Yes, it was a loss, but it wasn't a horrible loss. We're still running up against some near-insurmountable difficulties but even with that we're playing at least some quality ball out there. More than anything consistency with those quality moments would help. It's hard to win when you have a half dozen brilliant moments and then eight or nine awful ones. That's a young team for you, though.
--First of all, any time you shoot under 40%, your opponent shoots over 50%, and you're still in the game most of the way you're doing something right. In this case the right things were what we talked about in the preview: dominating the boards and getting more free throws than the opponent. The team rebounding in the early part of the fourth quarter was especially impressive. Again my question is, "Why not all game?"
--Two things went very wrong. First, we didn't have the horses to stay with their main guys. J.O. burned Zach, Travis, and Aldridge on the inside and Przybilla on the outside. Harrington scored off the drive and off the jumper. Second, we didn't have any defensive pressure at all on the perimeter. I wouldn't have minded so much had we just left some people free for shots, in fact I suspected this would be a necessary by-product of the game plan. The problem was we never interrupted their ball movement in any way so they didn't even have to try to get those open shots. They got basically whatever shot they wanted every possession. Had we been able to stop a drive, obscure their vision a little, and force them to shoot after a few passes against the shot clock it would have been a different story. As it is they just ran their set plays and were never bothered, almost as if it were a practice walkthrough. Everybody shot from their comfort zone and that was that.
There's no way around this: we really, really miss the defensive energy Brandon Roy brought to the backcourt. A lot of the smalls had sparkling defensive moments, but not a one of them besides Udoka played an entire defensive game. Socks washes away a lot of our sins. We need him back.
--Even though this wasn't his best percentage shooting game, I really liked how Zach scored tonight. He moved around and mixed it up, taking what the defense gave him instead of bulling against the double teams. He also scored off of offensive rebounds. In fact the only time he did get in trouble was late in the fourth when he wasn't getting the ball much and went into his "Me Score Now!" modes, but even that didn't affect the game much. He shot 8-for-8 from the line and got 30 points instead of the 20 he gets when he tries to go the other direction. He also wasn't bad on defense tonight, or at least no worse than anybody else.
--Joel's back, and even though he's rusty and didn't change the game for us he did get a few rebounds and you could see where he'll begin to help correct our defensive woes again. The guards can't keep hanging him out to dry on those picks and penetrations though.
--Jarrett Jack...holy crap! 21 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, no turnovers. It was a great game and so much in the flow of the offense that you didn't really notice him doing it. This guy doesn't take many cringe-inducing shots. He was also one of the few people tonight who wasn't completely comatose in the help defense. I am going to bag on him a little though, because he's still having serious problems with his one-on-one defense. He may have allowed nearly as many points as he scored. And when your defense breaks down at the point of attack it causes major headaches for the rest of the team. (See also: the Stoudamire years.)
--Travis Outlaw again came out aggressively. He only shot 4-for-11 but you definitely noticed him in this game. He had a Sportscenter-worthy block of Jermaine O'Neal and he was draining his top of the key jumper. I love him as an energy guy with the second unit. That said, he too gets burned big time with individual defense still. Learning to mitigate that is going to be the next step in his growth.
--Juan Dixon was a fourth-quarter offensive dynamo. Some will complain about him taking 12 shots but he hit half of them, usually at times when nobody else was scoring. I really don't mind him in that role. He's playing limited minutes anyway and that's his thing.
--Sergio Rodriguez again hit a couple shots tonight. His passing will always be #1 but it's encouraging to see him look for his shot when he has it. That'll be a must if he's to last in the league.
--Once again his stats don't show it, but you can't say enough about what Ime Udoka brings to this team right now. He's a smart shooter, an active defender, and steps up in a hundred little ways. Mike Barrett is 100% correct when he says Ime's in the right place at the right time out there. He may be the only guy on the team right now who knows how to do that.
--What is up with Martell? He is just getting toasted out there every single game. You literally cannot leave him in. It's no accident that Dixon got all his minutes in the 4th. I don't recall the problem being quite so pronounced last year. Even more troubling is his lack of offense to compensate. You expect Ime Udoka to do all the little things much better than Martell, but when he also outscores Martell how can you justify having the kid out there? And that's hard for me to say because I think I like Martell and what he brings better than any other Blazer right now. I want him to succeed really badly. But for whatever reason it's just not happening right now and something needs to change because this is painful.
--Maybe you noticed that Jeff Foster is one of those "glue" players for the Pacers. His game was even more amazing than Udoka's. Without Foster, Indiana has a much harder time tonight.
--Some people have been asking about picks and such, so I watched for some key moments for reference if you Tivoed the game. This is not exhaustive, but should give you a decent look at some good and bad things, offensively and defensively, involving pick plays.
*With 5:03 left in the 1st you will see what happens when a guy gets screened, doesn't pursue, and the second defender doesn't help out quick enough. Look for Udoka and Wesbter on the baseline.
*With 11:15 left in the 2nd you will see an excellent example of how a big man is supposed to help his guard overcome a pick on the perimeter. Jamaal Magloire jumps out to slow down the dribbler and then quickly gets back to his own man, preventing the pass.
*Don't bother fast-forwarding because with 11:05 left in the 2nd, on the same possession, you will see what happens when a guy doesn't help. Lamarcus Aldridge is the big man in question and Sergio Rodriguez kind of gets in his way a little. Nevertheless Lamarcus was hardly aggressive going after the play...he just kind of stepped back and watched it happen.
*With 9:37 left in the 2nd you will see Lamarcus Aldridge redeem himself by setting a MARVELOUS pick which frees up a guard for a drive. This is the way you are supposed to do it: strong, solid, still. Notice that the dribbler also cut close to him, not leaving space for his man to slide around the pick.
*With 4:39 left in the 2nd you will see something a little more unusual. Sarunas Jasikevicius sets a pick in the lane for Jermaine O'Neal. Neither Blazer reacts particularly well but Mike Rice points out that Jarrett Jack bailed out on the play and left Zach hung out to dry.
*With 2:39 left in the 2nd you will see a good example of how not to set or use a pick. Jarrett Jack is calling for a pick. Travis comes way late, never gets set, and is hopping around like a jack rabbit. Jack compounds the problem by moving way too soon, before the pick is even set, and also not cutting close enough to make good use of it (though T.O. is a little far away). Often when this happens the pick-setter is called for an illegal screen because of all the motion.
Hope that helps.