Flat nights happen in the NBA and Tuesday night was a flat night for the Portland Trail Blazers, who got down early and stayed down late, losing to the New York Knicks, 100-86, in the Rose Garden.
A YouTube compilation of the highlights and lowlights of my treacherous drive home on the slippery roads of Southwest Portland would be far more entertaining than a blow-by-blow rundown of this game from Portland's perspective. A lot went wrong, a lot of nagging issues surfaced simultaneously and a quality, playoff-caliber opponent exercised its right to party on Portland's rim. Where to begin?
Of biggest concern for the Blazers was another offensive no-show from Wesley Matthews. His jumper not hitting for the second game in a row, Matthews attacked the basket with regularity, but couldn't get anything to fall. He had trouble getting clean looks amidst a crowded Knicks paint and a variety of floaters and runners simply rimmed out. With no momentum to build off of, his confidence appeared to waver in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. 10 points and 0 assists on 2-13 from the field from Matthews is going to be a death sentence against any good team.
The repercussions of a poor shooting night from Matthews are felt all around, as Portland's point guards looked to call their own number more often -- with choppy results -- and LaMarcus Aldridge was forced to do more individually, which didn't work out as well tonight as it has recently.
Aldridge finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, but he also had six turnovers, with four coming in the second half. Credit Knicks big man Ronny Turiaf, who played out of his gourd. Known as a towel-waiving energy guy, Turiaf has stepped ably into New York's starting lineup in Danilo Gallinari's absence due to injury, and he gave Aldridge fits. Turiaf was only credited with two blocks in the box score, but he altered many more shots and played solid one-on-one defense, forcing Aldridge to work hard for his space and looks. He also mixed in some well-timed slaps at the ball when it was exposed without fouling, and he keyed New York's exclamation point on the game, claiming a loose ball and starting a fast break by outletting to Raymond Felton, who passed ahead to Landry Fields, who lobbed to Wilson Chandler for a punishing alleyoop dunk on the run.
On top of all that, Turiaf finished with 19 points on nine shots and had 10 rebounds, leading the New York media to call it the best game of his Knicks career. A quick check of Basketball-Reference reveals Turiaf has only posted 19+ points and 10+ rebounds one other time in his career.
"He did a great job. We just wanted him to play solid, no fouls, I was going to give him some help from the backside. With the way he played, the energy he brought, the rebounding and scoring, it was phenomenal for us, definitely. Great play on his part, great win for us," said Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire, who finished with 23 points and 8 rebounds himself, despite some cold shooting.
Other minor issues to keep an eye on: limited looks for Nicolas Batum down the stretch, a lot of ball-pounding from reserve guard Patty Mills, who came back to earth a bit, shaky perimeter defense as a whole, and even shakier help defense once perimeter players were beaten off the dribble and into the paint.
Blazers coach Nate McMIllan chalked up the loss to mental fatigue and said he instructed his team to stay out of the gym tomorrow.
Aldridge said the Blazers welcome the break. "I think we all do, mentally, physically, we need to take a day, get away, try to come back fresh."
Random Game Notes
- In the visiting locker room, Turiaf responded to his great night by referring to himself as a chameleon (not entirely clear why, ostensibly because of his versatility and willingness to change shape and do anything) and thanking a good-sized group of Gonzaga alumni for coming out for a pre-game meet and greet.
- There was some talk about whether this was a carry-over loss after the emotional, draining collapse against the Miami Heat on Sunday. Blazers coach Nate McMillan said that was "possibly" an issue although his message and tone was all about moving on to the next one. The Blazers players, as a whole, didn't seem to take this one too hard. Camby credited the Knicks. Aldridge hasn't been one to dwell too much on losses this season, and he seemed more annoyed with his young son spilling lotion in his locker than he was at the team's overall play. Matthews, who often looks crushed by defeats shortly after games, was much less disconsolate than usual.
- Emotionally, this is a somewhat difficult group to get a read on, due in large part to the inconsistency of their play. I guess what's been most striking this week is how rarely this team seems to surprise itself and how they've come to expect both the runs of excellent play and the stretches that lack focus and skill. They simultaneously feel like they can match Miami basket-for-basket and realize that they're not talented enough to avoid a runaway loss if they don't come out sharp. That's not to say they have a good idea in advance whether they'll play well or not, just that whichever way it goes down they roll with the punches.
- I've also gotten the sense that this team does not currently seem to be burdened by outside expectations. It will be interesting to see how or if that changes as the playoff chase and seeding battles intensify.
- The Knicks went through some intense pre-game warm-ups. Rookie forward Landry Fields was particularly impressive, given the variety of the shots he worked on, how applicable those shots were to the shots he takes during games and the activity level he works to maintain throughout his pre-game routine. Reserve big man Timofey Mozgov is this year's Nathan Jawai: random foreign big who is incredibly fun to watch warm up but who never actually sees the court. Mozgov threw down some thunder slams for no reason and was receiving instructions on making quick, assertive decisions once fed the ball in the paint. Nearby, a training staff member was explaining to Kelenna Azubuike how various animals stride differently than humans when they run. Throw in Andy Rautins never, ever missing a shot, and this was about as entertaining as warm-ups get.
- Free Sean Marks.
- Right after the game finished, LeBron James sent the media into a tizzy by tweeting that "Karma is a [female dog]" as the Cleveland Cavaliers were being nearly doubled up by the Los Angeles Lakers. Presumably, James typed that into his phone one-handed while spanking himself with the other hand.
Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments
I thought we looked mentally fatigued. We were a step slow on everything that we did. Loose balls, we weren't getting on the floor for it. I don't think it was lack of effort. Looking in our eyes, just mentally, they looked like they were a little drained.
Carry-over from Miami loss on Sunday?
Possibly, you never know. Emotional game like that. Coming back off of a road trip and playing against a group like that, I just thought mentally we were slow on reacting to everything they did. Pretty much I thought we looked like we were running in quicksand from the start.
We had open looks, I thought in the Miami game we had open looks that we didn't knock down. Again, tonight you've got to knock those shots down. Just reacting defensively, there were loose balls. On their pick and rolls they were slipping and getting to the basket. This team takes 25 threes and they only took 12 tonight because most of it was coming because they were getting to the rack. We just could not control the ball.
Why shooting so poorly?
I think part of it is not making shots. We had some open looks. You didn't knock down shots. 8 assists, I think a lot of that -- we pretty much shot 35, 36 percent the whole game tonight.
Plans for tomorrow?
Get out of the gym tomorrow. I don't want anyone coming in. I think they need to get away. We'll come back Thursday and get some work in.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter