This game was a classic tale of two halves. The Mikes, as they often do, hit the nail on the head and took the words right out of my mouth when they said there was no way we could have stayed with Phoenix in the first half. This was not a meeting of equals. It was a team on a mission for the playoffs versus a team still trying to prove itself. That's not to say we were mistake-free. We committed plenty of errors. But even had we not the Suns were simply going to push us aside and march to the "W". It's times like this where you see why people say the Blazers still have a long way to go. Eventually we want to be the ones shoving other teams aside like they were so much straw. We are not capable yet. Until we are, and until we prove it, there's not much point in talking about post-season dreams and eventual glory.
The second half, on the other hand, showed why people are plenty excited about this club. We didn't quit. We plugged away. We pushed the tempo, upped the energy, played reasonably smart, and scored from a variety of places. Counted out completely, we rose up and we took that game back from Phoenix. All of a sudden they were the ones on their heels, doubting themselves. If we took a shot like that and got back up, what were they going to do?
Now Phoenix won the game, there's no doubt about that. This was no victory, nor even a moral victory. (A moral victory would be tainted by us having fallen so far behind to begin with.) However Phoenix won the game because they've been in those tight situations a million times before and they know how to pull them out whereas we haven't and are less sure. They won this game because Steve Nash has played just about as many games as all of our key scorers combined (Nash = 837, Roy+Webster+Outlaw+Aldridge+Jack = 915). But that's not going to be true forever. And I guarantee you the Suns (the team with all of the quality names: Nash, Amare, Shaq, Hill, Diaw, Barbosa) are shaking their heads at least a little bit at this Portland team and are plenty glad to have escaped here with a win.
The good and bad of this game were pretty well defined. We played decent defense, near-amazing on their interior players considering who we throw out there. After we got our heads out of our nether regions we also rebounded with energy. I liked our ball movement, shot selection, and general offensive prosecution early in the game. However when the shots just weren't falling we became tentative. At that point the shots started coming from farther out on the court. We were clearly aiming instead of shooting. It seemed to start with Lamarcus but it spread like a virus. That's when things really fell apart. Fortunately in the second half we started shooting more reasonable shots and got the pep back in our step. They ended up outrebounding us, but only because we took so many more shots, which was actually to our credit. We didn't suffer by comparison in assists, turnovers, or overall shooting percentage. We ended up only 2-15 from three point range. A couple more of those would have helped. The huge gap came at the foul line. Phoenix finished 34-42 with 5 players attempting 6 foul shots or more. We only shot 25 of them total, making 22. Even with the end-game, catch-up padding accounting for some of the deficit that isn't good. But it happens.
--Brandon scored 25 on 10-18 shooting with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and no turnovers. Honk if you love excellence. He still doesn't look quite comfortable out there either. I'd like this ankle thing to go away. But then he's always going to get bumped and bruised. I'd love to have an enforcer to watch his back a little more. Maybe we should draft somebody from MMA to be the 12th man?
--Lamarcus looked like he was casting a line that was hooked to the back of his belt tonight. His shooting was just brutal...not because he bricked by so much but because he missed everything by about an inch. He shot 3-15 for 11 points. You know what I like though? Unlike some outings where he appears to drift Lamarcus played tough through the MIA shooting form tonight. He manned up in the paint on defense, went pretty hard for rebounds, and had 3 steals plus 2 blocks. Had 4 more shots fallen this would have been a superstar night for him.
--If it's possible to have a loud 11 points tonight Jarrett Jack had them. He was the symbol of the tough-nosed Blazers that crawled back into this game. You could almost hear "I ain't dead yet!" every time he took it hard to the hoop and put in some impossible underhanded loop-job. He only shot 4-11 but three of those 11 were missed heaves at the buzzer. He had 4 turnovers but they were of the pushing-the-ball variety rather than the "Oops!" kind. I really like what I'm seeing from him in the last few games.
--Joel Przybilla also had another inspired game. The stats don't show it, but he was mixing it up in the hizouse. He didn't let them get many easy looks at the rim.
--I really thought Steve Blake did a nice job on Steve Nash tonight...in fact as nice of a job as I've seen the Blazers do in years. Nash had 19 points, but 4 assists??? That's not his game at all. Brandon and Jarrett helped, of course, but Blake really anchored the defense. Between Steve and Joel we handled their screens well too.
--Travis Outlaw was taking some God-awful shots tonight. I can't decide whether I like or dislike our constant clearing out for him whenever he touches the ball. 4-11 wasn't the best test case, I suppose. On the other hand he drew 7 foul shots, which I really like. And he had 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks. That won't light the world on fire but for Trout it's not bad. However if you want to see a HUGE example of how far he has to go in some areas rewind back to 3:40 left in the first quarter. Watch him neither pick up a man on the break nor get anywhere near the rebound when Phoenix missed the ensuing layup...a rebound which they stuck back for two. Aaaargh. He better hope that one doesn't get reviewed in film sessions this week.
--Martell Webster: 0 shots in 12 minutes.
--Channing Frye: 11 points, 5 rebounds, and all 6 fouls used in 21 minutes. He did pretty much what he was supposed to tonight. Though I don't need to see him shooting from 22-24 feet anymore.
--Did anyone NOT love James Jones' suicide dive on Shaq? (Except Shaq, that is.) The little things make you like the man. He didn't get near enough shots up but teams are watching him more closely than they used to. 5 points in 15 minutes.
One-Sentence Game Summary:
Will tonight's showing of Return of the Living Dead Trail Blazers be enough to propel us to a decent road trip?