Yeah, we got LeBronned tonight.
I know Mo Williams had 33 tonight and props to him for hitting all of those shots. He was the straw that broke the camel's back. But LeBron was up there on that hump with a jackhammer the whole night. I remember once in grad school I went out to the playground to get some shots in and a guy came and we started up one-on-one. I hadn't played regularly in a couple years so I knew my outside shot wouldn't be bankable, so I just took him down in the post and spun around him or shot the hook over him. Midway through the game he delivered the line of a lifetime, "Man...you're just treating me like I don't exist." That's exactly how LBJ treated the Blazers tonight. They might as well have not existed. Forget the 34 points. That's somewhere within his general target range. But 14 assists?!? Are you kidding me?!? He was just toying with the defenders out there. Portland had to send the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, the wives of all of the above, their children, their dogs, the fleas on their dogs, the fleas on their children, the fleas on their dogs' children, a couple of exchange students from Nairobi, six authors booted off of Oprah Winfrey for lying in their books, Obama's excess secret service, three guys from Prince's entourage, and some crazy dude in parachute pants out there to defend Lebron and they still couldn't get it done. And with all of those people with an eye on King James everybody else for Cleveland had a field day shooting and rebounding. We didn't give up a ton of offensive boards overall but the ones we did give up hurt plenty because they destroyed any momentum we got from precious stops on a night when we watched the opponent shoot 52.6%. When Wally Szczerbiak gets 4 offensive boards you know you were out of position.
This is what hurts about this game. It was close but we gave away points. We gave away a few points off of unnecessary offensive boards. We gave away a few points on missed layups. We gave away a few points not getting back in transition. (The Rudy-Roy backcourt seems to have trouble with that last one.) Add up all those points and there was a win in there somewhere to be had. Again, LeBron was a huge cause of our discombobulation. Take nothing away from the Cavs there. The floor was unbalanced and people were scrambling because of him. But even with those possessions discounted there were still points gifted to Cleveland. This is an important lesson if you want to win those critical extra games that make a good season fantastic. One too many rebounds watched instead of grabbed or one too many jogging trips back down the floor instead of hustling to beat the offense and that's the ballgame, ruining an otherwise decent night.
Several things went right tonight despite the loss. We fought pretty hard for this game overall. There were a lot of guys diving for loose balls and hustling on cuts offensively. We kept the pressure on inside and drew a ton of free throws. In fact we more than doubled the Cavs in free throw attempts and made 10 more foul shots than they even attempted. That kept us in the game despite torrid guard shooting from the opposition on a night when we just cleared 40% ourselves. Also we committed very few turnovers. That keeps us in a lot of games. I remember last year particularly, and in previous years from time to time, people would ask why we didn't just open up the offense and run a high-risk, high-reward system if we were going to lose anyway. The general idea was that it would be more exciting for fans and fun for players. We're seeing some of the answer now. The Blazers don't give up the ball much and that's a very good thing, especially when facing tough opponents like this. Care for the ball has been ingrained in these guys from the day they stepped on the court with Nate, which for many was also the day they started their NBA careers. The lessons show.
The crowd really got into it with the officials tonight. Though the refs would deny it to their dying breath, I think the fans actually got us a couple calls, particularly after that Oden-LeBron collision on a loose ball that drew Greg a foul. (Nice to see him hustling out there though.) I haven't read the Gameday thread or the post-game comments but I suspect the refs will factor in to people's analysis. There were some iffy calls out there but it's hard to argue that they cost us the game with a 33-15 free throw advantage already. Maybe it should have been 40-7, but it probably worked out OK the way it was. I think it took the Blazers a little too long to respond to the way the refs were calling the game. They were allowing a lot of defensive contact inside, especially in the first half. Granted Cleveland didn't post up or even drive it much to test the physicality of our defense, but even a few more bumps and a little chippy play from us might have gotten the refs to tighten up a little which would have benefitted our interior guys on offense. As for the rest of it...I guarantee there's going to be at least one game in your long playoff run where you feel like the refs are jobbing you. There might even be one where they're actually jobbing you. How you respond to that will be important. The L*kers and Spurs whine as much as anyone, but they win. There's a big difference between that and adding a loss to your complaints. The Blazers need to find ways to win when they're taken out of their comfort zone in general and dealing with perceived officiating slights is part of that package.
Now that I think about it, maybe that's the best way to describe the loss tonight: the Blazers weren't comfortable enough to win. LeBron had them scrambling, the Cavs' three-point shots knocked them back on their heels, and the refs kept them off balance. There are two solutions to this. One would be to wait for games where the opponent isn't so dominating and doesn't shoot so well and the refs are more friendly. That's what you do if you're content with being decent or good. The other option, of course, is to expand your confidence and comfort zone to embrace such situations. That's what you do if you want to be great. The Blazers need more games under their belt (maybe more games just like this) before they can achieve this fully, but they might as well start now. The first step is saying, "The refs didn't take this from us...we did."
I don't know if it's the splint on the finger, the hamstring, fatigue, or something else we don't know about but Brandon Roy didn't look right out there tonight. We've seen games like this from him before but usually in isolation. He's had 2-3 in the last week where he was just a step off. It's not just the missed layins, the 8-23 shooting, or the carping at officials. His defense out there--not fancy, high-expectation defense on LeBron but just basic, position defense--was as bad as I've seen it. He had trouble staying in front of people. He had trouble getting back. It's like he just wasn't into the game except for those drives down the lane and some late-game defensive stands on LeBron. If this is just a mental thing one way out of it would be to commit to affecting the game sooner. I know the Blazers need other people involved but it's hard going the entire first half without seeing the Brandon we know and love. You can't just turn it on in the second half against an opponent like this and expect to win. I'd love to know if this was just one of those games or if something really is wrong with Roy. I assume we'll find out soon. 23 points but only 3 assists and 2 rebounds. He was 6-7 from the line, which was good.
