The Utah Jazz defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, 102-97, at the Rose Garden on Monday night, dropping Portland's record to 25-29 on the season.
I called Merriam and I texted Webster and they both agreed: we have officially exhausted their dictionaries and thesauruses of negative words to use in describing the late-game follies of Blazers guard Raymond Felton. They were both nice about it. They said that they had thoroughly logged the various game write-ups from this season, they had cross-checked Olde English versions of their previous editions, and that they had reached an agreement that perhaps enough was enough over afternoon tea. So many gallons of ink and blood have already been spilled and, besides, the "fool me once, shame on you, fool me 47 times, shame on everyone" principle has standing in this jurisdiction.
Their arguments were convincing. But then Blazers All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge weighed in.
"I didn't have the ball in my hands so I don't really know," Aldridge said, when asked to describe what led to yet another Portland late-game meltdown. "For me watching it, two tough turnovers."
The ball was in Felton's hands, or, more accurately, at his foot and just past his outstretched fingertips. The best way to describe the two late turnovers -- F-Bombs, perhaps? -- would be to say that Felton lost his car keys. Players talk of "locking in" to the big moments; Felton locked himself out. His neglect of possession was paralyzing to viewers, as if the entire city was staring through a window at a child left unattended in a car seat.
Somebody do something! Bust open a window! Make a substition! Call a tow truck! Take the ball out of his hands! Jimmy the lock! Use him as a decoy! Anything but this sad, prolonged, tortuous neglect, a season-long ordeal that adds chapters faster than observers can keep up and has turned Felton into a tightly wound ball of frustration and denial. He briefly lost control of his mouth during his post-game comments, accidentally saying that "nobody hates to lose" and "it's hard to swallow a win like that." Those verbal typos can be forgiven but his clutch time power outage can't be forgotten.
"Just mad at myself, just upset at myself," Felton said after finishing with 4 points on 2-for-10 shooting, 9 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 turnovers. "I'm my biggest critic. Over anybody else. I get more upset at myself than anybody else. I don't stress about it. Sometimes it's hard to sleep. I definitely don't stress about it. Can't do that. There's too many games and we have another one Wednesday. Can't stress about it but it's going to be hard to sleep though."
Felton was mad at himself for the first turnover, mad at the referees and the world for the second turnover.
The first one, a hard luck play, came at the 1:27 mark in the fourth quarter, the Blazers leading 97-96 after calling a timeout to draw up a play. Felton received the ball outside the three-point circle and attempted to run a high pick-and-roll with Blazers forward J.J. Hickson. Jazz guard Jamaal Tinsley went over the screen and Felton attempted to crossover from right-to-left, to make Tinsley pay, to attack the middle of the floor and, eventually, to set up Aldridge on the weakside block. Instead, Felton never completed the move. The ball ricocheted off his own foot -- without a defender within three feet of him -- and rolled methodically out of bounds.
"To be a point guard and make a turnover like that at the end of the game, it's mind-boggling for me," Felton said. "I'm kind of upset at myself, more so than anybody else."
Were you frustrated or angry on Monday night? Listen up.
"I could care less about anybody being upset with me," he said. "I'm mad at myself about the play, about what happened. I feel like I made a good play but unfortunately it hit my foot. That happens. I can try to put it behind me. It will be hard to sleep tonight... I had him. I made a good move. I was coming off the screen, he tried to jump over. I was going back to cross the ball over. Unfortunately it hit my foot. For a second, I thought it hit [Tinsley's] foot, but it hit my foot."
The second turnover came with 26 seconds remaining. Portland's Nicolas Batum inbounded the ball, down 98-97. Utah did not even utilize a defender on Batum and Portland did not bother to set a screen to free Felton. Instead, Batum made a simple entry pass to Felton. The two Blazers were no more than 10 feet apart and yet the ball never got there, as Tinsley stepped in front of a flat-footed Felton to poke the pass free, knocking it towards the sideline and into backcourt. He then tiptoed the sideline and recovered the ball near the three-point line while Felton waived his arms above his head to argue for an out of bounds call.
"It never really hit my hand," Felton explained. "I was going for it, then I see his hand tap it. It went out of bounds. That's all I'm going to say about that because I don't want to get fined. He was out of bounds. Clearly. Both feet. Once you go out of bounds you can't come back in and get the ball. That's the rules I got from the NBA. That's all I'm going to say."
Seconds later, Tinsley found Jazz forward Paul Millsap for a dunk before the stunned Blazers could recover and play transition defense. Batum missed a three, Jazz forward Gordon Hayward sank two free throws to ice it, and that was that. Another discouraging loss.
"It was bad luck," Batum said after finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds on 6-for-17 shooting. "We didn't lose the game on this action. We lost the game way before."
Batum later did Felton a solid, accepting blame for the turnover, which was officially assessed by the scorekeeper to him and not Felton.
"I didn't see [Tinsley]," he said. "I did not see him. He's just a little guy, you know? When I passed it, he just got it, I don't know how he did it, but he did it... That's on me. That's on me because I have to watch everything. Ray was wide open in front of me. Then I've got to watch the guy behind him also. He was wide open. He was wide open so I give him the ball but I didn't see the guy coming."
"I really didn't see exactly what happened in terms of our screen-setting and where we were," interim coach Kaleb Canales said. "We can't focus on one play. It was multiple plays earlier in the game that hurt us."
"We had control of the game," Aldridge lamented. "Had some miscues down the stretch."
Portland gave up an 8-0 run to close the game, completely giving back a 14-point first half lead that initially looked like it would produce a fairly certain win given the Blazers' hot early shooting. Portland hit 9 of its 13 three-point attempts in the first half and guard Wesley Matthews was on fire throughout, shooting 10-12 from the field and 5-for-6 from deep on his way to a season-high 33 points.
Aldridge, meanwhile, had 27 points on 11-for-22 shooting and 7 rebounds. He was the intended recipient on both of the late-game possessions that went awry; he took shots on two of the final three possessions prior to the turnovers.
"I felt we utilized LaMarcus like we do every single night," Canales said. "He's our go-to player. This game was not lost in the fourth quarter or the last five possessions, this game was lost in the second and third quarters tonight."
"Come to me," Aldridge said of the plan on the first turnover. "It was looking to go to me on the block. If I had one-on-one coverage, then play. If I didn't, then pass it. We were down one... come to me and see what happens."
"Come off the screen and roll, I was going to post up to L.A.," Felton said of his first turnover. "He's been killing down there the whole game. They couldn't do nothing with him. I was trying to get the ball back to him. When I was going the opposite direction, he was sealing in the paint knowing that I was coming back. On my way back, it hit my foot."
As for the inbounds play, Felton and Batum agreed, the plan was similar: run a high screen-and-roll and put the ball in Aldridge's hands with the game on the line. As noted by Aldridge at the top of the piece, the ball never got to him.
"Hopefully not," Aldridge said, when asked if a loss like this can have a carry-over effect. "I told guys, 'Tough loss, let's learn from it and bounce back. Let's not fall into a funk and start losing by 20.'"
Felton, of course, is already funkadelic.
"I can take it," Felton said while aggressively applying lotion to his legs. "I've dealt with a lot of criticism for a minute now. Ever since my career [began]. That's something I've got thick skin for. Stuff like that don't bother me... That happens, man... That's something I deal with. You have critics but there are also so many fans and so many people in the stands that are there for me, that love my game and understand my game and what I bring. For those who are mad or who boo, it comes with the territory, man. I'm used to that. That's something that [doesn't] bother me. That's something that would never get in my head, make me pout or be sad. It comes with it."
Despite Portland's poor fourth quarter track record, its litany of blunders down the stretch this season, the team's sub-.500 record and the fact that Portland's playoff chances took a big hit on Monday by losing to a Division rival at home, Felton wasn't ready to admit that the Blazers have dealt with late-game struggles this season.
"I wouldn't necessarily say struggles," he explained. "I feel like there's been a lot of times where we've had plays. Sometimes we don't finish the shots, we have turnovers, nobody is perfect. I feel like everybody is trying to make the right play. If somebody is out there just throwing the ball crazy or just doing stuff outside of their game, that's different. Everybody that turns over the ball in that situation, they're trying to make the right play. That's how you try to look at it in a positive way, try to build on it, and try to get better."
That whole exposition is difficult to decipher but it seems like the plan is to focus on the good intentions rather than the bad results. It's not the worst approach, given the circumstances, but it's impossible for an outsider to shake off the talk of sleepless nights, the preemptive move to tune out critics, the hints of frustration from teammates, the discombobulated on-court body language, the fired coach and, most of all, the results. Result after result after result.
At some point, the parsing, psychoanalyzing and chasing the thought threads around the yarn ball is no longer worth it. Maybe this is what Merriam and Webster were getting at: sometimes it might be healthiest to simply be left speechless by a game.
Random Game Notes
- This game was announced as a sellout.
- Portland is now 4 games out of the No. 8 seed with 12 games to play. Portland remains in the No. 11 spot in the West because Minnesota also lost on Monday.
- Jazz starting point guard Devin Harris went down with an ankle injury, leaving Tinsley and Earl Watson to hold down the fort. The two vets combined to shoot 1-for-9 from the field. Watson, in particular, appeared to lack basic control of his body for long stretches during the second half. He also committed one of the worst fouls in basketball history, getting dinged for a 3-shot foul while Jonny Flynn of all people was jacking up a deep trey.
- J.J. Hickson fed YouTube again with a third quarter putback dunk that got some extended oohs and aahs. Here's the video via the NBA's YouTube channel.
- Hickson is the y-axis of basketball. If he had a men's fragrance it would be called "Verticality."
- More Batum on why he should share the blame: "I missed 11 shots. 6-for-17. That's my fault too. I can't say it's all Ray. He was mad because we lose the game. I'm mad at me because we [lost] the game too."
- Matthews repeated a line used by Canales below: "We stood a chance to win this game and we should have. It should never have came down to those two possessions."
- Canales used Jonny Flynn and Nolan Smith in tandem on Monday because reserve two guard Jamal Crawford was out with knee tendinitis. This was an idea I referenced as a possibility in a practice report a few weeks ago. Again, both need to see major, major upticks in their playing time, effective immediately (effective 2.5 weeks ago, really).
- Posted some rolling updates, clarifications and a picture to the eyewitness accounts of a fan attacking an usher and getting handcuffed during Sunday night's game.
- More than one person pointed out on Twitter that Felton's turnovers not only swung the final result but also kept Portland stuck on 97 points, just short of the Chalupa number for the second straight night.
- Strong quotes from Matt Calkins of The Columbian...
For the first turnover, there was fan No. 1. "He's the worst. Seriously. We gotta get rid of him," a Rose Garden attendee said while exiting the building.
For the second turnover, there was fan No. 2. "I'm not going to renew next year if they don't get rid of him," said an elderly Trail Blazer devotee one aisle over.
- Former Blazers GM Rich Cho was back at the team's practice facility to scout the World Team's first day of practice as they prepare for the Nike Hoop Summit. Cho and Kings executive Geoff Petrie were the only GMs in attendance for Day One.
- Blazers quant guy Ryan Parker -- formerly of BasketballGeek.com -- was in town this weekend to watch a few games and meet with the rest of the basketball operations staff. Great guy.
- I wrote this piece on Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love after Sunday night's game if you're interested.
Kaleb Canales' Post-Game Comments
We felt we played great defense the first quarter. But we forgot who we were in the second and third. We just didn't make basketball plays down the stretch.
Inbounds pass turnover in fourth quarter
I really didn't see exactly what happened in terms of our screen-setting and where we were. We can't focus on one play. It was multiple plays earlier in the game that hurt us.
Did Wesley Matthews try to do too much against his former team?
No. We drew up a play with some read and react decisions and we just didn't make enough plays down the stretch.
How did you feel that you utilized LaMarcus Aldridge down the stretch?
I felt we utilized LaMarcus like we do every single night. He's our go-to player. This game was not lost in the fourth quarter or the last five possessions, this game was lost in the second and third quarters tonight.
No Luke Babbitt in late in game
What we discuss in terms of match-ups and rotations that we're going to take it game to game. We knew tonight was a game where they had multiple bigs on the floor, sometimes you need three bigs on the floor. We believe in every single one of our players and we do going forward.
Is it time to play the younger players?
We're staying in the moment and we're taking it game by game. This one is going to hurt until 12:01 tonight then we have to turn the page and look forward to tomorrow.
What went wrong in the second and third quarters?
I thought that we just -- our defensive identity, we just kind of forgot who we were. I thought our defense and rebounding was very, very good to start the game. We just didn't carry it over as the game went on. They made a great run to finish the half to start the third quarter. They responded and you have to give them credit.
What were you looking to do on the late plays that ended in turnovers?
We had a couple options. We were going to go inside to LaMarcus and have some shooters come off for threes. Try to put our guys in positions to make a read and a basketball play.
Raymond Felton's post-game disposition
We win as a team and we lose as a team. Everybody hurt in there just like we all do.
Tough loss to take
We're attacking each game to play our best basketball. It doesn't matter if it's the past game, this game or the next game. Our approach is the same, we're staying in the moment. We need to keep committing to the defensive end of the floor and to rebounding and I thought we didn't tonight for 48 minutes.
Wesley Matthews has played that well before?
Yes. He shot the ball extremely well. I thought Nic and LaMarcus shot the ball well also. Nic was 4-for-9 from three-point land. We believe in all our guys and Wes had a good shooting night tonight. We've seen him do that before.
Utah's size hurt you
They had 56 [points in the paint] for the game and like I mentioned, I thought we came out with a very, very good first quarter. You have to give them credit, they responded well and they played to their strengths. We did have 40 rebounds, they ended up with 12 offensive. I think they only had 3 at the half. We talked about trying to have them duplicate that. You just have to give them the credit for crashing the boards.
Jonny Flynn and Nolan Smith together more often?
We talked about it in terms of combinations. Taking it a game at a time. We've practice with that lineup before and that's something that we'll take a game at a time and see what combinations are good for us.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter