The Blazers blew it tonight and they blew it hard. You know it, I know it, they know it, the Jazz know it. Up 64-39 midway through the third quarter, the Blazers began an eye-popping collapse that resulted in a devastating 93-89 overtime loss at home to a key division rival.
How did this go down? The Jazz closed the third quarter on a 21-9 run. The Blazers shot 3-12 during the stretch including 1-9 on jumpers. The Jazz then won the fourth quarter 23-10. The Blazers shot 2-17 during the stretch including 1-14 on jumpers. The Jazz won overtime 10-6. The Blazers shot 2-10 in overtime including 2-9 on jumpers.
Are you ready for me to add that all up? Over the last 24 minutes of the game, the Blazers were outscored 54-25, shot 7-38 from the field and made just 4-33 jump shots. If you are new to basketball those are poor results.
Poor results that left Nate McMillan flustered during his post-game press conference, at a loss for earthly explanations. He opted instead, as he sometimes does, for a meditation on karma. "If you play with this game, this game will come back and get you. What I mean by that... if you lose your focus and don't play the game the right way, it will come back on you."
Of all the games for the Blazers to play with, this was an especially brutal one because it started off with so much potential. After Brandon Roy was forced out of the game early with 2 fouls, the Blazers played some of their sharpest ball in recent memory, getting a hot start from Andre Miller (10 points in the first quarter) and much-needed contributions from Rudy Fernandez (10 points overall) and Nicolas Batum (14 points, all in the first half).
While Rudy rediscovered the long-distance shooting stroke that has been eluding him, Batum succeeded in truly changing a game's tempo for the first time in perhaps two weeks. One sequence stood out: a chase down block of a layup attempt by Deron Williams followed soon after by a leak-out, cock-back dunk that drew some of the loudest cheers of the night. "The last three games I didn't bring anything," Batum told me after the game. "I was shy. I didn't rebound. I didn't play defense. Tonight, I just make my shots, stretch the defense, grab some rebounds, that's why I stayed on the court tonight."
Although he played probably his loosest basketball of the past month, Roy still lacked explosiveness going to the basket, instead cashing in at the free throw line and on spot-up shots. He moved better on defense but was beaten to the basket off-the-ball on numerous occasions and, after using a heat pack and an exercise bike to keep his leg loose during the second half, really seemed to be dragging in the game's final minutes. He made just one of his last five field goal attempts, a three pointer to start overtime.
"About the fourth quarter it started getting sore," Roy said after the game. "So I just tried to keep it as warm as possible, stay warm on the bike because I don't want to let it sit too long. I thought it worked tonight. It got pretty painful in the third quarter so I heated it up. Rode the bike for a little bit."
While Roy was careful not to use the hamstring as an excuse for his poor shooting down the stretch, he clearly remains troubled by it. "It was a little up and down. I tried to make plays. There were times where it gets sore so I have to kind of back off. It's something that I just have to deal with. It's something that's not going to go away right now. I just try to keep heating it up when I'm on the bench. And when I'm playing just picking my spots where I can be aggressive."
One can't help but wonder whether McMillan should have been more active in helping pick Roy's spots for him. Although a heavy disclaimer is always necessary when looking at +/- over the course of a single game, Roy was a -21 tonight. The next worst Blazer was Marcus Camby at -13. If McMillan insists on playing Roy while he's recovering from his hamstring injury and readily admits that Roy still needs time to regain his rhythm, perhaps easing the late-game workload back onto his shoulders might be a good idea.
Perhaps, rightly or wrongly, McMillan felt like he had no other options. For the first time in awhile, McMillan looked and sounded genuinely worried, as if tonight's collapse might be foreshadowing a larger collapse: a fall out of the Western Conference's top 8 spots. "If we are serious about really making a run, we gotta act like it. We gotta play like it. And we gotta have guys step up."
McMIllan avoided eye contact and shook his head much more than usual during his media statements, repeating multiple times that he would have to look at the game tape to figure out exactly what went wrong down the stretch.
"He takes every game pretty hard," Roy told me as he moved to leave the locker room. "And we take it just as personal as he does."
Let's hope so. It's gut check time.
Random Game Notes
- Scott Schroeder on Twitter: "Made the decision - if the Blazers decide they need a PG, it's Conroy. If a big man, Dwayne Jones. If they don't go with these options, ugh."
- Nate McMillan refused to directly answer a question about Marcus Camby's play, despite 18 rebounds and 4 blocks on the night. Pretty strange. Check it out below.
- McMillan said he had considered starting Nicolas Batum for the second half. Asked about this, Batum told me, "no, no, he just told me nothing."
- "I don't look at players as players any more. They're just x coordinates and y coordinates." -- Anonymous, before the game, to healthy laughter.
- When I left the arena Marcus Camby was still signing autographs for fans in the players garage. Pretty solid first impression.
- A Rose Garden mainstay (and Blazersedge reader), Larry the Security Guard, told me before the game that he was working his last Blazers game tonight as his day job is taking him away from the Portland area. In charge of the visitor's tunnel, Larry helped oversee the craziest intersection in the entire arena. Courtside fans, media, players, coaches and autograph hounds all converge before the game, at halftime and after the game, turning a narrow hallway into a giant mess. Perfectly suited for this role, Larry is big enough that unruly fans wouldn't dare mess with him, friendly enough that he dished head nods like dimes, and die-hard enough that you could always, always expect a good barb about the night's action. Larry's even temper and easy smile will be sorely missed. Hopefully his new-found distance from the games will lead him to a natural new home: the BE comments section.
- True BE readers will remember when I was nearly decapitated by a flying t-shirt while live-blogging one of the pre-season games. I thought it couldn't get worse than that. But I was wrong. During the fourth quarter, a t-shirt cannon launched one of its rare and priceless collectibles off the railing above my row so that the shirt caromed down to an improbable resting place directly underneath my seat. A gentleman of at least 50 years of age came hurtling in my direction, down on hands and knees like a Labrador, using his right arm to madly paw for the shirt underneath the seats next to me. As there was no one -- LITERALLY NO ONE -- else who could have made a play on this particular t-shirt, least of all me, it was unclear why he was acting so manically. His unsuccessful one-armed foraging got the better of him and before I knew it, his head had nuzzled its way basically onto my lap, in roughly the position that would cause you to immediately change the channel if you were watching an HBO late-night show and your child suddenly walked in the room. As I certainly hadn't paid for this (the shirt... or, you know, whatever he was doing to me) I reacted with some choice words and looked around for help, in disbelief. Stunned, horrified faces looked back at me from every direction. Hopefully there were no camera phones present as a picture capturing these events would have immediately ended the Clinton presidency or put me in a starring role alongside Greg Oden on WorldStarHipHop.com. The moral of this story: if you're down on your hands and knees for a free t-shirt (hey, it could happen to anyone) please watch out for the laps of others. I suppose this is my karma for the LeBron story?
Nate McMillan's Post Game Comments
"It's hard to ... you hate to make comments and not see the film but see the tape but I felt like, I've always felt if you play with this game, this game will come back and get you. What I mean by that... if you lose your focus and don't play the game the right way, it will come back on you. I thought, just the third quarter, we took some shots, we started to relax offensively. I thought defensively they started to -- we knew they had to make a run -- we started to give up some easy baskets and we got caught up in fouling. You have an opportunity to put a team away you never allow them to gain confidence. I thought some of our shots that we took in that third quarter against that zone and their defense, we lost our rhythm and they got momentum and all of a sudden you lose a little bit of confidence and you can't make a shot.
2 for 17 in the fourth quarter
Again, I need to look at the tape but that's my feel. I just thought we've got to play the game the right way for 48 minutes, regardless of what the score is, whether you're up 20 or down 20, you've got to play together, you've got to execute. You don't give a team any life at all by gambling or getting loose or you stop the things that are working for you. They got in, they got aggressive, they started pounding us on the boards. We gave up 11 offensive boards the second half. Offensively we had shots that we didn't knock down those shots and we give up a game like this.
Tough loss after the Boston blowout
If we are serious about really making a run, we gotta act like it. We gotta play like it. And we gotta have guys step up. We've got veterans, we've got guys who have been on the team. We've got to show that in what we do out on the floor. And the moves we've made, and having guys back, if we're serious about making a run that's got to show in our play.
Thoughts on the last play of regulation
You gotta get that board. You get the board it's a ballgame. They beat us to the board. Boozer, their bigs came in, they had 11 offensive boards and outworked us the second half. Williams got a pretty decent look. I thought Nic got a hand on it -- a hand in his face -- and you force the miss and you've got to finish that with a rebound. That's the second half, you've got to make plays. To win the game, you've got to do that. Make the plays that are there.
Marcus Camby showed you some more tonight
As a group we didn't get it done. I think that's pretty obvious.
Roy looked better
He made some buckets. I thought down the stretch we tried to get it to him. Defensively, again as a group, you can't let this go.
Did you consider starting Nicolas Batum for the second half?
I thought about it. In the second half we were going to get him in, and needed to get him in. We needed his shooting out there. I finished with him because we needed defense and he was making his shot in the first half. The second half he had some looks that he didn't knock down. They double-teamed and forced some guys to make some shots and they didn't knock down those shots.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter