This morning in Miami the Portland Trail Blazers played the best game of their current 5-game road trip. They overcame the usual "murderously-early-East-Coast-Sunday-start" blahs, hitting the court with energy. They rebounded well, shot efficiently, and even played a little bit of defense. It was an effort to be proud of. Unfortunately it resulted in a 116-109 loss. The Miami Heat bowed to Portland's rush for a quarter but their poise and interior scoring ultimately proved too much for the Blazers to handle.
Perhaps you're familiar with the graph of a cosine wave: a straight line running across the page and a second line curving beneath it like a valley, then crossing above to crest into a hill. That pretty much describes the flow between the Heat and Blazers today. Portland was the straight line, rebounding, finding open shooters, moving feet on defense. Miami played the cosine role, dipping low in the early part of the game, peaking late.
In the first period Portland faced an opponent making Trail-Blazer-esque mistakes, just worse. The Heat could not hang onto the ball to save their lives. Their passes and plays were predictable, their spacing problematic. The Blazers took advantage of turnovers and Miami misses, converting swift strikes into easy points. The Heat couldn't defend Portland's guards; CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard had a field day. Only a streak of opportune three-pointers kept Miami in the game. This should sound familiar to Portland fans, as it describes the Blazers' typical M.O. Playing against the worst-possible version of themselves, Portland won the first period handily, 32-23.
The Heat righted the ship on offense in the second quarter. They hit three-pointers early but gradually began pushing into the lane against Portland's second unit. They found the Blazers' defense lacking, scoring 29 points in the period. But Portland overmatched them with rebounding, passing, and aggressive playmaking. If the Blazers had a fault, it was their inability to score inside. Portland bigs couldn't get a clean look to save their lives. For a while Al-Farouq Aminu made up the difference by hitting jumpers but Portland's offense drifting farther outside as Miami's plowed inward was a bad sign. Still, Portland led 62-52 at the half. All was well for the moment.
Alas, that moment didn't last far beyond halftime. Miami changed game plans (or finally executed the one they always intended), dumping the ball to Hassan Whiteside in the post or penetrating with guards then dishing to a suddenly-free Whiteside when help came to stop the dribble. The young center looked all but unstoppable in the third, scoring with defenders draped all over him like a bad suit. A big quarter from Lillard disguised Portland's slippage somewhat. The Heat lost their composure late in the period as Goran Dragic got ejected for arguing calls and Whiteside picked up a technical for spiking the ball after a block. Miami still won the third 30-24. Portland's lead stood at 86-82 a the fourth period commenced.
With the camel's back already weakened, Chris Bosh came into the fourth quarter like a bale of hay. Portland's need to cover the paint plus three-point shooters like Gerald Green left Bosh single-covered against overmatched Ed Davis and Allen Crabbe. He drove past the former, scored over the latter, accounting for 11 of Miami's first 13 points in the period. Once again McCollum and Lillard rode to the rescue, hitting jumpers like crazy, but Portland's early rebounding advantage was gone and the Heat weren't turning over the ball carelessly anymore. Both of Portland's star guards came up lame in the late minutes of the game, McCollum rolling his ankle after getting hit by Dwyane Wade and Lillard struggling through a plantar fascia injury. The Blazers' offense devolved into desperation threes while Miami continued to score at will, inside and out. Portland missed; Miami didn't. The Heat won the final quarter 34-23 and the game 116-109.
49% shooting from the field, 38% from the arc, doubling up the opponent in offensive rebounds 10-5, 82% free-throw shooting, 7 steals, and 13 fast-break points all point to a good effort from the Blazers. On a normal night they'd indicate an easy win. But a couple areas ended up so bad that they swallowed up the dozens of things the Blazers did well:
--Hassan Whiteside shot 10-13 for 22 points, adding in 11 rebounds and 5 blocks. He didn't just beat his Portland counterparts, he dwarfed them. Normally blocks are a "for show" stat, but Miami posting 7 against 0 for the Blazers mirrors a larger problem: the non-existent intimidation factor among Portland's bigger defenders. Whiteside was a one-man wrecking crew. Portland's bigs might as well have been jumping Double Dutch in a corner.
--Miami's turnover performance in the first 15 minutes of play was ghastly. Forced...unforced...they were allergic to the ball. But the Heat cleaned up their problem and finished the game with 11 total. Portland's early problems weren't as glaring but the Blazers never solved them. They ended up with 19 TO's on the night, including several off of passes to the obvious, #1 option on a given play when the Heat were camping out waiting for just that move. Portland's 7 steals were impressive, but Miami's 11 were better.
--The Heat shot a scorching 57% from the field and 52% from the arc. Portland's really nice offensive performance got eclipsed by an incredible one. As is typical, the Blazers got "yo-yo'ed". They defended the lane impressively in the first period but couldn't cover the arc. Miami started hitting jumpers. When Portland extended the defense, the Heat sailed into the gaps and scored with ease. Every time the Blazers would contract, Miami would pour in threes. Every time Portland covered shooters, the lane opened. At no time during the season have the Blazers shown the ability to defend inside and outside at the same time. Their only recourse is to throw more men into the same space. That only works as long as the other team commits to scoring in the space those men occupy. When the opponent scores around Portland's defense instead of trying to go through it...well...116 points.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were the offensive darlings of this game. Lillard shot 10-18 for 32 points in a superstar turn that had American Airlines Arena in awe. McCollum picked his spots more but still managed 20 points, connecting on 4 of 9 triples. When the pair stopped scoring late, the Blazers had no recourse. As flawed as certain parts of their games may be, Lillard and McCollum can pour in points and their team sure needs them.
The stats say 11 points and 7 rebounds for Mason Plumlee but this may have been his worst game of the season. He got crushed on both ends of the floor, unable to stop Whiteside from doing whatever he wished, committing 5 turnovers and 4 personal fouls.
Al-Farouq Aminu's offensive hot streak continues. He shot 6-9, hitting 4 three-pointers, and scoring 16. His energy helped the Blazers get off to that fantastic start.
To channel Nate McMillan, Noah Vonleh made a couple things happen out there tonight. He's looking for opportunities more than he did when he first entered the starting lineup. He wasn't effective but he was energetic.
Meyers Leonard had his first not-horrible game in a while! His rebounding remained impressive and he hit a pair of threes on his way to 8 points. He looked decisive, if not entirely confident...a welcome sight.
Allen Crabbe's shot only 3-9 but at least he tried to get to the rim late in the game. This was far better than Gerald Henderson's 3 turnovers in 9 minutes...though Henderson did register an impressive dunk off of a baseline drive. It was the kind that made you go, "Oh...so THAT'S Gerald Henderson!"
Ed Davis collected 5 fouls in 17 minutes. He doesn't belong out on the perimeter defending Chris Bosh.
Links and Such
Hot Hot Hoops will be full of praise for Chris Bosh...and Dwyane Wade...and Gerald Green...and Hassan Whiteside...and Luol Deng. (Did I mention the Blazers had a small defensive problem or two?)
As if Miami on Sunday morning wasn't bad enough, the Blazers face the suddenly hot and physical Atlanta Hawks Monday evening at 5:00 p.m.
In this season of giving, why not help us send 2000 underprivileged kids to see the Blazers play the Sacramento Kings on March 28th? You can donate through this link:
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Ticket Costs range from $7-13 (There is a $5 processing fee per order.)
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--Dave firstname.lastname@example.org / @DaveDeckard / @Blazersedge