The Portland Trail Blazers announced their intentions from the opening minutes of this game. "Look," they said, " We just beat Miami last night. We're tired. We know you're a good team. We know you need this win. So here's the deal. We're going to sit here and shoot threes. We do this a lot. If enough of them go in that we're close as the game winds down we'll go for it. Otherwise, you're welcome to the win."
This describes 90% of Portland's effort tonight. Their defense was horrid from the get-go. Both LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews looked dead on their feet before this game was 5 minutes old. They were making defensive mistakes usually reserved for clueless rookies. Their shots weren't falling either, as they weren't getting any altitude or follow-through. You really have to give the Warriors credit too. We said in the preview that their defense was mobile. They showed it in the opening quarter tonight. They were everywhere. Before the Blazers could blink they were double-teamed. Any threat Portland posed the Warriors quickly shut down. Portland shot 27% in the opening period while Golden State fired at a 60% clip, most of those buckets coming in the lane.
The middle two periods told the same story. Portland shot late in the clock, deep, and covered. Offensive rebounding provided their only reliable means of scoring. Half the attempts at dribble penetration ended in turnovers. The Warriors were still active, but the Blazers ended up losing the ball on their own plenty of times. You have never seen so many players trying to keep fingertips on their dribbles as the ball bounced three feet from their body. It was like they were looking at the basketball and saying, "Who are you?" The Warriors ended up putting the Blazers down 20 in the third.
At that point I got up to get a snack. It was homemade tortilla chips with Ghost Pepper salsa. For those not familiar with the salsa world, Ghost Peppers--or Naga Bhut Joloki--make Habanero peppers look like baby food. They're 170 times more potent than Tabasco sauce. They've been considered for use in hand grenades. Still, this Ghost Pepper salsa was nowhere near as hot as Damian Lillard when I returned and un-paused the DVR. From 4:20 left in the third to 20 seconds left in the fourth, Lillard made a dozen straight shots, including jumpers of 27, 27, 20, and 29 feet in a 2-minute span at the top of the fourth. It was like he said, "We may lose, but this is my homecoming. I'm going out burning the joint down." And he did. After Lillard's barrage got the Blazers close again Portland spent the rest of the period driving and kicking out for three-pointers. They ended up shooting (get this) 43 three-pointers in the game. Unfortunately they missed some open ones as the game closed and Golden State's wings--aiding the Blazers throughout the run by shooting quickly and missing--got their acts together and hit some crucial shots. The deficit was too much to overcome and the Blazers lost by 6, 103-97. It was hardly an impressive game and their method of scoring was a gimmick but the Blazers still deserve credit for not losing by the 20+ points their early play would have indicated.
The take-away from this game, other than Lillard knows how to please his hometown supporters--is that there's not much of a take-away from this game. Most of Portland's key guys were playing at half speed tonight, which is not surprising. The bench was non-existent, which is nothing new. Portland came in ready to lose and they did. The only thing this showed was that the Blazers aren't ready to be considered an elite-level team steamrolling the league yet. If you needed me to tell you that, you probably have issues.
The critical thing to remember here is that for our purposes, given 2012-13 expectations, this game is not nearly as important as their next one. Tonight was a predictable response to an emotional win and a back-to-back situation for a young, overachieving, and thin team. How the Blazers come out against Oklahoma City on Sunday will tell you about the validity of their recent run of success. That's not predictable. It's in Portland's hands...not necessarily the victory, but how they approach the game. They'll either be eager to make up for the loss and continue fighting or they'll look like they're happy to have won so much already.
Since much of the team didn't show tonight, we'll limit ourselves to the stuff that matters (either overall or in the course of this game).
Damian Lillard ended up 15-25, 7-12 from distance with a career-high 37 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals. It was fun to see him light it up. The kid can score.
Nicolas Batum was the only veteran starter who seemed to show up ready to play, though even his game was sloppier than we've seen. He brought the energy though.
J.J. Hickson had 12 rebounds. He looked flat-footed as well but still produced.
Just forget what LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews did tonight. You don't want to know on either end of the court. (Though we should say Matthews got 9 rebounds.)
You'd have thought Portland's bench would have been ready for this game since it was obvious that big minutes and demands were in the offing. You'd have thought wrong. Almost to a man they stunk it up. The lone exception would be Jared Jeffries, who rebounded, defended, and made the right plays when he was in there. The most egregious offender tonight was Luke Babbitt who messed up the defense something awful early and missed a boat full of three-pointers late, any of which could have tipped this game for Portland. Whatever mojo he had going earlier in the season seems to have departed. The will to shoot is still there but the results are sorely lacking. He took 13 shots in 23 minutes tonight, hitting only 2-10 three-pointers.
And that's that, mostly. As we said, watch how the Blazers come out against Oklahoma City on Sunday. This will be an interesting fork in the road as far as the extended home spree versus tough opponents.