In a Nutshell
In an all-too-familiar story the Blazers play lackadaisical, uninspired, brain-dead basketball and dig themselves a horrible first-half hole before coming back in the third and fourth quarters to make the game close. In this case, thanks to some of the most un-clutch shooting in the history of the universe by Dirk Nowitzki, "close" equaled an overtime, then two, before the odds finally caught up with the Blazers and they lost.
Here's what you need to know about the first half: the Blazers scored 32 points. Yes, in the half. Their entire offense was perimeter-oriented and slow...a bad combination. Meanwhile on defense they repeated their performance from the last couple games, defending in initial attacker just fine but completely missing any kind of rotation or help when the dribbler got past his man. It was horrible. The Mavericks had an 11 point led after one and pumped it to 18 in the second period. A little bit of scoring by Jamal Crawford and LaMarcus Aldridge plus some forced turnovers cut it back to 11 at the half, but this was bad. How bad was it? Earlier today we stopped by the liquor store in a rare trip to pick up some adult beverages for the evening. Watching the Blazers I figured, "Why not? There won't be much to write about this game anyway." So I downed a couple shots. OK, a few. OK, I put one down every time the Blazers made a stupid play. No joke. Two overtimes later I am still writing this somewhat buzzed. If you catch a typo, that's a shot for you. Catch enough of them and you'll stop noticing.
Portland dodged a bullet near the end of the second period when Khloe Kardashian's husband ran over Marcus Camby, who was set up to take the charge, and fell right on his leg. At that point I was tempted to grab the whole bottle but as it turned out after limping off the court Camby was back in the second half.
The second half featured more forced turnovers from Portland plus some filthy defense from Nicolas Batum and Gerald Wallace. Batum moved so fast blocking shots from behind that he was a blur on the screen. At least I think it was because he was moving so fast. Anyway...his defense prevented at least half a dozen easy points at the
rum RIM for Dallas...points which often came because the guard defense was as poor as ever. Wallace grabbed some rebounds and hit some people, the usual. Portland's poor offensive possessions continued, however. They could only manage 23 points in the period, The good news: that was their best period of the evening by far. Plus denying Dallas with the blocks and a few steals kept the Mavericks at 18 for the quarter. Awww, heck. The Mavs' own indifference kept them at 18 as well. Portland played so poorly in that first half they convinced the opponent it was for real too. Dallas had a little bit of a ballgame on their hands headed into the fourth up 5, 61-55. Obviously that's exciting if you're a Portland fan but third parties would look at this game and say that at 61-55 after three things were getting ugly. Third parties would be right. The story wasn't so much Portland taking over as Dallas slipping back.
You know how when you were a kid your mom would tell you to go and beat up on a pillow when you got frustrated? In the fourth period LaMarcus Aldridge was frustrated and the Dallas Mavericks were the pillow. Aldridge scored 15 in the period. With a little help from Crawford he pulled the Blazers even, much to the chagrin of the Dallas crowd. Aldridge's teammates deserve some credit. First, they got him the ball. Second, their position defense was much better in the closing period than it had been earlier. Dallas' easy looks and offensive rebounds disappeared. With both teams sensing a win within grasp two battles ensued. One pitted Jason Terry versus Crawford. That was mostly a draw. Jamal's scoring kept Terry from winning the game outright for the Mavs. The second battle pitted Aldridge versus Dirk Nowitzki. Aldridge won that one hands down. He destroyed the Mavs on his offensive end (not being guarded by Nowitzki). He took up the defensive challenge against Dirk at the other end and Dirk just wilted. Not only could the guy not hit a shot (open or guarded) he was barely hitting the backboard, and sometimes not. That advantage was all Portland needed to stay close. Down 4 with a minute left the Blazers pulled even behind a Crawford drive and an amazing Aldridge turn-around. Dirk missed two shots in the interim. This game went to overtime, 81-all.
The first OT was sloppy. Portland missed a ton of shots from the perimeter. On the other end, though, they made the Mavericks work, got a block, forced a turnover, and limited them to 5 total shots in the OT. Dallas made 2 of those shots plus a couple free throws. Portland shot 3-10 in the same span. The game was still tied 87-all after one extra period.
For some ungodly reason the Blazers took until the 1:45 mark of the second overtime to get LaMarcus Aldridge, their savior, a shot. Crawford and Raymond Felton did the honors...if honors is the right word. What they did is shoot 1-4 between them, that "1" being a circus-shot 180-degree back-to-the-basket layup by Felton who was fouled along with the miracle make but missed the free throw. Crawford also drew 2 foul shots, making them both. That was Portland's scoring. Meanwhile Delonte West made 3 shots in 4 possessions against Wesley Matthews and crew. (This stretch was a failure for Portland's guards all the way around.) The Mavs led 93-91 with the ball and 2:00 left when Jason Terry threw a pass into the stands and Portland finally decided their main man should get a shot. Aldridge hit another patented 12-footer and the game was tied again. Everybody was thinking triple-overtime but a couple of unfortunate events conspired against it. The Blazers forced a Shawn Marion miss on a layup but only Gerald Wallace went for the rebound against two Mavericks. Aldridge drifted through the area while Crawford just stood and watched. Wallace had been a blue-collar hero all night but he couldn't keep Brendan Haywood from tipping in and giving the Mavs a lead. After Crawford (!) missed another shot Nowitzki took the ball against Aldridge at the top of the key and proved the old adage from White Men Can't Jump, the sun shines even on a dog's hindquarters. He put in an old-school leaning back on one foot Nowitzki special, making him approximately 1-6 on critical shots in the game but providing enough margin for the Mavericks to win. Dallas survives a Wesley Matthews 1-2 trip to the foul line to cut the lead to 3, an amazing forced jump ball on the rebound by Wallace which gave Portland possession off the tip, and a desperation no-chance heave from Crawford at the buzzer to tie. The Mavericks win, 97-94 in double overtime.
