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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Dallas Mavericks: Lack of Focus Dooms Blazers Late

The Blazers had this game sewn up, then took their eye off the ball.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

One of the keys to writing a good recap is to make the narrative flow in the same way the game did, giving the reader a chance to participate in the action as the story gets retold.

In order to accomplish that tonight, I'll need you to keep your doors unlocked. I'm linking you to this nice little rendition of the aria from Carmen to simulate the professional, rather pretty first three quarters the Portland Trail Blazers played against the Dallas Mavericks. After that I'll sneak into each one of your houses and wipe boogers all over your monitor to replicate the fourth period and overtime. Please have your friction-free cloth and some Windex ready. You've been warned.

Game Flow

The Blazers got off to a little bit of a tough start in this one. The Mavericks outhustled them and played better on the defensive end. Portland's guards couldn't stop penetration. Dallas dribble drives forced Robin Lopez to rotate predictably, leaving the Mavericks a dish away from a wide-open shot on any given possession. Portland's opponents scoring in the paint is hardly surprising. Portland's opponents finding themselves uncontested at the three-point arc after a simple pass or two is a sign the Blazers' defense isn't working right. Fortunately for Portland, Dallas missed many of their wide-open threes. But the Blazers found themselves relying on offensive rebounds and a couple of CJ McCollum threes late in the first to scrape out a 25-24 lead.

The middle periods were a different story.

In the second the Blazers fixed their defensive leaks, patrolled the boards with energy, forced turnovers instead of committing them, and made the Mavericks work for every shot. Dallas' shaky backcourt was a godsend for Portland. J.J. Barea and Monta Ellis played randomly. Even when they hung onto the ball they could barely hit a shot. Portland ripped off a 13-0 run midway through the second period. Dallas survived by hitting 4 three-point shots in the frame but trailed 55-50 at the half.

The third quarter was a lather-rinse-repeat version of the second except the Mavs couldn't hit anything but those threes and couldn't find enough looks from distance to stay close. LaMarcus Aldridge shouldered Portland's offense, scoring 13 in the period. The Blazers kept Dallas to mid-range shots without second-chance opportunities. Portland took control of the court, the game, and the opponent, building an 83-70 lead heading into the fourth. Victory #35 was right around the corner and Dallas couldn't do anything about it.

Except this is the part of the movie where the structural engineer comes out and says, "We built this 8000-foot tower to be earthquake-proof and placed an unsinkable ocean liner on the roof just in case the sea rises but that won't happen because global warming is fake as you can see by this chart which is now shaded by some kind of shadow which is definitely not from a huge meteor headed towards earth because those things can't get past our detection system unnoticed. Everything will be super OK. We promise!"

You want to know how the Trail Blazers lost a lead that stood at 16 points with 11:29 left to go in the game? Pick your disaster.

Portland committed 5 turnovers in the first 3 minutes of the fourth and would amass 9 in the period. By the time the Blazers stopped coughing up the ball the lead was down to 7.

The game appeared to normalize at that point. Portland's starters had returned, curbing the mistakes. The Blazers were rebounding well, running the offense normally, Aldridge and Damian Lillard were taking most of the shots. Despite the early snafus, all indicators read normal as Portland held a 9-point lead with 2:00 remaining.

Then Devin Harris hit an open three-pointer from the corner. No biggie. Still up 8 with 1:54 left. Go back to your apartment folks. Everything's under control...

...or so Wesley Matthews thought when he put up a nonchalant, contested reverse layup on a 1-on-2 breakout 4 seconds after Harris' triple. The layup went astray and Dallas rebounded easily. Instead of the Blazers bleeding 24 seconds off of a dying clock with a 3-possession lead, they gave Dallas another scoring opportunity at the cost of only 4 ticks.

It took just a few more seconds for Chandler Parsons to hit another three. Now Dallas trailed by 5 with 1:43 remaining, having scored 6 points in 11 seconds.

No, seriously folks. We really do have this under control. Remember the ocean liner on the roof? Totally unsinkable. Seriously!

Lillard hit a couple free throws on Portland's next possession but Dirk Nowitzki answered with a short jumper. Then Devin Harris poked the ball away from Lillard and converted the resulting layup. The Blazers led 96-93 with just over a minute left.


Lillard then missed a three. So did Ellis. But Harris played hero with the offense rebound, swung the ball, and it ended up in Nowitzki's hands beyond the arc. He splashed the three to tie the game at 96 with 20 seconds left. Lillard couldn't answer and the game went to overtime.

For those counting, Dallas slapped a 13-2 run on the Blazers in the final 2 minutes of the fourth. Ugh.

Attention residents, we will need everyone to proceed to the ocean liner on the roof in an orderly fashion.

As it turned out, "ugh" pretty much described OT as well. The Mavericks made shots, generated offensive boards, took the wood to Portland. The Blazers responded with all the vigor of a deflated balloon, missing 4 of 5 shots and 4 of 7 free throw attempts, adding 2 more turnovers for effect. Portland tallied 5 points in 5 minutes, Dallas 15. The resulting  111-101 final score brought screams of elation from the Dallas crowd and a collective, "What the...? Ouch!" from their Portland counterparts.


Most of Portland's problems in this game come under the heading of "focus". When they bore down, Dallas wilted. But the Blazers committed 22 turnovers, allowed 24 fast break points, gave up 20 offensive rebounds, allowed 39% shooting from the arc, missed 7 free throw attempts, and blew their late-game clock-management. None of those typify Portland basketball this year. All were preventable. Every disaster depends on a chain of unfortunate events and the Blazers completed that chain tonight.

Portland hasn't had a ton of negative feedback on their mistakes this year. They got away with sloppy quarters against lesser teams early in the season. In late November, 32-minute efforts produced 10-point wins. You could feel the team anticipating a similar victory as this game wound down. Then they took their eye off the ball and got it shoved right down their throats by a playoff-caliber team.

On the bright side, we got a really nice look at the difference Robin Lopez makes to Portland's offense tonight. He knows how to catch in the lane and get the ball up quickly, as opposed to Chris Kaman's more deliberate approach after the catch. Dallas had to respect Lopez, which freed up Portland's perimeter players. When they didn't, Lopez either scored or grabbed easy offensive boards.

The Blazers got into a couple defensive quagmires tonight. One we've mentioned already: failing to contain penetration and leaving Lopez exposed. Robin rotates well but he can't be in two places at once. He picked up 5 fouls tonight in large part because he covered for other people's mistakes.

Portland also decided to switch on high screen and rolls, never deviating from the practice even when Nowitzki scored repeatedly against point guards a full foot shorter than he. McCollum, Lillard, and Steve Blake all ended up on the wrong side of Dirk's back-down turn-around at the foul line, proving as useless as the infamous Karen Pot Stirrers. Mismatches got Nowitzki rolling in the second half after a fairly mundane start. His game-tying three at the end of regulation was the killer shot, but it was bracketed by painfully easy twos that ended up keeping Dallas in the game. Barea went 2-11 tonight, Ellis 9-25. Dirk shot a cool 11-19 for 25 points. I suppose the Blazers were concerned about guard penetration and big-man fouls, but at some point letting Barea and Ellis free had to be a better option than watching Dirk shoot practice jumpers.

Speaking of defense, Al-Farouq Aminu and Tyson Chandler did an amazing job on Aldridge isolation plays in the second half. Give Dallas full credit there.

Individual Notes

LaMarcus Aldridge did everything he could with 11-22 shooting, 25 points, and 14 rebounds. His patented third-quarter offensive barrage should have won this one for the Blazers.

Damian Lillard had a good game overall, shooting 4-10 from distance, 8-9 from the foul line, scoring 26 with 7 assists, 7 rebounds, 5 steals, and 2 blocks. He torched the Mavs from the arc but couldn't summon his late-game magic.

Robin Lopez: 5-8, 11 points, 5 offensive rebounds, 5 turnovers, and 5 fouls. Spacing caused the latter two numbers as much as Robin's play.

Nicolas Batum had 10 rebounds and helped contain Parsons in the middle quarters. He also shot 0-8 from the field and got torched by Parsons early and late in the game. Batum's offense going up and down is normal, but goose eggs make life awfully hard on his teammates.

Wesley Matthews shot well (7-14, 3-8 from the arc) and scored 17 with 8 rebounds and 4 steals. He typified the difficulty defining Portland's small-man play tonight. If you want to talk opportunistic defense, forcing turnovers, he and Lillard did great. If you want to talk efficient, consistent rotations and court awareness...not as much. But overall they played well enough to win the game. It's not fair to pin the loss on a few defensive plays, nor on Matthews' brain-dead layup attempt late in the fourth. I think it's fair to say the Blazers needed one more good play or one less bad one to seal the win and the guards gave them neither.

Steve Blake's 7 assists and 2 steals in 20 minutes highlighted the bench contribution. He played a gritty, smart game. It's cool that Blake has that same, "I'm going for it!" look on his face whether he's defending a barely-competent J.J. Barea or braced against a totally-unstoppable Dirk Nowitzki. His expression never wavers.

CJ McCollum hit a couple of threes and 3-4 foul shots for 9 points in 15 minutes. He's becoming a shark out there. Just when you think you're safe in the water...SNAP goes the wrist and 3 more go up on the scoreboard for Portland.

Chris Kaman had a couple of offensive rebounds but looked a step slow and out of sorts in his 16 minutes. He got a technical for a fairly-justified complaint on a non-call but that frustration seemed to define him tonight.

Meyers Leonard hit a 3 and scored 5 overall in 12 minutes but committed 3 turnovers and racked up 3 personals.


Instant Recap

Mavs Moneyball will be jumping in the air twice over the comeback.

The Blazers face Houston tomorrow night. Playing overtime in the first game of a back-to-back is no fun but at least the flight is short.

--Dave / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge