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Game 21 Recap: Blazers Not Enough, Celtics Too Much

(That means a 93-78 loss, if you don’t know already.)


General Observations

The Celtics are the Celtics.

From moment one of this game their defense was spot-on and active.  Even when the Blazers kept the game close they were struggling for every bucket.  Portland also made life difficult on Boston in the very early going but the Celtics got enough leak-through baskets that you could see a clear difference (and that the balance between the scores wasn’t going to keep up the whole game).  Boston prosecuted their offense opportunistically and efficiently.  The Blazers were stuck in the mud with cement sneakers supplied to them by the opponent.  Once the Celtics built a significant lead this game was over.  You can ignore the short comeback in garbage time.  It meant nothing besides making the score look a little more respectable.  That often happens in the NBA.  It doesn’t cover the truth for anyone who saw the game.  The Blazers got whipped, pure and simple.

If you’re looking for technical reasons why this game flopped outside of how good Boston is, I’d offer these:

--The guard defense was poor all evening long.  It started in the halfcourt with Rajon Rondo doing whatever he wanted but the real backbreaker was when our guards and small forwards didn’t get back in transition.  We got burned by more unnecessary fast breaks tonight than we did all last month.  The Portland smalls have a ton of soul searching to do about the defensive effort tonight.  Part of it was the Celtics’ talent, but talent doesn’t prevent you from hustling back.  Unless, of course, Boston has some weird kind of mind lethargy talent we don’t know about.

--The Blazers gave up a TON of offensive rebounds tonight.  I was just as shocked about this as about the transition lapses.  It was bad.  Sure, part of it was Oden’s foul trouble but you didn’t see anybody besides the centers grabbing boards or even boxing out that well.

--The Celtics prevented the ball from moving which hurt our offense.  This was exacerbated by our usually steady three-point shooters missing everything they threw up.  I feel pretty safe saying that any game in which Portland shoots 2-11 from distance is a game the Blazers will have a hard time winning.  Once we started missing we started hesitating.  Once we started hesitating we were done.  The ball moved slowly.  Players were forced into awkward, one-on-one shots.  Some of our usual heroes tried to bail us out but they faced a defensive swarm every time they made a move and they couldn’t get enough help to ease the strain.  11 assists on 29 shots is well below the norm for a good Portland game.

--When an opposing team’s fifth leading scorer scores as many as your leading scorer you’re going to lose.

--The Blazers disintegrated psychologically in the latter part of the second quarter and they never got their equilibrium back.  We got beat mentally and emotionally as much as physically and talent-wise.

Individual Observations

I have a long-standing practice that on a night like this when the game totally falls apart nobody gets individual accolades.  Anyone disappointed because they thought their favorite player did something nifty should also note that this means nobody gets lambasted either.  Until the game went completely beyond reach I had a huge collection of notes about the shoddy performance of our individual players, including some that are fan favorites.  No need to dwell on them at this point, I think.

Instead I will offer this observation:

We saw tonight not only that as a team we’re not ready for this level of competition, but that the same holds true of many of our individuals.  I’m not trying to pin too much on this game.  I am saying, though, that one of the penalties of having a bunch of young players like this is that when things start falling apart--or even deviating from the norm in some ways--they don’t know how to compensate.  We saw that clearly tonight from many players who have had otherwise good seasons.  All of the guys that people have been screaming to see more of in different situations got a chance tonight.  None of them made a difference and hardly any of them came through.  This is one reason people should be cautious when speculating that a player should be given more playing time and responsibility than they’re getting.  Players exposed before their time don’t get better, they get slaughtered.

This is a point people often miss.  Once of the great strengths of this coaching staff--and this has been true ever since they got here--is that they know how to put players in situations where they can succeed.  Our coaches never, ever get credit for that.  It’s horribly ironic.  The better the coaches do their jobs by making sure their players are getting time in optimal situations that make them look their best the more they get yelled at for not playing them in other situations.  There weren’t any optimal situations tonight.  A game like this shows the readiness, or lack thereof, of our players to face that condition.  Many weren’t ready.  But this highlights how well we’ve seen these players used so far that little of that has showed up or affected the team and its record.

Final Thoughts  (and there are a bunch of them)

1.  This was playoff-level basketball.  In fact I’m not sure the Celtics came as hard tonight as they would in a playoff series.  The Blazers can learn from this for their own post-season ventures.  We are more than ready for the regular season.  We are ready to take a place in the playoffs and we will.  But there’s a long way to go before we’re confident that we can succeed there.  Fortunately there’s also a ton of season left.

2.  Kevin Garnett had his bag of tricks open again tonight.  The crowning moment came when he got down like a dog on all fours after Jerryd Bayless on an inbounds play late in the fourth.  (I don’t know if the local TV cameras caught it but the ESPN cameras did.)  The national announcers were flabbergasted, saying they’d never seen anything like that.  I am not into giving Garnett credit or attention for his antics but that grandstanding, combined with the drubbing we took, needs to be enough.  I will tell you that should that ever be repeated I would have zero problems with Bayless or anyone else turning and kneeing Garnett upside the head when he’s down there like that.  Either that or fire a bounce pass hard off the floor and up into his face.  I know a suspension would follow, but how long could it be after provocation like that?  The guy was down on all fours crawling across the court in a game where his team was up by 13.  If this were the old ABA back in the 60’s and 70’s somebody would have done worse than that.  They probably would have slapped him in a headlock or laid an elbow across the back of his neck for showing them up and then the benches would have cleared.  I’m not sure this new league is better because it takes away the correction for stuff like this.

Were I the Blazers--and I’m talking the players and not the coaches--this would be part of what I’d be talking about in a player’s only meeting on the plane or in the hotel tonight.  I am not suggesting the Blazers start anything.  But for their own good they need to respond if anything like that is repeated.  This has gone far enough now and it’s starting to affect the reputation of this team, if not the team’s perception of itself.  That cannot be allowed to happen.  They need to show Boston, the league, and most importantly themselves that nobody messes with the Portland Trail Blazers.

3.  The Blazers need to make a very good showing when Boston comes to the Rose Garden on December 30th.  I predict we will.  In fact I bet we’ll win.

4.  Beyond that, I will repeat what I said in the game preview.  This really doesn’t matter that much.  It’s one loss in December to the Celtics on the road.  That’s it.  What matters is what happens on Sunday in Toronto.  4-1 on this road trip matters more than this.  Heck, even 3-2 on this road trip (which is guaranteed now) matters more than this.  Every remaining game versus Denver and Utah matters a whole lot more than this.  Shrug it off and put it behind you until you can do something about it on the 30th.

Check out the Boston point of view at CelticsBlog.

You can find the Jersey Contest scores for this game and enter Sunday’s game right here.

--Dave (