The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks, 120-115, in overtime on Tuesday, improving their record to 44-24.
The only good thing the Blazers did was own all of the bad things the Blazers did.
Back in the 20th century, they had these groups of books called encyclopedias, which attempted to compile thorough, vital information about all of the most important subjects pertaining to life as we know it. The Blazers endeavored to write the Britannica of Bad Basketball against the Bucks, the NBA's worst team, and they left no page of hoops folly unturned.
Do not save the ball under your own basket: it can lead to an easy scoring opportunity for your opponent.
Apply proper force to perimeter passes: failing to do so can lead to a transition opportunity for your opponent.
Try not to telegraph your passes: surprise is the spice of basketball life.
Maintain awareness of all 360 degrees around your body as you dribble in the open court: blind spots can lead to embarrassing steals.
Try not to fall in love with your own dribble move: watching your jumper clank after breaking someone off will earn you the "million dollar move, 10 cent finish" tag.
When in doubt, run at an unguarded player who is lining up a shot: any level of distraction is better than no level of distraction.
If possible, try to at least hit the rim when shooting from outside: it's difficult for your teammates to position themselves to track airballs.
If possible, try not to hit the rim on dunks: the force of the slamming motion can cause the ball to go out of bounds over the backboard, granting possession to the other team.
Catch the ball before you try to dunk the ball: the proper order of operations can be as important in basketball as it is in math and cooking.
Do not trade a high-percentage shot for a low-percentage shot without a good reason: a clean layup attempt beats a clean mid-range jumper in almost every situation.
Do not settle for a low-percentage look when a high-percentage look might be available: passing can make life easier.
Do not commit unnecessary fouls: free throws are free points.
Do not step into the lane before the free throw has been released: it is against the rules.
Adjust: something that beat you early should not also beat you middle and beat you late.
Do not underestimate your opponent: that cheats you, them, the fans and the game.
Do not allow a theoretical talent advantage to manifest as an actual energy disadvantage: hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.
This game report is not actually a full encyclopedia but hopefully that list of difficulties beat the point into the ground. It's not easy to achieve a demoralizing victory -- unless it involves a major injury -- but I think the win over Milwaukee qualifies.
"If we would have lost that game everybody in here would have been sick," said Damian Lillard, who finished with 20 points (on 7-for-21 shooting) and four assists. "They had the worst record in the league, we probably came out and thought, 'We're going to win this game.' There's nothing wrong with coming into a game feeling like you're supposed to win, but that's an NBA team over there."
Wesley Matthews added: "[The Bucks] should have put us away. We should have been in the locker room pissed off. But they didn't."
All of the things mentioned above went wrong, among other quirks. Lillard shot 1-for-11 from deep and Dorell Wright chipped in an 0-for-7 from behind the arc. A microphone fell out of its holder during Blazers coach Terry Stotts' post-game speech. An elementary school kid on a unicycle wiped out during the halftime show. Pharrell's hit song "Happy" came on over the public address system and not a single person was moved to clap as if they felt like a room without a roof. Hundreds of fans left the arena at the end of regulation instead of sitting through to the bitter end.
"That was a weird game," Nicolas Batum said, after posting 21 points (on 7-for-15 shooting), nine rebounds and nine assists. "I don't want to talk about it. ... I want to forget that game."
Perhaps the only person who can truly be proud of his performance was Free Throw Guy, who single-handedly caused the Bucks to miss four times from the charity stripe during the final two minutes of the game.
"I'm glad I'm standing here after a win instead of a loss," Stotts said, not looking glad in the slightest. "We didn't come out with the urgency that we needed. ... I hope we understand that we were very fortunate to win the game tonight."
Milwaukee's free throw line misses set the stage for Lillard to force overtime with a late running layup. That basket provided the first real emotional payoff of the entire evening for the crowd, as it eased a tension that had built up during a lackluster night, piled on top of fresh memories of previous late-game failures. It was a hard, aggressive take, and he made no mistake, as they say during soccer broadcasts.
"We were down two, and we spaced the floor and let me go isolation," Lillard explained. "It didn't really make sense for me to settle for a jumper when we were down two and I felt like I could get to the rim."
