squad, collapsed in the fourth yet again, completing the worst November since the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The first period of this game was a study in contrasts. The offense for both teams was DaVinci in the Louvre. The defense was pure kindergartener on the fridge. Neither team seemed interested in getting in the other's way. If it weren't for some botched easy shots and a few unforced turnovers the score might well have been 100-100 after one. The main beneficiary of the defensive malaise was LaMarcus Aldridge. He snagged 10 points in the period and would have 18 by the half working against single-coverage for short turn-arounds and alley-oops. His prolific production blended in more than it should have, perhaps, as the Blazers shot 59% for the period and the Sixers 71%. Both teams had 29 as the quarter ended.
As the second units for both teams took the floor the scoring stopped. The defense wasn't much better; the shot selection and passing were worse. Absent legit point guards neither team could get into rhythm. Armon Johnson and Nicolas Batum looked particularly out of synch, Batum playing with the reserves as Wesley Matthews got the start. Only Aldridge remained in tune. The Blazers scored 17 in the period, Philly 18. Sixers by 1 at the break.
The Blazers went on a 10-1 run to start the third period behind some aggressive offensive play by Wesley Matthews...a trend that spanned his tenure in this game. The Blazers disguised a lack of cohesive defense by sagging low, packing players tighter to make the seams appear smaller. The deception worked as Philadelphia began lofting shots outside and missing horribly. After a timeout (during which Philadelphia coach Doug Collins no doubt said, "Why don't you test the defense a little before believing in it?") the Sixers started getting offensive rebounds and lane shots. They then turned the tables, packing the paint against Portland and watching the Blazers shoot deep and miss. When the dust settled the Blazers had notched 22 to Philly's 19 and led by 2 going into the fourth.
Sadly, a lead of 22 wouldn't have been enough as the Blazers' Horrorshow offense turned into a legit Horror Show. The only truly aggressive player in red and black was Rudy Fernandez and despite that aggression he missed most of his shots by virtue of being able to back up his moxie with his dribble. The second unit offense was otherwise abysmal to the point of looking clueless. Even when the main guys came back in the Blazers were operating against the clock on multiple possessions, turning the ball over, and firing over outstretched hands. The Sixers took a simple tack: deny the ball to Aldridge and Brandon Roy and see if anybody else could function. Apparently not. You could almost see the spirit drain out of the team on both ends as contested shots went astray and turnovers led to run-outs. Neither could the Blazers recover on the boards. There was just no escape. Credit the Sixers for finally bringing the "D" hard. Lament that the Blazers couldn't respond at all. Portland managed 11 in the period. Philly wasn't great, scoring only 22 themselves. But when that's double your opponent's production...ballgame.
This team doesn't have its head on straight. At this point they're expecting to lose as soon as they get under any kind of pressure. Somebody has to step up and instill some confidence in them, taking his teammates on his back and carrying them. Maybe that's Brandon Roy. If not, the field is wide open for other candidates.
Also note that this is a typical fallacy: when teams perceive they're slumping (as the recent Players Only Meeting indicates) they try to respond with offense. Offense doesn't win games. Defense, rebounding, consistent effort, and teamwork do.
Aldridge scored 18 in the first half and ended with 20 for the game. Part of that was Philadelphia keying on him. Part of it was the guards forgetting about him. But if LMA is going to be that guy we just mentioned he'd better get more assertive, more demanding, or more something. He finished with 12 rebounds but most of those came in the first half as well.
Wesley Matthews scored 26 from his starter's perch. He drew 8 free throws, hitting 6...a good indication of his aggression. The carefree Matthews is a good thing. He has a common youngster's disease of thinking he's Kobe Bryant when he gets rolling, but he'll even out with time.
Brandon Roy had a limp game with brief spurts of energy. He shot 3-9, 2-2 from the line for 10 points, 2 rebounds, and 0 assists.
Andre Miller had 8 points and 9 assists. He never tried to take over this game, perhaps preferring to stay out of the way of Roy and Matthews. I'm not the biggest fan of an Andre-centric offense but I was hoping he'd settle the team a little with some drives in that horrible final period.
Marcus Camby had 10 rebounds, 5 points, and 3 assists in 31 minutes. His shot is still off but the defense just doesn't work without him.
Dante Cunningham had a bench-high 22 minutes in the return to his college home. He had 6 rebounds but also missed 6 of 7 shots.
Rudy Fernandez had 3 rebounds and 2 assists in 19 minutes but shot only 2-8 for 5 points. At least he was trying though.
Nicolas Batum...shrug. I'm struggling to remember anything he did in this game. That's not a good sign, as the Blazers need him to stand out.
Unfortunately Armon Johnson stood out again as the offense remained off-track during his watch. This is not unexpected for a rookie. His individual skills remain strong but the team doesn't operate with confidence when he has the rock. He did work for 4 rebounds in his 10 minutes. He had 1 assist, missed both of his (difficult) shots, and turned the ball over 4 times.
Stats of the Night
- Blazers shoot 37%, dragged down by that black hole of a fourth. They also hit only 27.8% from the arc.
- Blazers lose the free throw battle 26-17
- Blazers score 11 in the fourth
- Blizzard-like conditions have already cut power in my neck of the mountains twice during the penning of this recap so I'm cutting it short here. It wasn't pretty enough for numbers to matter anyway
Odd Notes and Links
The preview for tomorrow's Celtics game may be late if I keep losing power. Don't lose hope.
P.S. Good riddance, foul November!