[You can read Dave's halftime recap here.]
The lede for every game story will be the slow start so I went back to watch the first quarter to see what happened. Amazingly, at just before the six minute mark it was tied at 14. While the team was definitely being outhustled on both ends of the court, Roy and Aldridge were hitting enough to keep the Blazers even.
Six minutes later, the quarter ended with the score 37 to 25. For that six minute stretch, the team was outscored 23 to 11; that was the ball game.
So what happened during those six minutes? First: the Blazers rotated like usual, bringing in Bayless and Przybilla, followed by Outlaw and Fernandez. The "Thunder" left Durant in the game. Problem one: Bayless played out of sorts and out of rhythm. Problem two: no one on the second unit can check Kevin Durant.
Problem three: Kevin Durant realized this and absolutely caught fire. When a player as talented as KD catches fire, there's not a lot you can do about it. In the first quarter alone he hit an assortment of runners, a ridiculous banked-in and-one during which he lost handle of the ball on the way up, a long jumper that was completely net, and then a 3 pointer for good measure.
Keep in mind: stars do these things and every team knows that. In fact, the Blazers' gameplan certainly allowed for the fact that KD might catch fire. I mean, he does it almost every night. But the gameplan also certainly suggests ways to overcome this: play balls out from the get-go to avoid letting Durant set the tone and gain confidence, don't allow easy buckets for his teammates, run the offense to get easy baskets on the other end, and make Durant work on defense. Did the Blazers do any of those things in the first half? Absolutely not. 0-4. Total failure to execute.
The bloodbath continued in the first seven minutes of the second quarter and the "Thunder's" lead was 20 points after a Jeff Green dunk made it 50 to 30. At that point it was completely over except for another 90 minutes of wacky arena sound effects. On a night where a superstar-caliber player is hot and his team holds a 20 point lead, the Blazers are not coming back: the pace of their offense simply doesn't allow it.
The fact that the Blazers "didn't give up" and played hard throughout the stretch tonight means little to nothing. Sand-bagging the first half only to "turn it on" is worse than coming out hard and blowing a big lead. You shouldn't need a 20 point deficit to motivate you to put forth max effort. If you want to make the playoffs, play like you want to make the playoffs!!!! Every quarter counts!!! Every minute counts!!! Every possession counts!!! Establish DEEP POST POSITION and take the game to them!!! Show up like you want to win the game!!!
Sorry. Did it sound like I was ranting in that paragraph? I'll stop. I was transcribing Nate McMillan's twitter feed during the locker room postgame.
But let's not sell the "Thunder" short. They did exactly what you're supposed to do against a team that doesn't show up: score, score, score, win the battle on the glass, and pass the rock around. 23 assists on 40 made field goals. 50% shooting (despite very mediocre 4th quarter shot selection from Durant). Only 12 turnovers to the Blazers' 13, despite their frenetic pace.
In the end, that all added up to a 102 to 93 loss.
My guess is that the mood among the coaching staff on the plane tonight includes the thought: "we are very, very lucky to come back from this trip with a W." I hope the discussion also contains thought of making some changes.
Because tonight was an eye-opener.
At this point in his career, Greg Oden doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same paragraph with Kevin Durant, let alone the same sentence. One is a polished, all-purpose threat who plays with a joy for the game, confidence and passion, doing everything from knocking down pull-up 3s to blocking Joel Przybilla shot attempts. The other can't stay on the court for a week straight and has made zero adjustments, mentally or physically, to give his coach a reason to play him. Nate has temporarily lost confidence in him. And Greg knows it. That's a vicious cycle for someone with Greg's demeanor. Greg's roller coaster rookie season continues. The truth hurts.
Brandon finished with 32 but was unable to inspire his teammates during the first and second quarter. I love his no-quit in the second half but part of being an elite basketball player is leading the charge to stomp on weak teams early. Brandon plays like he is uncomfortable with Sergio at the point (through no real fault of Sergio's tonight). Earlier Dave wrote that he wishes Blake was back. During halftime, Brandon submitted that post to Ball Hype because he totally agrees. That's an unhealthy backcourt dynamic that's starting to show itself.
LaMarcus couldn't miss tonight but he ended up being outscored by Jeff Green and, combined with Collison's 21 and 13, that added up to the Blazers being totally out-played around the basket.
Batum had two beautiful blocks and hit a 3 ball. Playoff teams get more than that out of their starting 3. He should have gotten more minutes tonight to help slow down KD but the big deficit kept him on the bench in favor of the scoring lineup. He also got tricked by KD on a nifty sweep-the-arms move early in the game, which produced a funny facial expression for the camera.
Outlaw was hitting his shots and got plenty of run in the second half as the Blazers tried to climb back into the game. He had a sensational psuedo-dunk that made Shavlik Randolph getlowgetlowgetlow on the bench.
As mentioned, Sergio kept the game even during his first half stint and had a very nice assist to Brandon for a corner 3. One of those plays where you ask yourself, "how in the world did Sergio see him?" Unfortunately, that was his only dime on an evening when the Blazers needed him facilitating and getting easy buckets. Sergio had six rebounds, tripling Greg's total.
Przybilla didn't get his full run because Nate went small. He shot 1-4, more evidence that his wrist is hampering him more than he's letting on. 2 points, 5 boards, little defensive impact.
[Late add: Jerryd was thoroughly outplayed by Earl Watson on both ends of the floor. He couldn't get a shot to fall, couldn't get the team into the offense and couldn't provide a transition spark. 3 points on 3 free throws, 2 assists, 1 turnover. It was a night where his weaknesses were on full display.]
Rudy had 3 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in 23 minutes. He was 1 of 5 from distance. He took a single 2 point field goal attempt. I will leave it at that.
Ike, Shav and C-Frye didn't play.
The "Thunder" shot so well they broke one of the nets. Then they stood around and laughed during the lengthy time out as the net was fixed. The joke was on the Blazers. You probably weren't laughing.
-- Ben (firstname.lastname@example.org)