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Game 18 Recap: Blazers 96, Memphis...WHAT???

Oh.  106.  Ouch.

There's a fine line between coming into a game expecting to win and coming into a game feeling entitled to win.  Riding a pretty good streak of beating weaker teams (and yes, teams that start with "M") the Blazers appeared to come into this game squarely on the wrong side of that line.  Portland has found success in recent weeks by setting up Greg Oden and/or LaMarcus Aldridge early, forcing the defense to compensate and letting the offense flow from there.  The early offense in this game read "jumper, jumper, jumper, jumper, jumper".  You have to get to the 6:33 mark in the first quarter before the Blazers even attempted a shot at the rim and that was a Brandon Roy putback.  Portland had no attempts at the rim in the quarter other than those following offensive boards.  None.  Now granted, some of those perimeter shots were falling.  In fact 3 of Portland's first 4 made shots were threes.  But you knew this spelled trouble.  It was like the Blazers didn't feel they had to try that hard tonight.  Add in a few sloppy turnovers and nobody realizing the clock was running out when the Blazers had the ball for the last possession of the period and that impression was confirmed.

The second period was pretty much more of the same.  A layup by Andre Miller at the 10:03 mark broke an 8+ minute scoring drought and ended a 21-0 run by the Grizzlies.  But by that time Memphis was percolating with confidence.  Everything they were tossing up was going in.  The Blazers, meanwhile, continued to miss jumpers.  Portland's second unit came up dry.  Only an extended burst of energy by Brandon Roy kept the period from being a complete massacre.  On the other end Portland started over-pursuing pretty hard on all penetration and picks.  This took the big men out of the middle and allowed the Grizzlies even easier buckets.  The Blazers had lost the first quarter by 14.  They lost the second quarter by 8.  They went into the locker room down 22.

Portland tightened up their board-work in the third period and seemed determined to make a run at the game.  There were two basic problems.  First the defensive shortcomings continued.  As perimeter players got beat everybody scrambled to cover and Memphis got open shots which by this time were like child's play to them.  Second, the Blazers still seemed convinced they could win this game by hitting more jumpers.  To be fair, the Grizzlies were doing a pretty good job with their interior defense.  They sent two and three guys at any penetrator.  Hasheem Thabeet had one of his best games ever, taking advantage of his teammates' help to shut down the middle.  Nevertheless Greg Oden and Brandon Roy broke through and made the quarter respectable.  On the other end Memphis started to relax and shoot outside themselves.  The result was a 24-16 quarter in favor of the Blazers and hope swelling among the home crowd.

The Blazers finally displayed a little offensive energy--drive and kick, drive and finish--as the fourth quarter commenced.  You wondered for a minute if they could get away with that awful first half.  They scored at the free throw line, mixing it up a little bit with all of those threes they kept taking.  Quite a few of those threes fell in this period though and Portland ended up with a dandy 33 on their side for the period.  They were down 14 to start, so they needed to hold Memphis to 18-19 points to make good.  No such luck, though.  The defensive effort was as lackluster as the offense was spirited.  The Grizzlies were scoring at the rim, scoring off of drives, scoring off of wide-open jumpers.  Portland even tried to mix it up by throwing on a press but that was only a short-term disruption.  The Grizzlies scored 29 in the period themselves and that was the ballgame.

As far as team stats, one need look no further than the 54 points the Grizzlies scored in the paint compared to Portland's 34.  Reading that, the percentages become predictable.  Memphis shot almost 54% while the Blazers couldn't clear 41%.  Even though Portland shot a fantastic 10-24 from the three-point arc it wasn't near enough.  In fact in this game it turned out to be fool's gold.

Click through for Individual Observations, an extended Final Thoughts section, and Links.

Individual Observations

It's my long-standing practice that when the team gets shellacked you have to go above and beyond in order to get a positive mention in the Individual Observations section.  Long story short, everybody stunk up the joint in that first half.  Nobody helped each other much.  Everybody let important things slip.  The team was more energetic but in some ways just as fractured in the second half, particularly defensively in that fourth quarter.  So figure everybody gets a grade of "D" for this game with the following footnotes:

Brandon Roy at least tried to lift the team out of its funk.  He was the first guy to light a spark that lasted more than two possessions.  He had 26 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds.  Then again Rudy Gay was using him up, especially in that second half.  So it's not a free pass for him...more of a nice try.

