The Portland Trail Blazers fell 96-76 to the Boston Celtics in the Rose Garden Friday night and it was hard to know what was more pathetic: the team's interior defense or the transparent excuse for Brandon Roy's less-than-stellar performance in just his second game in the past month.
"Well, you know, [Roy] has been out five weeks and it's going to take him some time to get his rhythm," Nate McMillan said of his star guard, who spent 34 minutes dragging around his strained hamstring like a thoroughbred with a broken horseshoe before being mercifully lifted from the game with six minutes to play and the Blazers down big.
"I have to continue to try to get my rhythm... Even without the hamstring I had a lot of time away from basketball," Roy said almost perfectly mimicking his coach. "My big thing is to try to still make my plays... I've still missed like a month so I've got to find that rhythm. Sometimes that's basketball, it takes a few games to get it back. Boston is a tough team to find a rhythm against."
If you're driving on a flat tire do you turn to your companion and complain about the bumpy ride? Lost rhythm might be a side effect from an extended absence but it's not the root cause of Roy's uncharacteristic ineffectiveness. That would still be his hamstring, which dogged him from the game's outset and made watching him struggle up and down the court psychically painful, like going to a museum filled with known forgeries. At first glance, the real deal. Upon further inspection, fraud.
Tonight's Roy -- 3-8 for 9 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block 2 turnovers -- was simply a shell of his healthy self. On offense, he drove gingerly and looked to pass where he usually lifts to shoot. He hid on the perimeter, made delayed decisions and committed perhaps his most careless turnover of the year, heaving a pass into the 15th row, an area usually reached only by t-shirt bazookas. On defense, he conserved energy by not moving a lot, not moving quickly and not allowing himself to be drawn into much contact. He also avoided jumping while rebounding and sprinting when in transition.
Tonight, McMillan didn't elaborate much past the rhythm talk when it came to Roy's condition. When pressed, Roy didn't match Garnett's bluntness but he did eventually acknowledge that his struggles weren't simply a matter of rhythm.
"There was some soreness," Roy told reporters. "I've just come to the point where it's going to be there and I've got to figure out how to play with it... it's just not quite there yet." Asked point-blank whether the tightness and soreness he complained about on Tuesday night was still bothering him tonight, Roy told me, "Honestly it was about the same. Just tonight when I felt that pain, I just said I'm going to keep playing. I got to try to get used to this. Whereas Tuesday... Coach just said to shut it down. Tonight I just said I'm going to play through it now."
Asked if he thought it was realistic that he would be able to return to his peak form from earlier this season by the time the playoffs roll around if he has to continue playing through this pain, Roy admitted to me, "I don't know." He did say, somewhat optimistically, that "I just know once I play more, I'll definitely be better."
One would hope so. It couldn't be much worse.
Even with a healthy Roy the Blazers wouldn't have won tonight. The Celtics slashed and bullied their way to the hoop for easy buckets, finishing with 44 points in the paint and shooting 53% from the field. Their early-game aggressiveness opened things up for Ray Allen, who knocked down some back-breakers during the second half on his way to 21 points, 3 boards and 5 assists.
If Marcus Camby was to be a magic elixir to fix all the Blazers' interior woes, the Blazers need to check the label to make sure they grabbed the right bottle. In his first game as a Blazer, Camby started but managed just 2 points and 7 rebounds in 29 minutes. He also committed 5 turnovers, an obvious by-product of his unfamiliarity with new teammates.
Camby's rocky entry into his new team was made worse by the fact that his new captain barely noticed. "I was just trying to hold my own myself so I didn't really get to pay a lot of attention to how [Marcus] was doing," Roy admitted. Those words from Roy, a conscientious teammate and leader, are like fingernails on a chalkboard, another signal that he is far from being right health-wise.
Perhaps the single most disconcerting moment tonight came when Roy again directly acknowledged that he is still thinking about the possibility of re-aggravation. "The good thing about it is that I didn't have a setback tonight," Roy noted, apparently relieved.
It was that kind of night: the only high point, if you can call it that, was escaping without a serious injury.
Random Game Notes
- Rudy Fernandez needs to step up and calm down. The idea that he might be ready to flip in floaters in traffic is simply not realistic right now. His feel for attacking the basket and reading defenses is just not there. The back-to-back charges are one thing but equally troubling are the times the ball is stripped, deflected or he gets caught in the air with no plan. Whether these failures are the result of lack of repetitions from last year, a lack of personal skill development or a team offensive shortcoming (spacing, etc.), something needs to change and change quickly. The Blazers need Rudy in a big way.
- There's no need to pick on Rudy as the same tentativeness and inability to find points were exhibited by Martell Webster (a garbage time three pointer saved him from an even uglier night) and Nicolas Batum (played scared in the few moments McMillan put him in the game). Some of that is to be expected in the wake of a rotation-altering trade and the continued confusion caused by Roy's injury. Let's hope the adjustments (by coaching staff and players) are made sooner rather than later.
- Camby was rocking a ginormous diamond pinky ring in the locker room after the game. That's not something we've seen this year. He still has the #23 stitched onto the tongues of his shoes despite the number change to #21 with the trade. Nike: help this man out.
- In a brief chat today, a Blazers source expressed satisfaction -- no, strengthen that to pride -- with the Marcus Camby deal. While some buzz has been floating that the Clippers had been planning to dump Camby for months, word today was that the Blazers/Clippers talks came about relatively quickly prior to the eventual deal and that the Clippers presented themselves as more reluctant to part with Camby than might have been previously assumed. That makes some sense given Camby's expiring contract and solid production relative to his current salary.
- As for the 15th roster spot, the Blazers are being somewhat coy, at least for now. Options on the table include D-Leaguers, guys that were waived over the past week and, perhaps, guys that have not been waived or bought out yet. Coming up with a list of names that fall in that last category is a particularly fun exercise which I encourage you to take part in. Multiple sources expect the 15th spot will be filled rather than left open but there are conflicting thoughts about the potential timeline for filling the spot. This is another decision that might hinge in part on Roy's health.
- There were a few dozen feet of what looked like television cables rolled up outside the Blazers locker room. Replacement hamstring tendons? Apologies for the gallows humor.
- Compare the shooting strokes of DeAndre Jordan to Ray Allen and it's not even the same universe of motion let alone the same specific athletic act. If Allen's shot was a high school class, it would be AP Physics. Jordan's would be remedial physical education. I only wrote this bullet because there's an 85% chance Pelton will start crying if I keep complimenting the former Sonic's shot.
- Everyone remembers Jesus Shuttlesworth but let's not forget LaLa from He Got Game. Underrated movie character name. Translated from Spanish: The (feminine) The (feminine).
- Big Baby likes him some Blazers Dancers. Uno Uno did a double double take on his way back to the locker room before the game.
Nate McMIllan's Post Game Comments
I thought Boston came out and did what they needed to do. The way we played the game was our game plan. Be the aggressors. Defensively get up into their chests. Beat them to their spots. Offensively attack them. We really never established that we could guard them on the defensive end of the floor. That first quarter I think they shot better than 70 percent in that quarter. Offensively we had some shots. We didn't make some shots and they basically just packed it in and forced some guys to shoot the ball. They got the game to their tempo. We pretty much played that tempo all night.
Best defense you've seen this year?
Uh no. I thought the Lakers when they came in. A big team like that played well here. But we've, for whatever reason, have been getting off to some poor starts here. I thought tonight we didn't have our rhythm but defensively is where it starts. They pretty much got what they wanted in the first quarter.
Was Camby not yet ready to start?
Well the second half I went back to Howard so we could get some more sets. It wasn't on Camby other than I just felt like we needed to get more sets and be able to call more plays and so we put Howard in and we brought Camby off the bench.
How did you think Camby played?
It wasn't one guy. As a team we didn't get it done. Defensively we didn't defend them. I think they had like 20 something points in the paint in that first half. They weren't off of post ups they were off of cuts. That's just a matter of keeping your body between your man and the basket. We didn't do a good job of that. As a unit we didn't play well.
Roy looked like he wasn't as explosive as he can be
Well, you know, he's been out five weeks and it's going to take him some time to get his rhythm. It seems as if we were waiting for each other tonight to make something happen as opposed to coming out with that sense of urgency tonight. Making something happen each guy. Pretty much they had control of the tempo all night.
Does this loss hurt given the excitement this week
Well it does hurt. Pretty much tonight was like having two new guys in the lineup with Marcus and bringing Brandon back. We'll look at film and figure out what we need to do. We've got to work on trying to get a rhythm and a rotation to fit this team.
Utah is coming up Sunday
When you go up against these teams like this, good teams, you've got to bring it. You've got to defend the paint. Tonight we didn't do that. We've had trouble against Utah as you just mentioned, they play in the paint. It's going to be another game in the paint.
You made a short push in the second half
We were able to get into the game with a team that could get something going. We pretty much went to pick and rolls with Bayless and that second group. They pretty much had control of this game throughout. Their main guys didn't play a lot. We just couldn't stop them. We couldn't make a shot. We shoot 33% from the floor, we make 2-12 from the three point line and one of our threes was a bank shot by Brandon. We didn't shoot the ball well.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter