Ugh. Watching that game was like removing teeth with an ice pick: slow, painful, and fraught with mistakes. You have to admire Washington's guts for sticking in there. Credit to them. But that game was begging to be taken from the opening tip to the final horn but the Blazers never got out of second gear and failed to grab the win.
The game opened with a theme that would typify the entire contest. Portland stayed unselfish on offense, moving the ball and getting shots for everyone. But the Blazers also were unselfish on defense, meaning they let the Wizards have good shots, including and especially drives to the hoop. Washington didn't always take advantage, but whenever they did the opening was there and they scored, got fouled, or both. Meanwhile the unselfishness on Portland's end was barely paying off, as Webster and Aldridge were the only two guys hitting consistently. And even they were feasting on jumpers. As was true on the other end, every time Portland attacked the rim good things happened. But the attacks didn't come often enough. 24-21 Washington after one.
Both teams settled into a malaise in the second period. Portland's offense went from cold to frigid as the jumpers continued. They added in turnovers to spice things up. Washington seemed content to play along. At certain points it looked like everyone was walking through practice plays instead of trying to win an NBA game. The entire quarter probably should have been put in a time capsule, sent to the moon, and then the moon nuked into smithereens. 19-17 Washington, Blazers now down 5.
After halftime and the obligatory Miller Lite "I love my beer more than the hottest girl I've ever dated" commercials both teams came out energized...on offense anyway. Jerryd Bayless started the quarter on a good note with penetration and some nice passes for scores. LaMarcus Aldridge picked up as the period progressed with some buckets, some offensive rebounds, and a couple nice passes of his own. Then Andre Miller went crazy. He was the one guy who figured out that Washington wasn't going to be able to guard anybody who charged the basket. He got layups, floaters, and stop-and-pops. It was probably his best offensive showing as a Blazer. When the rubble cleared Portland had scored 35 in the period, more than doubling the previous quarter's offensive output. Unfortunately Antawn Jamison began using the Blazers as defensive test-dummies, scoring again and again and again right at the cup. The Wizards, too, had come to the realization that closer was better and that the opponent wasn't going to stop them on a consistent basis. Throw in a little Caron Butler lightning and the Wizards amassed 27 in the period themselves. Portland exited the period in the lead, but only by 3.
The Blazers couldn't capitalize on momentum heading into the fourth. Apparently figuring one quarter of penetration was enough, Portland reverted to their jumper-happy ways. Meanwhile the Wizards smelled a potential win. Portland's shot progression looked like "15-footer, 20-footer, 26-footer, 18-footer..." (hit and miss). Washington's was "Layup...free throws...free throws...three-pointer...layup" (all makes). The Blazers quickly found themselves trailing again. They never let the Wizards get too far ahead. But when a team starving for wins smells one they tend to gain confidence and things that have gone wrong for them heretofore start going right. In a nip and tuck game the Wizards executed in the last two minutes and the Blazers made enough small mistakes to cost them a chance at victory: not getting back in transition on one play, giving up an offensive rebound on another, missing a free throw, not knowing an inbounds play. In isolation none of these were a big deal. Thrown together with the opportunities Washington got as a result they were enough to tip the close game to the Wizards' favor. Portland loses by 5, 97-92 in a classic example of playing down to the level of your opponent.
Portland lost this game by giving up 51.5% shooting to a team with only two guys who can score. Portland lost this game by going 3-17 on threes. Portland lost this game by earning only 16 foul shots on an afternoon when the refs were awarding them for any aggressive move (Washington had 28). Portland lost this game by giving up a 46-30 deficit in points in the paint. The Blazers rebounded better, kept the turnovers even, and matched the scoring of Washington's main guys with their own. They just couldn't defend and didn't attack hard enough on offense and that was it.
LaMarcus Aldridge was having defensive trouble all day whether straight up or caught in an difficult switch mismatch. But he had 22 points and 15 rebounds, really manning up on the boards.
Andre Miller's 10-16 performance, much of it coming in the second half, was brilliant...not so much because of his individual prowess but because he showed the veteran knack of knowing how to score against a particular opponent. He matched Aldridge's 22. He had only 2 assists but the Blazers may have been overpassing a bit early anyway. In this game I didn't mind ‘Dre becoming the de factor shooting guard.
Martell Webster scored 18. He took the shots he had to. It wouldn't have done him any good to pass up the open looks he had. But he ended up 2-7 from distance, couldn't create much off the dribble, and snagged only 3 rebounds. It wasn't his worst game but it wasn't his best either.
Jerryd Bayless didn't have the shot going but he did a smart thing by penetrating and then dishing. His 3-9, 9-point outing was balanced by his 8 assists as he played point to Andre's off-guard. Had the shot been falling this would have been one Jerryd's memorable nights.
Juwan Howard did a good job banging down low on defense. He's guarding guys he has no business being matched up against and is acquitting himself well. He only managed 7 points and 6 rebounds of his own in 32 minutes. The help rotation wasn't crisp today either.
Steve Blake had a decent all-around game with 10 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 3 turnovers in 22 minutes. The turnovers were mostly stepping on the sideline after being flung a tough pass in the coffin corner. He had energy, at least.
Rudy Fernandez is really struggling with his offense, going 1-7, 0-4 from three in 13 minutes. He had 3 rebounds. He's trying out there. It just looks like the ball and he are speaking different languages.
Jeff Pendergraph didn't make as big of an impact as usual in this game. He was throwing himself around but Washington just worked around him. 2 points, 3 rebounds, in 16 minutes.
Dante Cunningham had a missed shot and a personal foul in 5 minutes.
Final Thoughts and Links
It doesn't get any easier (or prettier) with Philadelphia coming up on Wednesday. At least there's a day of rest in between. But if the Blazers play this same kind of game in Philly they're going to get killed. This felt like a wake-up call for a team that had gotten used to winning games they weren't supposed to. Let's hope the Blazers get the message. Because of the lineup this team is, and will remain, about an inch away from falling off the cliff. They'll win zero games by just showing up. They have to walk the fine line in every outing.
See Wizards fans react at BulletsForever