Ramon Sessions was unable to deliver a game-winning three-pointer on the other end, and the Blazers opened overtime with their first real, sustained flourish of activity of the evening. The game blew open for good when Matthews completed an and-one basket and then stepped in for a steal on Milwaukee's next possession, turning defense into offense by laying off a nifty behind-the-back pass to Lillard for a thunderous dunk. Both players stomped and flexed afterwards, as if exorcising their own exasperation, and the Blazers did what they needed to do from there on out to protect the four-point lead.
"We're happy with the win, always going to take a win, ugly, pretty, doesn't matter," Matthews said, after finishing with a game-high 26 points (on 8-for-15 shooting), two rebounds and two assists. "We're not happy with the way we played. ... We put ourselves there and we got ourselves out of it. ... We know we have to be better to start the game off. More intense, more urgent, more efficient."
Escaping with the victory didn't erase the annoyances or forgive the mistakes, but it should provide some measure of relief. Had they not gotten out of it, Portland would have become the first Western Conference playoff team to lose to Milwaukee all season. They would have dropped to just one game in the loss column ahead of Golden State. They would have been royally pissed off -- as Matthews noted -- and they would have faced a whole new level of questions about their aptitude, focus, and ability to put together complete performances.
"The game completely changed once we realized this could be a horrible loss for us," Lillard said.
Those are words that I imagine no athlete really expects or wants to say and, not coincidentally, they are words that appear in the Britannica of Bad Basketball's third chapter, "How to play down to the level of the competition."
Random Game Notes
- The attendance was announced at 19,572. Generous.
- Here are the game highlights via NBA.com.
- Here's the Wesley Matthews to Damian Lillard dunk mentioned above via YouTube user PortlandTrailBlazers.
- On a night when everything else went wrong, the Blazers were able to show off this new mural near the media room, which is even cooler in person than it looks in photograph form.
- I mentioned in Sunday night's game write-up that the back of the 200 level had been painted black. Similar lettering to the sign above now appears in that space too.
- The Blazersedge NCAA bracket contest is right here. Sign up soon! (I've received some valid complaints about Yahoo's new bracket format. I hear you guys loud and clear. It's too late to change for this year but we'll swap it out next year.)
- The Blazers posted this photo of a new mural that's outside the Fan Shop that features Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
- "Dr. Jack's" -- the new restaurant adjacent to the fountain outside the Moda Center -- continues to get good reviews. Even on a Tuesday night against the Bucks, the place was busy and had a good vibe, according to one person who enjoyed pre-game drinks there.
- His full name is O. J. D. N. P. C. D. Mayo. They just call him O. J. for short. Mayo was recently included on my All-Tank Team.
- Very cool that just a few days after "Nicolas Batum vs. Wesley Matthews" was debated on the Blazersedge Videocast, the two players apparently decided to set a one-on-one game for Wednesday morning.
- Bucks coach Larry Drew coached all the way to the very, very end of overtime and used all of his timeouts, even though the game was out of reach. Good for him for rewarding his team's effort. Whenever NBA commissioner Adam Silver makes another speech claiming that there's no tanking in the NBA, he better name-check Drew, or it will be a little disappointing.
- "We fought all the way through, even though it's midnight in Milwaukee," said Zaza Pachulia. I wasn't aware that time zone differences were a factor.
- Here's a GIF of Meyers Leonard missing his dunk.
- If you were at the arena and confused by the public address announcement, Tuesday night was not actually Blazersedge Night. The real Blazersedge Night is set for Thursday against the Washington Wizards. It will be awesome as always. Perhaps every night is Blazersedge Night if you think about it.
- A few positive Blazers highlights: Thomas Robinson skying for a block and Robin Lopez throwing down a putback dunk right before the halftime buzzer.
- Signs: "Happy B Day T Rob," "Damian: Marry Me in 8 years" (she was 10 years old), "Buck Williams > Bucks," "Bomb the Bucks," "Wes is the best," "My fave heroes: Batum and Robin," "Put me on the big screen," "Get the buck out of here, this is our house," "Don't mess with Mo," "It's Lillard Time," "No. 0 is our hero," "Get Well L-Train," "Dame got game," "If you don't have a Dame, we don't give a buck," "Go Blazers, Hello Philippines," "Hi Mom, I'm at the game," "I'll bet you 12 bucks we win."
- Robin Lopez on the overall effort: "It was important for us to do all the little things down the stretch to secure that win. It would have been nice to see that the whole game long."
