The Portland Trail Blazers fell a half-step short of a miracle tonight, coming back from a 30-point, second-quarter deficit against the Dallas Mavericks to take a fourth-quarter lead and threaten the win. Though their play during the comeback was sound and their effort solid, they couldn't prevail. When the final horn sounded Dallas had avoided the soul-crushing loss and sent the Blazers to 0-1 in the inaugural game of this tough, five-game road trip.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, Portland's success so far this season hasn't depended on talent alone. The Blazers prosper when they combine talent with hard work and execution. Eliminate one of those three pillars and Portland suffers. Two of them were missing through the opening 16 minutes of this game. The Blazers turned over the ball incessantly, failed to get back in transition, and fought through screens like they were skipping through a Maypole dance. Adding disaster to the insult that had already been added to the injury, Robin Lopez picked up two early fouls. He went to the bench along with Portland's rebounding and interior defense. The net result: a gruesome 33-10 quarter in favor of the Mavericks. The lead would balloon to 44-14 at the 8:30 mark in the second. The game was over before it had started.
But the Blazers did what the Blazers do when they get behind, finding cracks and hitting shots until they got back in the game. They cleaned up the turnovers and improved their rebounding in the latter half of the second period. Thomas Robinson gave them a lift. The Mavericks did too, settling for mid-range jumpers and missing free throws. The Blazers inched closer through the remainder of the first half.
Portland blew Dallas' doors off in the third period, executing a playoff-like scheme in which they kept running the same play until the Mavericks proved they could stop it. In this case that play was "LaMarcus Aldridge on the left block". He alternated between his usual position towards the baseline and the elbow look. Either way he was money. Check that, he was an ATM. Check that, he was an ATM who had malfunctioned and was now spilling the Mavericks' life savings all over the sidewalk $20 at a time. Aldridge scored 18 in the period, aided by 10 from Wesley Matthews alternating three-pointers with layups.
Not content with their criminal negligence in failing to cope with Portland's #1 option in his #1 favorite set which had to take the #1 position on their defensive white board, the Mavs compounded their error by failing to police the boards and letting Lopez and company rebound the few shots Portland missed. If they thought this game was over, the Blazers disabused them of that notion with 36 points in the period, 18 points allowed, and by erasing that former 30-point edge entirely. The Mavs held on by a toenail, 75-74, heading into the final period.
Portland took a lead 30 seconds into the final period and bounced it between 2 and 6 points for most of the frame. Dallas' interior defense proved atrocious. Their offense was limited to mid-range jumpers, usually contested, often off. They managed to draw foul shots. That was about it. They also started doubling Aldridge when he returned for his final shift, a strategy which paid limited dividends immediately but would eventually pay off as their weak-side and interior defenders started to excel in their rotations. Once the ball went away from Aldridge, Portland returned to their confused, halting ways. Shots came in traffic. Turnovers re-emerged. And this time the Mavericks got to rebounds and loose balls first. Following a Mavericks timeout with 4:26 left and Portland up 98-92 you could almost feel the momentum shift. Dallas would not attempt a shot beyond 8 feet for the remainder of the game. The Blazers tried to score inside as well but got turned away or just turned it over. The door remained open with 17 seconds left and Portland down 3 as Monta Ellis missed 2 straight free throws but Vince Carter corralled the offensive rebound. He put away the game with two of his own off of the foul for possession and Dallas emerged victorious, 103-98.
With the contest swinging wildly, many of the overall stats tonight should be viewed with suspicion. If one guy scores 40 and the other 4, technically they averaged 22 between them. That doesn't exactly tell the story.
Among the more indicative numbers: The Blazers turned 14 offensive rebounds into 23 second-chance points. The Blazers also committed 19 turnovers which turned into 23 points for the Mavericks. Dallas scored 17 on the break. The Blazers had only 17 assists. Dallas shot a lowly 4-13 from the arc (31%) but the Blazers shot even worse (7-26 for 27%).
The Mavs blew away Portland at the line, converting 25 of 34 foul shot attempts. That's 9 misses but still 74% shooting. By comparison the Blazers only got 21 attempts, making only 15. That 71% rate is low for Portland, but even shooting their usual 82% would have netted them only 2 extra points. The game was officiated oddly. The refs started out fine but seemed to slip towards Portland in the second period in the old, "A team that's 30 points behind gets the benefit of the doubt" trick. That backfired when the Blazers came all the way back and the refs seemed to slip the other way during the middle of the fourth. Then the refs just swallowed their whistles whole. Nearly every contested shot at the rim during the late-fourth quarter--and there were plenty on both sides--seemed to involve some sort of foul. Despite bodies bouncing like pinballs the refs called nothing until Lillard earned a blocking foul for moving feet and a swiping arm on a Devin Harris layup conversion with 37 seconds remaining. The reffing wasn't biased as much as unpredictable...pretty much like the rest of this game.
No matter which way you slice it, the enduring thought following the final horn was, "What the heck just happened?" It's hard to explain why the Blazers came out so flat, why the Mavericks let them off the hook so easily, why Aldridge looked All-World during some parts of the game and barely functional during others, why the officiating went up and down, how you come back from 30 points, build a lead, and still don't win.