One of the words used copiously after the Oklahoma City Thunder robbing/loss was "narrative"...not just the facts of events but their meaning and significance. Here's the narrative of this game: the Blazers lost. That's it. Yes, people are going to go, "World Champions" and "road game" and "double overtime" and "Aldridge shining" and construct positive stories from this. Heck, if this were the first time this had happened all season I'd be doing that too. But how many times have the Blazers played flat for large stretches of games and then tried to come back at the end, only to fall short? If in the first two quarters of this game Portland had played with half the energy and focus they showed on defense at the end of the fourth and those two overtimes then they would have won this game. They did not. They lost. They lost in the same way they've lost a half dozen times before on the road. Neither double overtime nor the quality of opponent (which frankly wasn't that high tonight no matter what the name on the uniform) turns that "L" into a "W". Portland knows this. They know how and why this happens. They're either unable to compensate, unable to find the drive and energy, or unwilling to put enough into the game to do so. No matter how you slice it, that's going to lose you games.
A narrow loss to the Mavericks tonight is no more encouraging than a narrow win against the pathetic New Orleans Hornets last night in a game that followed the same general pattern. Quality of opponent doesn't factor in with the Blazers as much as the quality of their own play. If they don't look themselves in the mirror soon and come up with some answers they have no hope of anything more than a golf clap as they exit this season, victims of a team that's no more talented but plays smarter, more consistent, and more motivated basketball.
The Blazers forwards were generally superb tonight, especially after the team got rolling. Aldridge led the pack with 33 points on 14-26 shooting with 12 rebounds. The only critiques are repeated ones. First, why not wring somebody's neck when they're hoisting shots early in the shot clock in critical situations and not letting you touch the ball? Once, OK. But the Big Dog has got to demand the ball when the game is on the line and he's on a roll. Otherwise he's just one of the pack. Second, if you're really going to take this team on your back and drive them to victory you have to do whatever it takes. Aldridge was probably 99% good tonight, or at least when it mattered. He hit shots. He played good defense. But that 1% may have been that fatal Haywood tip-in rebound. You can't just watch Wallace try to battle for it. If you come flailing in too late to get the rebound, fine. But at least come flailing in. At least make a dive for it. Superstars aren't the guys who make the play every time. Superstars are the guys with enough courage and drive to go after every play and thus, by percentage, make a lot of them you wouldn't expect. But you can't win if you don't play, so to speak. It feels bad knocking LMA for that kind of thing on a great night but this seems like one of the few remaining steps between him and true, franchise-changing greatness. He hasn't made it yet and it's a big one.
Don't let Gerald Wallace's 3-4 shots in 50 minutes fool you. He played 50 minutes because he was once again one of the only guys going after this game consistently. He had 10 rebounds, his 8 defensive boards leading the team by far. He shouldered that responsibility when Camby went down. He also had 4 steals to go along with his 10 points...points scored at the rim and foul line on a night when perimeter play was Portland's M.O.
Nicolas Batum had 7 rebounds and shot 5-11 for 12 points. He also had 3 mighty blocks, saving the game for Portland before anybody knew the game could be saved. He did well. The quibble for him came with 40 seconds left in the first overtime and the game tied. He got the ball in the corner with time running down and faked a streaking defender beautifully with a pump. Seeing his man fly by overhead he put the ball on the floor and drove to the basket. He had acres of open space to pull up or could have driven hard for the foul. It was going to be a game-defining moment. But instead he heaved the ball all the way across the court to Raymond Felton (of all people) who was out beyond the three-point arc (of all places) with the clock now running down. You can guess what happened. A potentially beautiful opportunity off of a broken defense turned into a horrific one at the most critical of times. I say this not to knock Nic for a single mistake, but to point out that there's more to go in his development. Coach McMillan seemed to agree, as he was pulled immediately after.
Portland's guards didn't fare so well. Each had something decent about their game but each ended up flawed. Felton contributed 9 points and but 2 assists on 4-17 shooting. I guess you could say he was aggressive. The second overtime might not have been the best time to show it. But he did keep the Blazers' heads in the game and turnovers low, though committing an obvious one himself late. Jamal Crawford also was "aggressive" shooting 6-23 for 19 points. The Blazers needed those points though. He didn't really do much else but he was handy to have around when Aldridge needed someone to distract the defense. Wesley Matthews shot 3-10 for 9 points but he did have 6 rebounds. His defense...I just don't know any more. The safe thing to say is I like his ability more than his results at this point. Combined these three guards went 3-15 from the three-point arc, making Aldridge's scoring clip even more impressive.
Marcus Camby had 6 rebounds in 16 minutes. Let's hope there are no ill effects from the fall. Kurt Thomas struggled tonight. Neither big man was a big factor.
Fun With Numbers
- Blazers shoot 37% from the floor, 15% from the arc. (3-20...ouch!) It's a miracle they were that close. Don't fool yourself. It was only Portland's grit for about 10 minutes total in regulation. The Mavericks took this game for granted and played sloppy. Though at least they could shoot. (46% from the field)
- Portland forces 23 turnovers from the Mavs with a big assist from the Mavs.
- Blazers get 11 assists all night. With 2 overtimes. Think maybe the guards had something else on their minds?
I want to say the Mavericks are a shadow of the team they were in last year's playoff matchup with Portland. The problem is, I fear the Blazers might be too.
Hear the Dallas story at Mavs Moneyball