Long Story Short: After a brilliant, inspired, dream-tastic performance in the first 2.5 quarters the Blazers relax, then tighten up, then make a number of critical mistakes allowing the Jazz to push the game to overtime, the results of which were sad.
The Blazers went after this game in the first half. They went hard. Their defense was superlative. Utah is going to get a certain number of easy buckets from their halfcourt cuts. The Blazers held them to the bare minimum. Portland never allowed them to fast break. Portland got a hand in their faces on all of their jumpers. The Jazz were shooting over the top and covered. They missed copiously. The Blazers didn't allow them the offensive rebound. Portland threw their bodies around for charge after charge taken. It was beautiful. The result was a 38-point half for the Jazz. That's right, half...not quarter.
The Blazers played with equal energy on the other end. It's not like they got different shots than their norm. Yes, there were plays at the bucket off of sweet cuts and drives but the bulk of Portland's scoring came on the perimeter still. The difference was they were using those cuts and drives to draw the defense (quite effectively at that) so their jumpers were almost child's play. Utah isn't known for their strong interior defenders at the best of times and this definitely wasn't the best of times. Throw in a strong half from LaMarcus Aldridge and some offensive rebounds and you have a perfectly lovely 50-point half from the Blazers. 50 points isn't exactly record-breaking, but it looked plenty good when compared to the 38 the Jazz had.
Still, everyone sat on pins and needles waiting for the third-quarter to start. You knew the first six minutes could make the difference between a blowout and a dogfight. Lo and behold, the Blazers turned up the juice even more, terrorizing the Jazz, forcing turnovers, blocking shots, grabbing even more rebounds. By the 7:00 mark the Blazers were up 25 points, 64-39 to be exact, and only a major collapse could change the outcome.
What's that? Enron calling? Huh? Worldcom on line two? Oh no, don't tell me. Congressional Democrats holding on line three? Last episode of Seinfeld on line four? Subprime mortgage brokers on lines five through eight? Las Vegas realtors on line nine?!? They're all suing the Blazers for copyright infringement? Portland stole their act? Now you tell those folks that we had that schtick going back in 1999-2000, long before any of them even thought of going belly up! (sigh) Yes, tell the Cubs we'll pay. But for the rest of them, we'll fight this, I tell you! Well, for the first half of the trial anyway.
So...after the lead ballooned to 25 the Blazers got comfortable. You could tell it most clearly on the defensive end, where they let a few too many Utah players into the interior for easy buckets, almost as if it were garbage time already. At first it seemed OK because the Blazers scored themselves on almost every possession. The teams were simply trading buckets. In reality Portland was riding the last bit of momentum in their offensive game. The shots were coming farther and farther out with fewer and fewer good screens, cuts, drives, and passes preceding. The ESPN cameras caught Coach McMillan pleading with the guys to return to the hard-driving basketball of the first half but it didn't happen. The team was just too relaxed. The lackadaisical defense kept Utah in the money and the lead started to shrink. Then the Blazers had the opposite problem. They got tight. They started thinking instead of playing, aiming shots instead of shooting, attacking into impossible situations instead of sharing the ball. Credit the Jazz here as well. Their defensive intensity picked up a hundredfold.
After Portland's offense seized up and the players stood there staring at each other for multiple possessions Brandon Roy figured "To heck with this!" and started taking over the game. It started out slowly with a couple of jumpers but eventually he drove and cut, if not quite in his old form at least somewhat effectively. I haven't looked it up but he probably scored more points in the third and fourth quarters of this game than he did in every game since he returned from injury combined. Of course Roy starting to dominate didn't spark any extra ball movement or player movement. But realistically that wasn't happening anyway. At that point it was pretty much a choice between Roy taking over and Andre Miller continuing to take over. Miller was having a really rough time with his shot and couldn't score except from the foul line. Since Roy was hitting shots and drawing fouls it was a natural move. The Blazers would have been helped by the energetic presence of LaMarcus Aldridge during the third/fourth quarter transition time but he was stuck on the bench with four fouls. So Roy kept the Blazers afloat with occasional help from his friends.
That help became ultra-occasional in the fourth period as the bottom fell out of the offense completely. Portland scored its first field goal with 4:54 left in the period. The second came with 3:55 left. That torrid 20-second streak accounted for every shot the Blazers hit in the quarter. The remainder of their 10 points in the period (that's not a typo) came from free throws, some of which they also missed. The one guy keeping the Blazers going was Marcus Camby who kept putting rejections and offensive rebounds on the Jazz. He got more tips than a Hooters waitress at an accountants' convention. He'd worm his way towards the rim as the Blazers shot, rise, and swat the ball to a guard at midcourt so the Blazers could reset. Unfortunately the Blazers rewarded his hard work with extra misses. On the other end the Jazz were rolling offensively. Inside and out they started hitting. When they didn't hit they got the offensive rebound, even if the shot was a free throw. (SHAME!) Portland's last offensive play in regulation was a Roy drive with a dish to Nicolas Batum in the corner. Batum had been money all night but the change rattled out of his pocket this time and Utah had the ball with 5 seconds left, down by 2. Deron Williams missed a tough 20-footer but the Blazers couldn't rebound. Carlos Boozer snagged the ball, pivoted, and threw a hook over his head for the game-tying shot as the buzzer went off.
Overtime was a battle of individual defensive matchups. Portland put Batum on Deron Williams. D-Dub responded with 2 assists and a made shot in the first three minutes. Utah put Williams on Brandon Roy. Roy hit a three-pointer to open the extra session but never had a sniff at a clean look after. The only other Portland points came on a break where Roy dished to Rudy Fernandez for a wide-open three. Unfortunately that bucket still left the Blazers down 2 and Utah hit a couple of icing free throws while Portland missed the rest of their shots. Utah scores 10 points in overtime--the same amount Portland had scored in the entire fourth quarter--and leaves with a four-point victory and a season sweep of the Blazers.
As predicted this game rode on emotion as much as anything else. The Blazers had it all in the first half. The Jazz started the second half with none but once Portland put down the fiddle Utah happily picked up the tune and forced the Blazers to dance a pretty jig. The big numbers of the night were Utah's 50-30 advantage in the paint, achieved without much traditional posting of course, and the fact that the Blazers shot around 50% in the first half and ended up at 35.2% for the game. Utah shot sub-40% themselves but had just enough of an edge to overcome the extra attempts Portland got by virtue of those offensive rebounds.
It's hard to get wildly upset about the second-half collapse without being wildly happy about the play that got us up 25 in the first place. I'm not surprised the Blazers were able to whack the Jazz for 2+ quarters. I'm not surprised Utah snatched the game right back when Portland flagged. I'm not surprised that the Blazers relaxed or got tight or got swept away by the tide. That'll happen. That'll be a learning experience. It's those little mistakes that bother me...things that no basketball team should do, let alone repeat during the course of a game. The one that sticks with me above all others is one I've complained about before...one that typifies just how wrong things go. There are teams that go a whole month without giving up two offensive rebounds off of free throws. It's the most basic rebounding play in basketball, maybe the most basic period. The Blazers gave away multiples in the second half tonight. How in the heck does that happen? Lack of concentration? Lack of energy? Whatever it is, I think we need to go the rest of the season without seeing it happen again. It's always tempting in an overtime game to think of that one point that could have proven the difference in regulation. You can drive yourself crazy like that. Points in the flow of the game are one thing...missed shots, missed free throws even, blown defensive assignments. All of that happens normally and often during every game. But if you're going to just gift-wrap opportunities for the other team you deserve what you get. I don't think the momentum thing was necessarily correctable. But those blown easy rebounds and a few other silly moments should be haunting the guys as they go to sleep tonight. Those little things are what keep you right when the big things go wrong. They cost you a game you played well enough to win...narrowly.
Brandon Roy played 34 minutes, most of them after halftime. He looked just as tentative as ever early on and picked up two fouls in the opening minutes of the game. Until it became apparent that Portland was in danger he simply passed up opportunities. But when he got down to business he looked like the Brandon of old, just not quite as confident and a fair bit slower laterally. That lateral slowness also ate into his defensive effectiveness big time. 7-15 shooting, 7-11 from the foul line, 23 points, 4 assists, but also 5 turnovers.
Outside of the fouls LaMarcus Aldridge had a great game. He was really into it. After a sweeping and-one across the lane the cameras actually caught him beaming, which is a facial expression we've not seen from LaMarcus this year. He played 33 minutes and was the mirror image of Roy, doing all of his damage early. He had 15 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out late in overtime. That's the good news. The bad news for Aldridge, Howard, Camby and the Blazer bigs was Carlos Boozer with 22 points and 23 rebounds plus Paul Millsap shooting 6-13 for 12 himself. After Utah grew a brain and pumped some adrenaline their big guys were basically unstoppable. To be fair the guard defense played into this too, as Camby in particular helped out frequently. But still, the Blazers got plastered by the Utah big men.
Marcus Camby was 1-7 from the field tonight but that's like complaining that Ben and Jerry's empty cartons don't throw themselves away after you've slurped up all of the sugar-coated deliciousness. The guy did his best, bringing energy all night and trying to make up for every alterable mistake that came his way. He had 4 blocks, 8 offensive rebounds, and 18 rebounds total.
Andre Miller played 40 minutes with 17 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals. He also converted 7-9 free throws. He needed to because his shot was bombing tonight, and not in the good way. He ended up 5-18 with some truly ugly attempts. In fairness he was trying to Brandon Roy us out of the situation he saw coming. He bumped up against Deron Williams pretty well. Williams had 18 and 12 but he didn't kill the Blazers singlehandedly. It's not like Andre changed Williams' game but at least he fought.
Martell Webster didn't get a chance to put up shots when the Blazers were moving the ball well in the first half and didn't get to play when they went isolation-heavy in the second half. He ended up with 2 points and a rebound in 14 minutes.
A huge part of the reason Webster saw no court time was the early explosion of Nicolas Batum whose offense returned in full form tonight. He hit that bail-out jumper like he was born to it, finishing the game 5-10. Batum is really good when the ball moves around on offense. He also got 9 rebounds.
Rudy Fernandez also brought a ton of energy off the bench, scoring 10 with 3 assists, 3 rebounds, a steal, and a block in 29 minutes. I mention the laundry list of stats because they reflect his game. He was all over the place. He shot only 4-11 but he was 2-5 from distance. His drive was failing him though. He's still looking for the foul more than finishing strong and the refs aren't rewarding him. Needs work.
Juwan Howard played 29 minutes because of LaMarcus' foul trouble. He looked out of rhythm, collecting 4 fouls to go along with 3 rebounds and 2 assists. It wasn't a horrible night but it wasn't one of his best either.
Jerryd Bayless got 2 points and 2 assists in 10 minutes. He only took 2 shots but he missed them handily. Also the defense just wasn't there. Ups and downs.
Dante Cunningham did well in 8 minutes, hitting 2 of 3 for 4 points, 2 rebounds, and a block. Dante provides a nice example for the young guys. No matter how long he's in there he does something. You may not always get shots but you can always play defense, rebound, and hustle. I seldom find myself regretting Dante minutes, be they 5 or 20.
Besides the general embarrassment and disgust over being swept by the Jazz, the Blazers just put a lot of pressure on their upcoming road trip. Neither the Hornets nor the Rockets are going to give up on the playoffs. Had they won tonight a nice road trip would have been fine. Now they could really use a great road trip. We'll see if they have it in them.
Are you the kind of person who'd attend the wedding of your ex-wife and her divorce lawyer? Do you happily go for thirds at the buffet that gave you botulism? Do you enjoy the seldom-practiced art of eyeball acupuncture? Then you'd be the type of person to visit SLCDunk tonight. (No truth to the rumor that "SLC" stands for "See ya Later, Chumps!" Although one could forgive Jazz fans for saying just that right now.)