Whatever answers we suggest, a more interesting question remains. Most games this year left a pretty solid impression, cluing us in to Portland's momentum following. Some games could fork, as in, "The Blazers could do X or the far-different Y after this one" but even then the possibilities seemed pretty clear. I confess that I have no clue at all how Portland will respond to this game. Was the evening uplifting because of the comeback, a confirmation of the Blazers' never-say-die attitude? Was it a referendum on the eventual futility of that approach, showing that they don't have the horses to finish what they start even when it works? Did they play together or did they fall apart? Did they play well or foolishly? The answer to each of those questions is, "Yes! And no." This felt like a significant, memorable game, but significant of what? And what effect will the memories have? What could you say as a coach after this that would stick?
One thing's for sure, this road trip just got more interesting than any stretch the Blazers have yet played. Stay tuned.
In my early-game notes I have a blurb about LaMarcus Aldridge playing gamely but seeming a little slow and ground-bound. Then he exploded in that third period and all the early notes went out the window. I wonder if a combination of the two impressions isn't an accurate take. When he was on--and to be fair his being "on" by hitting turn-arounds in the post didn't require a ton of athleticism--he looked as devastating as we've seen him. But he still didn't look 100%. His body language wasn't threatening. His step wasn't explosive. Nevertheless he posted one of his best games of the season. His 13-28 shooting led to a game-high 30 points with 17 rebounds (5 offensive) 3 assists, 3 steals, and 3 turnovers. Dallas had no answer for him. It didn't even look like they understood the question. Credit to them for those late-game double-teams, though, plus the alacrity on the weak side to cover Portland's alternate options.
OK, now please hand me the hermetically-sealed envelope. I will press it to my forehead, right beside my colorful turban. I will close my eyes and say, "Your library's copy of Robyn Carr's 'The Chance', Kate Upton's chest, and Damian Lillard."
Now I will rip open the envelope, pull out the card inside, and read aloud. "Name three things that were checked out tonight."
if Aldridge had one of his best games of the season, Lillard posted one of his worst. 3-10 shooting, 1-6 from distance (and that one probably ill-advised), only 3 foul shots drawn, 10 points, 4 assists, 5 turnovers (mostly ugly), and guess who the Mavericks went at when they really, really needed a bucket? It was not Lillard's night. At all.
Wesley Matthews, on the other hand, had a night and a half. 11-19 shooting, 4-8 from distance, 26 points and 6 rebounds. He hit his open threes and scored inside when appropriate. You have to love nights like this from Matthews. On the other hand you can't shake the feeling that the opponent will live with nights like this from Matthews if Lillard isn't shooting.
Nicolas Batum had the bog-standard Nicolas Batum outing: 9 points on 3-8 shooting, 1-5 from long range, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, 2 blocks and 3 turnovers. He had a couple of nice plays but didn't swing the game either way.
Robin Lopez swung the game like it was on the playground and he was its daddy. Unfortunately he swung it as much by his absence as his presence. Those two early fouls opened the door to disaster. Portland wilted, melted, disintegrated without Lopez in the middle. Lopez looked like he'd have one of those dominant offensive rebounding nights but Samuel Dalembert and a crowd of Mavericks helped keep him at bay after he played the "I'm the only seven-footer" card. Plus he ended up guarding perimeter players much of the evening, sometimes on switches and sometimes because the Mavericks fielded nothing but. You know that's not going to work for Robin. Lopez never played poorly in this game. He just alternated between good, absent on the bench, and absent because he had to play out of position. 2 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks.
Meyers Leonard got the early substitution call for Lopez. He was ghastly and played only 6 minutes total in the game.
Thomas Robinson went Jack Nicholson in The Shining, axing his way through the door and yelling, "Here's Johnny!" to the tune of 11 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 20 minutes. Unfortunately the refs didn't like the use of the axe, whistling him for 6 fouls. But Robinson was the first guy to show any positive energy in this game. He looked like he meant business out there.
Mo Williams scored 7 points in 25 minutes, hitting only 3-9 shots, 1-6 from distance, and not looking effective.
Fortunately the Blazers get a night off before they have to play Houston. Trying to go into a back-to-back after a night like this would be dizzying. Be sure and tune into that Houston game. It ought to be fascinating.
Timmay's Instant Recap and Gameday Thread Review, after which 99% of the participants probably needed a tranquilizer. Tim himself probably needed one too.
Mavs Moneyball should be a freaky visit. I wonder how they'll process this kind of game.
Your Jersey Contest scores and the form for Sunday's game are HERE. Tonight's results: Nicolas Batum scored more than Shawn Marion, Portland's Highest Bench Scorer (Robinson) scored more than Vince Carter, Meyers Leonard (2) scored more than C.J. McCollum (1) or Will Barton (0), and LaMarcus Aldridge scored more than Dirk Nowitzki. MavetheGreat scored 87 out of 100 in this game and also leads the monthly total.