Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret. Please, won't you spare Nicolas Batum?
The Portland Trail Blazers dropped a choppy slopfest to the Boston Celtics on Thursday night, 88-78, and lost their starting small forward to a knee injury in the process.
The Blazers shot 33-90 from the field tonight. Incredibly terrible, right? Try this on for size. Tonight was the third time since Dec. 3 that the Blazers have made 33 or less field goals while attempting 90 or more field goals. Three super-ugly nights in 54 days. Exactly how ugly? Get this. It never happened last year. It never happened the year before that. It happened once in 2007-2008. Ready for the big reveal... To get the next stretch of three games that involved shooting this poorly, you have to go all the way back to March 2002! Once in 2008, once in 2004, once in 2002. Portland has put together more than half a decade's worth of brickfests in less than two months.
Missing 57 shots and turning over the ball 17 times against a team as good as the Boston Celtics is like giving Sherlock Holmes a team of CSI investigators and knowledge of DNA. He was getting it done without the help, but if you're going to make it that easy, then you might as well skip ahead to the last chapter of the book, because you know how it's going down.
With Andre Miller shooting 6-15, Wesley Matthews shooting 4-15, Batum shooting 1-6, Rudy Fernandez shooting 4-11 and Patty Mills shooting 3-10, the Celtics were free to pay as much team attention to LaMarcus Aldridge as necessary. As laid out earlier this week, that meant an exhausting, physical, mentally draining, inefficient night for Aldridge, who played hard and well in putting up 17 points, 16 rebounds, 2 steals and a block, but couldn't put together enough offensive momentum to force Boston to adjust. He finished 8-20 from the field and took just two foul shots.
The Blazers, overall, were miffed at a lack of foul calls, particularly in the first half, and coach Nate McMillan received a technical for arguing. "That was the reason that technical came," McMillan said when asked whether he'd seen a team shoot fifty field goals and just two free throw attempts in the first half. "We had zero free throw attempts until like the last minute of that half. So no, I hadn't seen anything like that."
But McMillan wasn't griping or bitter afterwards. He laid the praise on thick for the Celtics. "That team is prepared and built to win a championship," McMillan said. "I thought our guys scrapped, I thought they played hard, they battled tonight. They have so many options that they can go too. You saw the second half, we tried to get aggressive defensively. Their execution was really good. When you have that many options, that team is locked in to playing that way, knowing how to win. It's going to be a tough game. They're very good."
Credit both Boston's team defense, as it locked up the paint well, and their individual big men, who bodied Aldridge and didn't fall for his pump fakes, no matter how often or unexpectedly he employed them. Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, and Glen Davis all took turns. Aldridge told me afterwards that their collective effort took its toll. "It just wears you down," Aldridge said of the attention and multiple defenders. "Eventually you get tired because it's always somebody fresh coming at you, bumping at you, trying to play you hard."
Aldridge said he left impressed by Boston's connectivity and discipline. "They did good. They wouldn't let me get to the middle all night. When I went for the pump fakes, they stayed down. They played great defense on me tonight."
He agreed that tonight was another game in which he was dealing with a team-wide gameplan specifically aimed at keeping him in check. "Teams are trying to take me out. They know if I get going, then they have to double. That opens it up for everyone. I have to just keep being patient, keep working."
Realistically, it's not about Aldridge's effort level these days, it's about a lack of offensive balance and consistency from his teammates. I asked Aldridge what Portland's counter is or should be in these situations, given that teams will only continue to concentrate on him and force Portland's shooters to beat them now that multiple teams -- good and bad alike -- have had success with that strategy.
"We've got to make shots. That's what it is," Aldridge said. "Tonight we got up a lot of shots, we just didn't make them. We've got to shoot a better percentage."
In other words: Guys, please help.
Random Game Notes
- Nicolas Batum had a great dunk.
- One of the in-arena events tonight was a senior citizen tricycle race. It was terrifying. Trying to turn us into a bunch of Derrick Roses with stress-induced ulcers or something? The worst part: I'm nearly positive the winner was a ringer. Can we check his ID? This guy was FLYING through the finish line, easily twice as fast as I could ride a tricycle if I prepared for a month, about to crash into the basketball stanchion before he capped off the win with a trick stunt ejection off the tricycle. Keep in mind his competitors were literally gray hairs imported from the west wing of Springfield Retirement Castle. Lying about your age to win a senior citizen tricycle contest should draw at least as big (if not bigger) punishment than using a fake ID to get into a club.
- Patty Mills took the microphone at center court pre-game to request that the Rose Garden fans "stay united" by renewing their season tickets. He then set up a kiosk near the end of the bench and handed out promotional fliers and coupon codes to the interested parties. As a number of people commented tonight: Perhaps it's best to leave that kind of pitching, if it's absolutely necessary, to players with contracts that are guaranteed through next season.
- The Blazers handed out cardboard "three goggles" to courtside fans and media members. The media pair included a handy Quick Facts guide: "Meant to be a fun, Portland element."
- There was a very, very large and very, very loud Boston Celtics fan presence tonight, perhaps the loudest I've ever heard an opposing crowd at the Rose Garden. Blazers forward Dante Cunningham noticed too. Cunningham tweeted after the game: "[Expletive] rip city there was [expletive] near more green in the RG then red tonight what's up with that??????"
- Careful, Mr. Cunningham. Careful.
- There was no Sean Marks Highlight of the Night due to another DNP-CD, but there was a Sean Marks Memorial Highlight provided by Luke Babbitt, who put the Celtics on a layup poster for his only statistical contribution aside from a missed three-pointer in nine minutes of action. Eek. You know how defenses sag off of guys? I swear Portland's offense sags off of Babbitt too.
Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments
Thoughts on game
It just shows that's a great team. That team is prepared and built to win a championship. I thought our guys scrapped, I thought they played hard, they battled tonight. They have so many options that they can go too. You saw the second half, we tried to get aggressive defensively. Their execution was really good. When you have that many options, that team is locked in to playing that way, knowing how to win. It's going to be a tough game. They're very good.
Offensive problems due to their defense?
They were physical defensively. We get 90 attempts, some of those looks were open looks but I thought at times we were rushing. I thought their pressure, at times, sped us up. As opposed to being poised and calm in those situations, when you're playing in an emotional game, a very good team, I thought we were going a little too fast at times.
Garnett offensive rebound on free throw
Big board. Big board. They're big and we needed to get that.
Down five, ball goes to Rondo, no foul
We were trying to get to him.
50 attempts only two free throws in first half. Seen anything like that?
Um, no. That was the reason that technical came. We had zero free throw attempts until like the last minute of that half. So no, I hadn't seen anything like that.
Preparing for Spurs
We've got a few days to rehab and get some work in. Take some time off. So we'll come in and get some treatment tomorrow and Saturday we'll practice, take Sunday off and practice Monday.
Forcing 21 turnovers
I don't remember all of the turnovers but you get 22 points off of that, you need to convert. It's obvious that shooting 36 percent, we weren't knocking down shots.
With Nic being out, we needed another wing. Tried to get him in to just see what he could do. It was a tough situation to be thrown in. He may have to play here in these games coming up.
Plans to play him before the game?
Not really. He's there in uniform ready to go. Without Nicolas we needed another wing.
Say anything to him at halftime?
When he got in early, the thing was to shoot the ball. You're out there, you've got to shoot the ball if you're open.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter