Blazers Suffer Letdown, Meltdown vs. Celtics

US PRESSWIRE

Counting the things that went right in Portland's 78-96 loss to the Boston Celtics proves far easier than recounting all the things that went wrong.

If you want a quarter-by-quarter rundown of tonight's game, check out Timmay's instant recap HERE.

So...if we dig down a little we can find a few positives from tonight's outing. First, the Blazers seemed to come out with a good spirit, slapping hands and patting each other before tip-off as if to say, "Yeah, let's do this." Even when things got rough they didn't abandon the stance, continuing to lift each other off the floor and such. Also they didn't give up on sharing the ball no matter how bad things got (which was pretty bad). At the end of the game the bench unit--in a rare turn of events subbed in wholesale--actually showed some decent defensive principles. That may seem like faint praise but jeepers, even faint praise shines with this bench. I enjoyed watching Portland's reserves at the end of this blowout more than I've enjoyed them all season.

Another positive, albeit not for the Blazers: the Celtics played a fantastic defensive game, covering the three-point arc and the rim and making the Blazers beat them in between. That "in between" included plenty of Portland turnovers and bricks. The veteran Celtics knew what they wanted to do and they did it, end of story. Portland was powerless before them. Several teams in the league have that potential but few live up to it like Boston did tonight. Credit where credit is due.

As for the things that went wrong for the Blazers, how much time do you have? First, passing is fine but it has to be for the purposes of an open shot. Especially in Terry Stotts' offense, abandoning a clear look at the rim for another pass is a sure way to a forced shot or 24-second violation. Tonight the Blazers over-shared like a 14-year-old with her first Facebook account. It's like they were going out of their way to be nice to each other. This translated into tentative offense, fighting the clock, and just plain bad looks at the hoop. Inevitably the passing would stall with one player and 6 seconds left and that was all she wrote. The Boston defense had Portland dead to rights.

The Blazers also managed to turn a good principle to bad by going inside in dubious manner. They tried to feed J.J. Hickson in the lane and/or with his back to the bucket early, likely looking to take advantage of no true center in the Boston lineup. On the plus side this got Hickson plenty of early free throws and a few shots. On the minus side, Boston had this targeted in about a nanosecond and forced ugly possessions.

A little later LaMarcus Aldridge would get into the act, also concentrating on his inside game...or at least more inside than usual. Aldridge was far more successful, scoring 17 in the first half alone. But once again we saw that when Aldridge plays to his strengths everybody else starts missing. The Blazers don't seem to have a great secondary plan off of LMA post sets, likely because the Blazers would prefer to not be running LMA post sets that much. Aldridge went 8-16 tonight. The rest of the team combined to shoot 16-for-53, a half a shade above 30%.

The Blazers committed 21 turnovers tonight, Aldridge leading the way with 5 followed by Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum with 3 each. Two bench guards, Will Barton and Nolan Smith, got extended 17-minute runs. They committed 3 turnovers each as well. Again, it was like the Blazers didn't know where their shots were. They just tossed around the ball until they lost it or forced it.

Free throws went Portland's way tonight. They took 37 foul shots, an amazing number, hitting 27. Perspective: Portland took 17 free throws and scored 9 more points at the charity stripe than did the Celtics but Portland still got blown out. They needed something else--three-pointers, offensive rebounds, turnovers--to give them purchase. None of those things were forthcoming.

More perspective: the Blazers scored 27 points at the foul line and still managed only 78 for the game. They'll never win when the offense is misfiring that badly.

That's true because, as you know, Portland's defense is about as attractive as decade-old fruitcake. The Celtics shot 49% from the field, 37.5% from the arc, and their dribblers were blowing by Portland's defenders like they were made of paper.

All of that said, the most interesting part of this game now is how it will affect tomorrow's outing. The Cavaliers are without Kyrie Irving. They're working on a 4-12 record and the second night of a back-to-back with travel. Portland should have a shot at this game, but not if they play like they have the last few games. No Portland player logged more than 33 minutes tonight. The only reason for the Blazers to lose tomorrow--providing Aldridge's back spasms don't flare up again--would be the losing momentum hanging over their heads right now. Tonight's game told us something about where the Blazers' heads are. Tomorrow's will show even more.

Individual Notes

Credit LaMarcus Aldridge with those 23 points and 8 rebounds, plus the inside attempts.

Nicolas Batum shot 2-11, 1-6 from distance but he at least kept working into the third period even when things were going poorly.

When J.J. Hickson's offense didn't work early it's like his whole game diminished. He's battled tougher rebounding units than the Celtics this year yet he came up with only 3 boards tonight. He wasn't stopping anybody and was often the last guy down the court.

Damian Lillard had a problematic game in almost every aspect. He shot 2-8 from the field, the most remarkable part about that being that he stopped at 8 shots instead of going for his usual 17 attempts. I'm of two minds on that. On the one hand he needs to realize he's a point guard, which implies something of a conscience. He needs to keep his veteran teammates fed. On the other hand he's not the same player, nor is Portland the same team, when he's not scoring. You wouldn't want to see him start giving up on his offense early whenever things go wrong. There's a strong possibility that none of his teammates outside of Aldridge has the offensive chops to take the ball away from him. The key phrase here is "help, but don't defer". I'm not sure exactly what Lillard was doing/thinking tonight but it bears further watching.

Wesley Matthews didn't get a ton of touches nor did he have success with the ones he managed. He shot 2-6 for 5 points with 3 rebounds, 3 fouls, and nothing else.

The Bench Highlights:

--Nolan Smith had 2 rebounds and an assist in his 17 minutes. Balance that with 0-5 shooting, 3 turnovers, and 2 personal fouls.

--Will Barton had one amazing looking reverse dipsy-doodle layup that's guaranteed to make his personal highlight reel. He also had 4 assists, making him one of the few semi-effective passers tonight. Add in 3 rebounds. He coupled those strong points with 1-5 shooting and 3 turnovers. That factors down to a mixed night, but then the whole team was mixed tonight.

--Meyers Leonard surveyed the court, saw no other centers anywhere in sight, and promptly scored 11 points on 3-5 shooting plus 5-6 from the foul line in 22 minutes. Add in 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block. Nice night!

--Joel Freeland monster dunked!!! He also went 2-3 with 2 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block in 12 minutes. Rule, Britannia!

Boxscore

CelticsBlog will be happier about the Celtics' toughness, shooting, and rebounding than they've been in a while. This is Portland's function around the league. We're the team that makes you feel good, like you have a chance.

Congratulations to djudd for winning the November jersey in our Jersey Contest. The form for tomorrow's game, the first in December, is HERE.

Portland Trail Blazers tickets for all games are available from Blazer's Edge sponsor TiqIQ.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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