Sometimes, a little perspective helps.
The Portland Trail Blazers came into tonight's game against the Los Angeles Clippers facing a squad missing its best player in Blake Griffin, playing in Portland, and preparing for a month that will give them bucketfuls of home games after being on the road for much of December.
Unfortunately, the Blazers fell into a deficit before tipoff.
Due to an administrative error with the Blazers' lineup given to officials prior to the game, 2nd-leading scorer CJ McCollum was left off the active roster in favor of trash-talking rookie Luis Montero. Allen Crabbe was convinced he was being punked when told he'd have to start. Montero had to switch out of his suit into a uniform after the game started.
And McCollum was left on the bench.
When asked by CSNNW's Jason Quick what he thought about being unable to play tonight, CJ McCollum had wise words.
"People make mistakes. Why be mad about it?"
And this was AFTER Clippers coach Doc Rivers allegedly had the option to allow McCollum to play, but denied the request, leading to one of the better video exchanges of the year, given the context.
But why be mad? Especially at a clerical error when there was so much more basketbally-type stuff to be mad about?
Let's start with the discombobulation of the Blazer's offense early on.
True, not having one of your two dominant offensive forces would hamper any team, but the Blazers looked confused and even checked out in the early going. The Clippers built a study double-digit lead early on the back of Chris Paul, who was embarrassing Lillard in cruel and unusual ways.
Weaving through picks that Lillard has no interest in fighting? Check. James Harden-esque ripthroughs to collect cheesy fouls? Check. Heck, Paul even had 5 dimes to supplement his 8 points in the first quarter while Lillard was treading water.
Lillard's first field goal comes with 3 minutes to go in the period, and by that point Meyers Leonard was forcing passes, Ed Davis and Mason Plumlee were the only Blazers shooting over 50%, and the Blazers sputtered into the 2nd quarter. When your starting backcourt (Lillard and Crabbe) combine to go 2-12, there's a problem. The 31-28 deficit the Blazers faced after 12 minutes? Also a problem.
And it didn't get any better. The Clippers went 4-6 from deep in the 2nd quarter while Chris Paul continued abusing Lillard, whose lowest moment came when he drove the lane, bobbled his dribble, and awkwardly scrambled to the floor trying to save the ball from going out of bounds. He failed, and the Clippers hit from range on the ensuing possession. It was brutal.
And while everyone loves Ed Davis, there's not a Blazers fan anywhere that wants to see him leading all Blazers scorers at the half, but his 10 points were 3 more than any other Blazer had going into the third with Portland down 63-40.
Maybe Coach Stotts gave a heck of a pep talk, or maybe he slipped caffeine pills into the Gatorade, but the Blazers came out of the gate in the third looking less like a collection of fans in Blazers jerseys and more like a real, live basketball team. The brightest spot was Mason Plumlee, who, after being fouled a few times and getting to the line, was able to get into the mother of all rhythms.
Plumlee played all 12 minutes in the 3rd, going for 15 points, 4 boards, and 2 dimes while hitting 5 of his 6 shots. It was almost as though Plumlee had been playing his whole career as Johnny Kilroy, only to take off the goggles and wig for a quarter and go, "HEY, it's me, Michael Jordan!" He was that good.
The rest of the team followed suit, shooting above 50% for the period even as Lillard continued to struggle, going 1-6. It should be said that the "1" was a glorious three that followed a block on Paul Pierce, and... well, see for yourself.
Lillard was also playing reasonably good defense for the first time all game on Chris Paul, particularly on screens where Lillard tends to get stuck, but was instead staying close to and in front of Paul.
The Blazers had chipped into the lead enough to feel like they could go for it, trailing 85-70 but with momentum and the home crowd on their side, and kept it rolling in the 4th. The Clippers lead wavered. It got down to 13. Then 10. And with 8:30 left in the game, it was just a 6-point game.
And this is when something else happened that fans could probably be a little mad about.
Having a career night through three quarters, and perhaps being the spark that allowed the Blazers back into the game in the first place, Mason Plumlee was found riding the pine as the clock kept ticking down. It was like a WWF tag team fight where you keep waiting for the really good guy to get back into the ring, and he never does.
7 minutes. 6 minutes. 5 minutes... come on, coach, where's Plumlee... 4 minutes... 3 minutes... still no Plumlee.
Meanwhile, the promising Blazers run sputtered. Meyers Leonard was able to get looks from the attention Lillard demanded. Unforuntately, Leonard neither fully capitalized on those looks, nor did he shoot enough to take some of the pressure off Lillard, who was 3 for 4 from deep but had no two-pointers in the quarter.