Lamarcus Aldridge had a great offensive first half and had streaks in the second half where he affected the game to the good. He didn't get many touches in the fourth quarter which was unfortunate. I found myself wishing again that he'd try to take advantage of the Cleveland defenders by slashing inside. It seemed like he actively passed up a couple of opportunities to drive tonight that just went begging. At certain points we were passing up good shots to get tougher ones and LMA was part of that. Lamarcus did draw 7 foul shots when he drove. That was fantastic. He also looked nice when he ended up defending LeBron and I wished he was able to help out more on him. He wasn't getting rebounds anyway so throwing him farther outside on defense might not have hurt much. 21 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals.
Greg Oden had a decent game with 3-4 shooting, 4-4 from the line, 10 points and 8 rebounds. It just wasn't quite the game we needed. Anderson Varejao's activity and physicality was troubling Greg in the post. After that duel heated up (to Greg's detriment) we never really went back to him. We needed him to own the paint tonight. He only rented it temporarily.
Nicolas Batum deserves a lot of praise for trying his level best guarding LeBron one-on-one tonight. He was active and energetic. LeBron was just too tall, too muscular, too good, and too on. But I've not really seen anybody from Portland watch LeBron any better. Give Nic a couple years and a few pounds and let's see what happens. I'm not saying he'll stop LeBron even then, but he could maybe bother him. Also major props to Nicolas for being just about the only rookie on the team who consistently knows what time it is when defending a screen. Batum even looked for his shot a little. I liked this game from him. 20 minutes, 7 points, an assist and a rebound and a major headache after being quoted scripture from King James.
Speaking of good defense, despite what you're thinking about Mo Williams' scoring 30+ this was one of the best defensive games I've seen Sergio play. He started out really shaky and I figured it was going to be a long night for him at that end but he upped the energy, got focused, and managed to stay in front of his man, find his spot in the zone, and even help appropriately a little. His offensive game was controlled and precise as well. Since Blake went down Sergio has had some good moments and even games with good qualities but there have been gaping holes elsewhere, particularly on defense. Tonight he put it all together and played about as well as he's capable right now. 7 points, 5 assists, no turnovers in 27 minutes.
Jerryd Bayless got ridden hard by the refs tonight. He channeled early-season Greg Oden and became the foul-a-minute man. When he finally got an extended run in the fourth quarter he almost turned into a hero. The Cavs played Stock Market defense on him (collapse as far as you can and then find a way to collapse even farther) but he put a couple of nasty drives on them anyway. Before he got rolling Mo Williams had been able to score freely without really having to defend anyone. Bayless reminded him it's a two-way game and Williams is a much better one-way player. B-Rex even posted him up once! With his body that move will be firmly implanted in his eventual repertoire. It wasn't sustainable because we needed more avenues of attack than just him, but this was still a great game for the rookie. 10 points, 6-6 from the line in 18 minutes.
Joel Przybilla reminded the Cavs they were short some frontcourt players by laying 15 rebounds on them. He wasn't as useful defensively as usual because Cleveland didn't attack the middle that much. He did end up helping deter LeBron from driving. It didn't end up mattering much but it was the right idea. Joel offense is returning to normal (which isn't necessarily a positive) but he hit 4-6 free throws (which is).
Rudy Fernandez shot 3-8 from distance and 3-9 overall. His shots ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, but the Blazers also left him in some tough positions. If the league really wants to generate some publicity they should invite Rudy to the three-point shooting contest as well as the dunk contest at the All-Star break. I'm not sure there's anybody in the league who hits unguarded shots with more effectiveness and style. Now if he could just get the hang of shaking free... 9 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist.
Travis Outlaw played 26 minutes, shot 2-8, and missed all three free throws he took. He did pitch in guarding LeBron and his height at least gave LBJ pause for a second. Travis even came from behind to block a LeBron jumper, joining Oden and Aldridge in the group of players earning complimentary, "I Blocked the King" lapel buttons tonight. Nevertheless, we needed those free throws and we needed a little more Trout against this caliber of team. 5 points, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 assist, 1 steal.
Final (Somewhat Random) Thoughts
1. First and foremost, that headband looked good on Lamarcus. I am officially suggesting that Nate bend the team rules and allow LMA to wear one even for non-medical purposes. Nobody else...just him. It distinguishes him from everyone that way and he's one of the few that sports it well.
2. Hey Budweiser, here's your Lager Lesson: Just give me my damn beer. If I walked into a bar and ordered a beer and some smarmy dude or blonde bimbo started lecturing me about an Anheuser-Busch product I would say, "A. I ordered beer, not Budweiser and B. ST(cough)U or I'm not tipping you a cent." True American Beauty my butt. You just got bought out by some Germans who are now laughing behind their hands at you.
3. If there is something wrong with Roy I have no problem with him sitting a game or two until it's worked out.
4. Only 9 guys played again tonight. Nate is getting more serious about the rotation as the year progresses. That's not a bad thing. It will make it more interesting when Blake comes back, however.
5. The best way to make up for this loss is to run off about 5 wins in a row.
Check out the (mostly appropriate) LeBron worship at FeartheSword.
Check out tonight's Jersey Contest scores and enter Saturday's game here.