Greg Oden went for 13 with 10 rebounds and 3 blocks in 28 minutes.  He did pretty well on offense when he got the ball.  He just didn't get it consistently enough...or at least not consistently enough in positions where he could do something with it.  He was holding the ball at the free throw line (not on a foul shot...during active possessions) a couple of times and looked completely lost.  Memphis took full advantage of every Blazer who could do just one thing on offense tonight and they left Greg completely alone out there, daring him to shoot or pass.  Neither possession went well. On defense he was one of the main guys running around and getting out of position.  That wasn't really his fault.  The perimeter guys needed help, especially when encountering screens.  He was a little slow in recovering at times, but they asked him to do too much instead of letting him camp out.

LaMarcus scored 16 but Zach spanked him late.  It looked like LMA was either unmotivated or upset as the game dwindled down.  The loss?  Not enough shots?  Or maybe I was seeing things.

Martell Webster scored 24 on 6-11 three-point shooting.  He also had 3 blocks and 5 rebounds.  That's a "Bravo!" for sure.  But the game would have been better if the rest of the team hadn't tried to imitate him.

Final Thoughts and Links

For those wondering (or yelling) about how much coaching played into the loss, I will say this.  The rotations didn't look that different tonight.  Most of the guys came in at most of their usual spots with the exception of Roy and Aldridge playing serious minutes late in an attempt to secure the comeback.  It looked like a night where nothing clicked, however.  That in itself isn't unusual.  Rick Adelman occasionally had to scream and tip over tables at halftime and this was with a NBA Finals-level team.  Bill Schonely used to routinely describe Jack Ramsay as "searching for a lineup that works".   I'm pretty confident the words "Don't take this team for granted" were uttered in the pre-game discussion but one never knows how much they sink in.

Coaches are generally responsible for long-term patterns more than short-term snags.  Once upon a time I put in a lot of months driving on icy roads in the Midwest.  You learn pretty quickly that subtle, steady moves (and corrections, if necessary) are the way to go.  Crank the wheel, jam on the matter what you're reacting to you're going into the ditch.  You want to judge a coach on the entirety of the drive, not just one corner.  You certainly don't want to see him veering back and forth.  The entirety of the drive so far has still been good despite the pothole losses to Golden State and Memphis.  So overall I think we're still good.

Two overall trends cause me some concern, however.  These are not new at all.  They've been around for a couple years.  But we should be growing past them now and at least in games like this we don't appear to have.  The first is the one we mentioned a hundred times last year and again entering the season:  defense against screens.  We reverted to Bad Mismatch Land tonight and it cost us.  I'm not entirely sure if this is a coaching issue or a personnel issue.  I tend to think some of each.  Our guards simply aren't doing enough to fight opposing picks.  Our big men are getting stranded in places they shouldn't be. 

The second issue is the lack of an organized offensive back-up plan when teams just go for broke and swamp our scorers every time they touch the ball.  Half the time we manage a decent possession but the other half looks ugly.  And even if you shoot 70% on those good-half possessions, that still only leaves you at 35% overall (because the ball ain't goin' in on those ugly ones).  The team looks confused when the bum rush comes.  Guys aren't moving to any kind of threatening position.  The scorers seem to have no idea where any outlets will be.  When you have a couple guys running at you the best remedy is a quick flick to an open man, preferably a cutter on his way to the hoop.  But despite the defense spending that extra man (or more) there's nobody open, let alone cutting.  That's just bad offense.  Again some of this may be personnel.  Many of our guys make decisions easy for the defense.  Play Miller for the drive, make Blake and Webster dribble, just don't let Przybilla dunk, etc.  That cuts down on the amount of real estate those extra defenders have to cover.  Also some confusion was inevitable coming into the year with new prominence for Oden, a new point guard in the rotation, and the forward positions shuffling around.  When you think about it Roy and Aldridge are the only true constants from last year.  Adjustment will require time.  But we're approaching a quarter of the way through the season now.  Unlike some I'm not at the point of pushing the Red Alert button yet.  But I'm eyeing the half-season mark and thinking we need to see tangible improvement by then.  I'm confident the team will have found its groove by the end of the year but other teams will have also seen the Blazers multiple times by then and will be ready to apply that pressure.  If we haven't gotten well beyond that, to the point of making the next adjustment really, we're likely to get caught with our pants down.

Feel the celebration at  StraightOuttaVancouver and 3ShadesofBlue.

Enter the final Jersey Contest form of the month here.  Our Contest Master says the Minnesota snafu should be sorted out by the end of the weekend, so officially we won't know who won before then.  But either way a new jersey is up for grabs in December.

Final, Final Thought

In the normal course of things you'd expect the Blazers to win the home game against Memphis and possibly to lose the road game in Utah.  A win tomorrow night would make good for this loss.

--Dave (