Also unfortunate was that Lillard, without McCollum to relieve pressure, was forced to play the entire second half, which is a tough task even for the best-conditioned players, not to mention someone coming off a nagging foot injury.
While Plumlee led the Blazers in all three major statistical categories through three quarters, (points, rebounds, assists), he didn't check back in until there was less than a minute left and the game had been all but decided.
Was this the reason the Blazers lost? No. Would it have hurt to let the guy having a career night continue stoking the fire a bit? Absolutely not, and it's puzzling given that Ed Davis, for as much value as he has to this team, probably would have been a better candidate to be sitting most of those 4th quarter minutes than Plumlee.
But why be mad? A loss is a loss is a loss, and the Blazers went down 109-98 at the final horn.
Damian Lillard had a rough go of it most of the night. His renewed interest in defense after halftime was nice to see, if not because he will one day be a GOOD defender, but that he might one day be ADEQUATE. While 20-7-9 looks nice, he needed 25 shots for those 20 points. But he was 4-9 from deep.... but he had 3 turnovers. But he had 2 steals! It was a game that you hope bridges the gap between "he's rusty" and "he's back."
CJ McCollum did some nice cheering from the bench. And he was not mad at all.
Mason Plumlee's third quarter was silly. He even hit a few free throws. But mostly he was looking to score, even though his offense is limited. He doesn't have a confidence problem per se, but it's obvious that he doesn't want to be the one shooting unless it's within arm's length of the rim, or maybe a baby hook. Tonight was a nice glimpse into what he might be able to do more consistently moving forward. He finished with 19-9-5.
Ed Davis got a quiet double-double, 12 and 12 with a few dimes. If you absolutely, positively need to save possessions, this is who you want in there. 6 offensive rebounds? Not too shabby.
Allen Crabbe was his usual (new) self, and had somewhat of an off-night despite that with 11-3-2 on 4-10 shooting. But gone are the days when a bad shot or two would slow him down. Nope. Defenses have to play him more or less honest all the time, a huge boost for the Blazers and a great way to relieve some of the pressure that normally follows Lillard and McCollum.
Meyers Leonard finished with 10 and 5, and while that's all well and good, you can still see hesitation creeping in multiple times every game. That's gotta go. He won't reach his potential until he convinced himself of how good he can be. Everything else will follow.
Al-Farouq Aminu joined Plumlee on the bench for almost all of the fourth quarter, logging 9 and 6 in 26 minutes. The gooseneck on his follow-through after he shoots threes is comical. Maybe it helps him. Who knows. Might be nice to see him scramble for his own misses rather than standing on the line like he's voguing the runway, but that's small potatoes.
Noah Vonleh's first shot of the game was... um... whatever this was. But maybe it got him going, as 3-5 for 6 points is pretty okay for him, especially in just 15 minutes.
The Blazers won the offensive rebounding battle 17-10, and it showed. At times, it felt like saving possessions was the only thing preventing this game from staying in 20-point territory, and while the 6 offensive boards from Ed Davis is nice, it was doubly so to see the 5 from Mason Plumlee. Keeping that up will make it very tough to not play Plumlee down the stretch, especially if other things (like his offense, or his passing) are going right.
The Clippers have got to be the quickest-to-complain team in the league. Two sequences stuck out. The first was when the ball clearly went off a Clippers player, but Coach Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, and all four Clippers fans in attendance flipped their lid like someone just told them their dinner was ruined. Under pressure, the official reversed the correct, original call to an incorrect, changed call and gave it to the Clippers. Even more comical was Rivers erupting when Cole Aldrich was called for goaltending. The dude grabbed the net and shook the rim so hard the 24-second clock almost fell off. The 300 level could have seen it, but there was Rivers yelling, stomping his feet, and in total disbelief that such a tragedy could befall his noble squad.
The Blazers (rightfully) continue to take advantage of Plumlee's passing. Having a big as a facilitator in your offense opens up a world of possibilities, and the Blazers haven't even scratched the surface. If Coach Stotts keeps messing with that, good things will happen.
The Final Word: Obviously, this game would have been a whole lot different with McCollum playing, but it's more than just his absence. Things would have been a lot easier had the Blazers known beforehand that McCollum was out. At least then they could have planned. But being thrown a last-minute curveball is a tough pill to swallow, and it showed. The Blazers' 2nd-half performance was encouraging, however, and McCollum will be back next game. If Lillard has shaken the rust by Friday, then maybe... just maybe... the Blazers can hand the Warriors their third loss of the season. Just don't be mad about it if they don't. CJ sure won't be.