- Matthews on what went wrong early: "It's a little bit of sloppiness. We were kind of nonchalant, out there going through the motions, overconfident. Not necessarily cocky but we didn't play up to our par and our standard of what we need to do."
- Lillard on what went wrong early: "We haven't secured a playoff spot so we still have a lot to play for. If we want that to happen we've got to make sure we come out to play every night. ... We didn't come with energy. Loose passes, not rotating fast enough. It was a lot of things."
- Matthews on whether the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge -- and the extra burdens being carried by the other guys -- contributed to the quality of play: "We started off the season extremely healthy. As of late, we've played a lot of games with weird lineups. L.A. has been out, Joel [Freeland]. Mo [Williams] was out. We don't want to get used to playing unconventional but we have been. That's not an excuse, we just have to play with urgency from the jump ball, regardless of who we're playing."
- Nicolas Batum admitted that there was a letdown factor from Portland's tough loss to the Warriors on Sunday: "Maybe the last game affected us a little bit. We could play anybody tonight and it could be the same. I'm glad we got the win."
- Lillard on his poor shooting night: "The ball wasn't going in. [The shots] felt good coming off my hands. I just wanted to stay with it. I knew there would come a point in the game where I needed to make a shot, or I was going to need to do something. I didn't have my greatest shooting night but we won the game and when the game was on the line I was able to get it done."
- The first thought whenever Lillard struggles with turnovers, settles for shots, and doesn't shoot well is that perhaps fatigue is catching up, considering his minutes load, the defensive attention he commands, and the absence of Aldridge. Lillard didn't admit to fatigue after this one, saying: "I feel fine. A lot of times, [coach Terry Stotts] is taking me out of the game and giving me enough time to recover. When I'm on the floor, Mo is doing a great job of taking over the point guard, so I don't have to do run around through as many pick and rolls, getting on the ball so I get off the ball and don't have to do as much on offense. Everybody is doing a good job of helping me and making it as easy as possible."
- No update on the Chalupas/McMuffins. Maybe next time.
Terry Stotts' Post-Game Comments
I'm glad I'm standing here after a win instead of a loss. Give Milwaukee a lot of credit. They've had a long season. [Bucks coach] Larry [Drew] has done a great job of keeping them competing and playing hard. They played a great game. I certainly don't want to take away anything from what they did. They played hard the whole game.
That being said, we didn't come out with the urgency that we needed. I thought our bench did a very good job in the first half of giving us a spark. We struggled to shoot the ball from three. Obviously a couple of guys struggled to shoot. I hope we understand that we were very fortunate to win the game tonight.
Nic kept us afloat in the first half. We didn't have a lot of offense really going in the first half. He was making his jump shots. He was looking to be aggressive. I hope that makes everybody happy since everyone wants Nic to be aggressive. We needed his offense in the first half. He continues to fill in the gaps. In the second half, his shot wasn't going, he rebounded and assisted. Again, Nic did a little bit of everything.
Damian Lillard's last drive
They were trapping pick and rolls, I thought he could get to the rim. We had good spacing. If he missed, Robin was active on the offensive glass. He came close the first time, and I thought -- Damian is good in those situations and I trust him.
With the style of play, we're playing more of a spacing lineup and he excels in that style of play. He was good with the second unit in the first half. He kind of steadied the ship in the first half, when the bench guys were out there. We need Mo. For him to be able to come in and play the minutes he was playing, that's why we got him.
He wasn't playing his typical game but I don't think he was ill, he just didn't have it going. Struggled a little bit. He turned it on when we needed him to. He made big plays at the end of regulation and in overtime and that's what we've come to expect from him.
Goaltending call on Robin Lopez
I thought it looked good but you know what, that's why you have replay. If they said it wasn't good, it wasn't good. I don't know, I haven't seen the replay. I glanced at the scoreboard. To me it was a good basketball play. They know the rules better than I do.
Takeaway from win in close game
Well, we won a close game in New Orleans. It was a two point game with two minutes. We made plays down the stretch to win that game. I guess your definition is a close game -- if it's coming down to the last possession or whatever. I'm glad we did. The only thing I take away from winning close games -- we've won our share of close games this year, I don't think our confidence has waned. We just have to keep putting ourselves in position to win those games.
He made big shots, particularly the threes. It's good to see his three ball come back. That was a big part of our success early in the season. We need that. Like most good shooters, the shot comes back.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter