Well, that was a bitter pill to swallow, eh? What got me was that even in the first half when we built that 25-point lead the game wasn't that thrilling. I mean, we were taking care of business but it wasn't like we were putting on a whoop-and-holler clinic. We just took advantage of Philadelphia's weaknesses. Then at some point during the half they figured out that they are a real NBA team and started playing like it. One half for us, one half for them, theirs was a little better than ours. Ballgame. Blazers still winless on the road.
So what the heck happened?
In the first half we executed the game plan marvelously. It started on defense. We basically kept four guys below the foul line, spread out to prevent penetration or easy shots from any angle. We let the Sixers shoot all they wanted from range. The result was a brutalization of the rim that should have gotten some of them arrested. Rim abuse is all well and good when you're dunking, but on a 20-foot jumper it's not so desirable. You would have felt bad for your local JV team had they shot that way. The Sixers seriously threatened to break NBA scoring lows in the second quarter. We also rebounded their misses well, more often than not limiting them to one shot (which under the circumstances was a blessing). Plus we either forced them into (or just stood by and watched as they committed) turnover after turnover after turnover. They self-destructed completely. As a result of all this our offensive game didn't have to be sterling, just adequate. And that's what it was. We moved the ball decently, got people enough open shots to maintain credibility, and ended up with a near-20-point lead at the half though we had only scored 45 ourselves.
Nevertheless the seeds of the reversal were sown in the second quarter. The Sixers didn't score at all in that period until about 4:20 left. They ended up with 13 when all was said and done. They wouldn't quite score three points per minute the rest of the game but they did score 2.7 points per minute in the second half. One look at their final shooting percentage--50.7%--will tell you that something went seriously wrong for us on defense after halftime. Basically they exploited the heck out of our perimeter guys. They drove right at Blake, Jack, Sergio, Travis, Martell, and anybody else who was out there. Our nice little protective zone from the first half went completely flat in the second. Instead of having guys spread out everybody got bunched in the lane under the rim and/or found themselves completely out of position outside. Philadelphia guys would drive past three Blazers with regularity on their way to the hoop, finishing with a layup, dunk, foul, or some combination thereof. It's tempting to blame the big guys for not rotating (and indeed there was some of that) but the truth is our outside guys got burned so badly that there was little the bigs could do. Predictably as the defense broke down and people scrambled to cover the door was opened for wide-open outside shots and offensive rebounds both. We ended up losing the rebound battle by 13, giving up 11 offensive boards. This number isn't eye-popping until you consider that Philly wasn't really playing anybody over 6'8 for most of the second half when the damage was done.
As the defense broke down the offense also went south. Gone were the crisp passes, cuts, and nice pick plays. Where screens developed we failed to get the ball to the open person. Passes were only around the perimeter. Worse we saw the return of the tendency that killed us in the Denver game: everybody tried to see if they could make their own move before bailing out with a pass, leaving the last person holding the ball shooting against the clock from impossible positions. If it weren't for some incredible drives by Brandon Roy and some nice post moves from Lamarcus Aldridge we would have been down far quicker. Mark these words: when you see the Blazers consistently fighting the shot clock they are going...to...lose. Our game is not yet one of dominant players making unstoppable moves. It's having enough options that the defense is off balance trying to cover them all. With the shot clock winding down options dwindle to one: shoot the ball. That makes it easy for the defense to key on you. Under those circumstances only Brandon Roy has a fighting chance to score. With the missed, forced shots Philly grabbed longer, easier rebounds and got out on the break for easy shots. It didn't help that we also started turning the ball over like we were embarrassed to have it. Philadelphia started pressing us and we have shown little capacity to deal with pressure this year. This is a failing we're going to have to address.
When the gameplan goes out the window like that it's going to be hard for us to win against anybody. We gave Philly enough confidence to beat us and never regained our own. I don't foresee any lasting consequences from this debacle other than this kind of cements a very dangerous reputation we're getting, namely that if you smack us in the mouth hard enough we're going to fold. We may expect to get smacked often until we show that we can take it.
--Our two stars had fantastic offensive games, each scoring 25 with Brandon shooting 8-16 and Lamarcus 10-16. Roy got to the line 9 times as well. Our late-game offense ran exclusively through these two and both showed they could handle it, which is a good sign. Both were a little low on the other stats...Brandon's 4 assists and 3 rebounds being a couple less than we are used to and Lamarcus' 6 rebounds (3 defensive) being wholly inadequate in a game where he was the tallest guy on the floor by far. Again some of this was attributable to him being forced out of position helping other people but he should have had more anyway. Even a couple might have preserved the victory.
--Our point guards all had miserable nights. They bore great responsibility for the perimeter breakdowns. Each one shot 33% for the game. Jack and Blake each had 4 turnovers. Sergio only had 2 but that was in 9 minutes. Blake had 6 assists but they were pretty much all early in the game. It was just gross out there basically. None of them looked like they knew how to play. I expect a much tighter game out of all three tomorrow.
--Martell did not contribute near as much tonight as he has so far. This was his first sub-par game of the season. For whatever reason the energy wasn't there all game. He did a pretty good job keeping up in the first half but by the second half he was missing open shots and letting people get by him. He also only took 8 shots, which isn't near enough. But then when the offensive game breaks down into that same kind of one-on-one holding-fest that we saw last season we might reasonably expect Martell's offensive game to start resembling last season.
--Travis had 4 rebounds and made a couple of nice help plays on defense but I didn't like his game much tonight. I can't remember him taking a good shot. He looked confused. He's in a slump right now.
