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Game 16 Recap: Portland Trail Blazers 91, Detroit Pistons 94

In a Nutshell

On a night when the Pistons want to play slow and ugly the Blazers oblige them on both accounts with an emphasis on the "ugly". The Blazers fail to score on the break, don't score enough inside, allow the Piston guards to run rampant, and absolutely terrorize everybody's eyeballs from the three-point arc. Despite this they remain in a single-possession game down to the wire but can't convert the tying shot.

Game Flow

The Blazers started out this game in a hole, absent starting small forward Gerald Wallace who jammed a finger a couple games ago and couldn't go tonight. The Pistons, on the other hand, started out in their usual hole of not being able to score 90 points. Detroit showed their defensive intentions early, packing the lane often against LaMarcus Aldridge and taking their licks from Portland's shooters. The Pistons don't have great defenders so Aldridge was able to score anyway. The Blazer marksmen were not. They bricked shot after shot. At worst this should have left the teams even. Sadly the Blazers also announced their defensive intentions early: don't get back, wave and foul rather than moving feet, and either give too much help or none at all. Portland defenders curiously doubled Ben Wallace 10 feet from the hoop, for instance, but failed repeatedly to rotate to an ultra-aggressive Rodney Stuckey has he drove the lane for multiple conversions. Three things went right for the Blazers in the first quarter in addition to Aldridge scoring: Nicolas Batum also went hard to the hoop, Craig Smith showed all of his energy and inside scoring late in the period, and offensive rebounds came aplenty. The perspective here is that those three things really should have been eight given the opponent. Portland led 27-26 after one.

The second period began with Portland's bench mired in a huge scoring drought...a trend which the starters continued as they were re-inserted into the game. Portland played slowly, against the clock all quarter long. They ended up with long jumpers and a ton of shots one-on-one. This played right into Detroit's hands. They'd rebound the ball, run it down, and attack the rim. Portland's defense was horrible. There's no other word for it. On the occasions when the Blazers did commit to stopping the drive they had to use multiple men. This left Detroit's shooters open and Portland failed to rotate back out, looking as slow in this department as in every other. Add everything in this paragraph together and you have the Blazers shooting deep versus Detroit shooting deep. The Pistons are going to win that battle every time. Under these circumstances the drives and free throws the Pistons did convert became back-breakers instead of annoyances. Portland scored 16 in the frame, Detroit 28. The Pistons led 54-43 at the half. Keep in mind that Detroit never breaks 100 in a game, seldom crossing the 90-point barrier. Giving up 54 in a single half to them is like giving up 65 to a normal team.

The Blazers came out of the locker room committed to getting the ball inside on offense. They succeeded admirably. Unfortunately they couldn't close the lead because the Pistons remained on fire from three-point range. Despite 3 layups and a three falling in the first 6 minutes of the period Detroit's lead remained at a dozen. Then the Blazers got serious. For the final six minutes they kept men on shooters, stopped drives before they began, forced turnovers, and rebounded the ball...the hallmarks of good Blazer basketball. Continuing the offensive aggression they cut the lead to 3 with a minute left in the third before a couple of Detroit free throws made it 5 at the end of the period. Detroit 73-68 heading into the fourth.

Portland's offensive momentum fizzled in the final period, which would eventually see both teams shooting around 30% from the field. Turnovers, rebounding, and layups kept them plowing forward despite every other conceivable shot missing. The Pistons would generate their points from the foul line (Portland's defense still a half-step late) and a couple offensive rebounds...hard time. Anything pretty would have won this game but nothing came. The result was a 4-point Piston lead with 1:42 to play. The Blazers amped up the hand-work, forcing turnovers like crazy, but the Blazers would also miss 20+ foot shots on three consecutive possessions, able to score only when fouled on a drive. Free throws made the deficit 3 with 37 seconds left and the Blazers forced the Pistons to miss. Portland burned their last timeout with 15 seconds remaining but couldn't get a three off, settling for a layup to pull within 1. They fouled for possession but Rodney Stuckey converted 2 free throws . The Pistons took advantage of Portland not being able to advance the ball via timeout by fouling Raymond Felton before he got near the halfcourt line. Felton made his two free throws and the Blazers fouled Stuckey again. He converted again to complete his 28-point evening. Portland had one last chance but Felton dribbled the ball off the foot of a running Piston player as he crossed halfcourt and Detroit recovered the ball. The Blazers lose 94-91.

Take-Away Points

Yes, the Blazers looked tired but they can't just fall apart in their basic mechanics when they're fatigued. Tired is one thing, awful is another. The Blazers simply played awfully tonight in every department save rebounding and the occasional inside attack. Granted they knew they could turn it on against this opponent and still earn a chance to win but you can't leave game like this to chance. It doesn't look like it on the scoreboard, but save that Phoenix debacle this may have been Portland's worst game of the year collectively against an opponent they should have handled easily.

Individual Notes

LaMarcus Aldridge again feasted on poor defense whenever he could, scoring 25 on 9-17 shooting. He was stuck defending perimeter players most of the night so he had little chance to re-create his monster rebounding game in Toronto. Still, 4 total rebounds with but 2 defensive might be a bit shy. But you also have to factor in that LaMarcus could have scored 40 tonight had any teammates hit an outside shot to loosen the defense against him.

Nicolas Batum had 9 rebounds and was the guy the Blazers depended upon to put out the flames when the Pistons were going crazy with drives. That's the good news. The bad is that he went 5-15 from the field in 42 minutes with a 1-7 rate from the three-point arc. They were decent looks too. 14 points.

Marcus Camby was a prime example of the step-slow phenomenon. He had a quiet game in all respects with 6 rebounds, 5 personal fouls, and 2 points in 26 minutes.

Raymond Felton had another good game offensively, scoring plenty without gumming up the flow. He went 6-9 from the field and all 3 misses were threes. He also went 7-8 from the foul line, leading to 20 points total. He had 9 assists as well.

Wesley Matthews had 6 rebounds but shot only 3-10 from the floor, 1-5 from the arc, and his defense wasn't as sharp as usual. 8 points in 36 minutes. Yes, the Blazers are going through Aldridge plenty and yes, other people use possessions and shots, but at some point we're going to have to start wishing that the Blazers had a stronger option at starting shooting guard. Wesley is a good player but he's looking more like a bench player at this point...perhaps more useful in targeted minutes to take advantage of his particular skills.

Jamal Crawford went 4-13 tonight. He's apparently lost one of the lenses out of his Three Goggles. Not only did he go 0-3 from the arc, none of them were close that I remember. Neither did he get in the lane tonight. It was all fancy dribbling and trying to avoid the travel/palm violation in order to earn a jumper from 18 feet or deeper.

Kurt Thomas did OK with 4 rebounds and 4 points in 16 minutes. He's the one steady guy off of the bench.

Craig Smith went inside repeatedly for 10 points and 5 rebounds in 18 minutes. The Pistons couldn't stop him. He's becoming quite the weapon against weak inside defending teams.

Nolan Smith, Chris Johnson, and (gulp!) Luke Babbitt combined for an undistinguished 10 minutes.

Fun With Numbers

  • Detroit 12 fast break points, Portland 8. You are playing wrong when that happens.
  • Blazers 3-20 from the arc. Detroit 7-15.
  • Aldridge's 25 eclipsed by Stuckey's 28.
  • Blazers gave Detroit plenty of foul shots...32. Once again the opponent made more (27) than the Blazers even shot (24). Yes, some of those were intentional fouls late but this isn't an isolated story. Portland either needs to get to the line or or foul less because a half-dozen point leak makes it hard to win.
  • Blazers force only 11 turnovers against a team that usually commits 17.

Final Thoughts

The Blazers finally get to come home now but a back-to-back-to-back that starts in just two days isn't going to feel like much of a relief. Portland better find some energy somewhere.

Read about a rare and no-doubt appreciated win at Detroit Bad Boys

Trail Blazers vs Pistons boxscore

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--Dave (