In a Nutshell
The Blazers play a slop-tastic first half and then try to make up for it by showing energy, guts, and manly play in the second. The plan almost succeeds but too much Dirk Nowitzki down the stretch proves Portland's undoing.
You can often tell how the Blazers are going to fare in a game by their first three offensive plays. When they come out flat and stupid in the opening seconds they don't seem to shake it. Portland announced their presence early in this one with snappy, quick passes and great looks. They drained 4 of their first 5 shots...all good looks. The defense wasn't quite so effective as Dallas scored in measure. With the score 8-6 Portland with only 3 minutes elapsed the game looked like a barn-burner. Then somebody came and dumped a big ol' plane of suckitude all over that burning barn, putting it out for the rest of the quarter. Both teams acted as if any shot was going to go in because their first few have. Portland's second unit guys in particular looked...gross. The score after one was 17-14 Dallas and it looked like the early-score indication was going to be wrong this game.
Portland's offense picked up a little in the second. The reserves picked up both the pace and their confidence. Nicolas Batum and Dante Cunningham got after it in particular, Batum scoring closer to the rim than is his usual wont. Unfortunately Dallas' offense exploded in a hail of paint points, open threes, and free throws. It was like someone finally getting their form right on a difficult ballet position only to be run over by a lawn mower. The Mavs scored 34 in the period to Portland's 25 and the game looked to be in danger as Dallas led 51-39.
Fortunately for the Blazers, Dallas holds on to leads nowadays like David Hasselhoff holds onto dignity. The third quarter saw a strong up tick as Wesley Matthews and LaMarcus Aldridge dominated the paint so hard they might as well have changed their names to Sherwin and Williams. Matthews also salted in a couple threes. The Blazers missed only 6 shots in 12 minutes and scored 29. The Blazers had chopped the lead to 5 with 2:30 left but forgot to defend late. Dallas made 5 buckets and a free throw in the last two-and-change, almost all of the shots at point blank range. Courtesy of that debotchery (yes, I know) the Blazers left the period down 10 again.
Once again the game appeared in danger, but have I mentioned that Dallas holds onto leads lately like Tiger Woods holds onto sponsors? Two developments in the fourth got the Blazers back in it. First, they went with their famous small lineup again, playing Aldridge with a herd of 6'6"-6'8" wings. Second, Aldridge went MANLY on the Mavericks, tossing down multiple post shots and even a vicious put-back slam. With the Mavs mostly shooting outside and the Blazers rebounding well the lead shrank to 5, then ballooned, then came back down to 2 at the 3:30 mark (following a couple of Aldridge baskets) and then to a tie at 3:00 and again at 2:00 after two more Aldridge makes. At that point, however, Andre Miller committed two straight turnovers. Meanwhile Dirk Nowitzki, taller than any Blazer who tried to guard him (and several did), hit 4 straight shots. Eventually Aldridge scored again and Batum hit a three but that left the Blazers down 3 with 24 seconds left. They managed the clock like Bill Lumbergh and never threatened. Dallas wins by 5, 103-98.
I suppose the Blazers could claim a moral victory for keeping the game close in the end but their general inconsistency in any trends but the bad ones make that victory seem pale. Step back and look at the big picture. The moves Portland made in the off-season were geared towards two things: improving perimeter shooting while keeping defense strong. The path was cleared for Nicolas Batum because he's a strong defender who can shoot. Wesley Matthews was acquired for the same reason. Rudy Fernandez is retained only for his shooting. This team's game is predicated on bothering the opponent and hitting jumpers. Yet game after game they fall short in both areas. Before this game they were 19th in the league in field goal percentage allowed at 46.3% per game. Dallas shot 54.1% tonight. Before this game the Blazers were 26th in the league in three-point percentage at 32.9%. Tonight they shot 21.4%. In the absence of Greg Oden to change the interior game this is how Portland will have to win. You can talk about any number of successes you want but until they can do at least a little bit of what they were designed to do (or at least improve upon) this year it's like lauding an author for the ability to do algebra. OK...cool...but how does he write? At this point, not very well.
After a slipshod first half LaMarcus Aldridge beasted out in the second half, finishing 14-26 for 35 points and 10 rebounds. His defense switched between good and "oops!" but he certainly scored enough (and threw enough people aside like they were cardboard cut-outs) to make up for any shortcomings. Question: Can we get some of that in states other than Texas?
Wesley Matthews scored 17 on 7-13 shooting. His defense ranged from adequate to great. He looks like he's moving at half again the speed of any other Blazer out there.
Nicolas Batum put in a strong, confident effort. He was looking for his shot and getting more involved in general. He shot 5-10 for 11 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and a nice chase-down block in 27 minutes.
Dante Cunningham had an active 24 minutes and was effective on the offensive end, shooting 4-8 for 8 points and 2 assists. He also had 3 rebounds and a steal. The matchups were tough for him on the other end.
Andre Miller shot 4-6 with 8 assists and 9 points but struggled on defense and had those crucial late turnovers. He did have 5 boards and 2 steals.
Marcus Camby, a victim of the small lineup and of Dallas' lack of offensive centers, played but 21 minutes and had 6 points and 6 rebounds.
Brandon Roy played 30 minutes, took 5 shots, missed 3, and scored 4 points with 5 assists and 2 steals. His defense was off as well.
Patty Mills had 3 beautiful assists in 13 minutes but missed 5 of his 7 shots.
Rudy Fernandez played 16 minutes and missed all of his 5 shots. If he can't hit an open three he can't play. 2 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 turnovers, and 2 points.
Joel Przybilla played 5 minutes. Not his type of game.
Stats of the Night
- Dallas over 54% shooting. Plus Portland shoots 21.4% from the arc and hits only 11 of 18 free throws (61.1%) while the Mavs make 20 of 21. How are you going to make up for allowing 54% shooting when you can't hit a three or a free throw? Shooting 60% is about the only way and the Blazers only managed 49.4%.
Odd Notes and Links
Honestly we don't mention MavsMoneyball enough. It's a great site. Check it out and throw them a compliment or two about Dirk.