--Channing Frye hit 3 of 4 shots and made 2 steals but 2 rebounds and little defense in 19 minutes hurts. I don't think I'll mention that again about Channing because it's a constant thing. Just assume that's the story until I say something good about him in those areas.
--Joel Przybilla had a monstrous 7 rebounds in 10 minutes of playing time. He's my hero that way. BUT...and it's a big BUT...something looked wrong with him tonight. He wasn't getting up to the rim on his shots or dunk attempts. He looked bad that way. I am waiting to see if he's hurting.
A side note: I read a lot of comments about Nate's horrible coaching tonight and one of the flashpoints appears to be the use of Joel. Mike Rice mentioned it several times on the telecast. Joel being sub-par physically could be one explanation. But even if that doesn't pan out I think Nate made a coaching decision that when Philadelphia lost Dalembert to foul trouble and went ultra-small we needed to go smaller to match. We had a lead most of the way and it became apparent early on that Przybilla would not help us extend that lead with his offensive woes. In essence we were back to playing 4-on-5 on offense. You could argue that Joel would have helped us protect the lead but I think that "protect the lead" mentality is part of what got us into trouble to begin with. Besides I do not think Joel would have helped defensively the way things were going. The defensive problems tonight were not on the interior, they were on the perimeter. When guys are getting massacred that badly off the dribble all Joel's going to be able to do is get into foul trouble, especially since he appeared more ground-bound than normal. Lamarcus with his quicker feet was probably the appropriate choice there. The one thing I really would have liked to have was Joel's rebounding and I think that would be a reason to throw him in there anyway. But I also understand why Nate made the decision to go smaller and try to keep offensive integrity.
Also if we're going to bag on Nate for the second half we should probably be fair and praise him for the first half. The team basically executed a perfect game plan versus Philly. That's got to be to Nate's credit somewhat. As I've said before the tendency is to praise the players when things go well and blame the coach when they don't. I seriously doubt the halftime message was, "Let's abandon everything we've been doing!" Everybody Nate put in during the second half outside of Brandon and Lamarcus basically looked impotent...and that was without exception. When 3/5 of your guys out there are blowing the game plan what are you going to do? I think it's fair to ask for clarification on the Joel thing. I don't think it's fair to pin the loss on Nate. He can't get out there and do it for them. All he can do is prepare them, which he obviously did if you look at the first half.
Again everybody has to remember this is a young team and young teams do this kind of thing. Granted we took it to an absurd extreme tonight, but we're hardly the first fans to watch their favorite youngsters play brilliantly one half and fall apart the next. If you had three well-rounded journeyman veterans alongside Roy and Aldridge out there that probably wouldn't have happened. But then if you had that you wouldn't be nearly so excited about the future potential of this team.
I have a friend who is fighting a battle to lose weight. I am familiar with this because I am doing the same thing, having gained about 20 pounds in the last two years. (About the same time frame I've been blogging. Hmmmm...) My friend really sucks at it though because my friend hops from extreme to extreme. One day it's "There's nothing really wrong, let me just eat this buffet lunch." The next day it's "I'm so FAT!!!" Neither one is really true or productive. But it's impossible to get on the right track when those are your only options. You think, "There's nothing wrong!" and eat poorly but then instead of correcting that reasonably you say, "I'm so fat" which makes you feel bad (and probably eat poorly). Then eventually you think, "It's wrong to call myself fat like that and I can't stay on this extreme diet forever" so you slip back to nothing being wrong and you eat poorly. The truth doesn't lie anywhere on that continuum. As long as you are on it every move you make will be wrong. The only way to succeed is to get off of that line of thinking completely and switch to, "I'm carrying too much weight but that doesn't mean I'm horrible, it's just something I need to address reasonably and safely over time with a decent diet and some commitment to exercise."
I gotta be honest with you...Blazer fans right now are reminding me a little of my non-productive friend. When we win a few games it's like, "Nothing is wrong! This is a great team! We're going to win a lot!" Then when we lose a few it's, "We're horrible! Everybody stinks!" Honestly we're basically the same team with the same strengths and weaknesses either way, we just vary in our ability to prosecute or disguise them based on the matchups and based on our experience in doing so (which is very little). This team has weak perimeter defenders, rebounding issues, toughness issues, and inconsistent offensive contributors outside of the two main guys. This team also has a lot of talent, a ton of heart, unselfish players, some smarts, a multi-pronged offensive attack, and the potential to be really great when they grow up a little and get all the cards back in their deck. To me the reasonable approach seems to be, "We're young and we're going to lose some games a more experienced team would have won with their eyes closed, but that doesn't mean we're horrible. We need to work on our weaknesses, develop our strengths, get used to playing together, and leave it all out there every night. Slowly, after a season or two of doing that, the wins will come." We're not fat. We're not where we want to be either. We just need to work on it and stop living and dying with the number every time we step on the scale.
Tonight we learned that an NBA team--no matter who it is--isn't truly dead until the final buzzer sounds. If that lesson carries over in a few years when we're up 15 at the half in Game 6 of the second round of the playoffs it will have been more than worth it.
One (OK, two...) Sentence Game Summary: Ooops...we didn't know that could happen. Do over?
P.S. If you think this was bad, try being a die-hard Duck fan today. I feel horrible for all of those folks. (Of course if you're both a Duck and Blazer fan...wow. Nightmare weekend so far for you. Take heart though. One of the advantages of not knowing if your team is going to underachieve and lose against Philly is also not knowing if they're going to overachieve and win against Washington.)