In the midst of a downward spiral that has the gravitational pull of a black hole, the Portland Trail Blazers needed a win desperately tonight. Playing the Dallas Mavericks at home seemed like an easy way to steer the ship away from the singularity. Instead the Blazers opted to tighten their harnesses, lock down the helm with The Club, and steer straight down the middle into an alternate dimension where losing and misery rule. Riding an early lead all the way to the finish line, the Mavericks exited Moda Center with a 96-95 victory, leaving the Blazers with even more painful questions to answer.
The Blazers came out flatter than a wookie singing the 12 Days of Christmas. “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to meeeeee... a 10 point first quarter deficit! 8 missed triples! 6 personal fouls! fiiiiive unnecessary tuuuurnovers! a three from Wes! two Barnes jumpers! and a rejuvenated Derrrrroon Williams!” If the Blazers had been any more stagnant and flat-footed they could have doubled as mummified fruitcake. The Mavs won nearly every statistical category in the period on the way to a 30-20 first quarter lead.
While the Blazers were busy cleaning pieces of candied cherry from their shoe soles, the Mavs continued to turn the Blazers over (5 steals in the quarter) as Williams partied his way to 17 first half points. Portland’s leading scorers at the break were Shabazz Napier and Allen Crabbe, who both had 8 points. It was like Santa came down the chimney, passed gas, and jumped right back in the sleigh. Mavericks 62, Blazers 38 at the half.
In keeping with the season, both teams agreed to host an reenactment of the holiday classic, “Trading Places” in the third and man did they ever embrace it. Instead of crisp ball movement and attacking mismatches, the Mavs fired contested jumper after contested jumper. Meanwhile the Blazers realized that moving the ball more than once on offense made scoring way easier. When the ball ended up in Lillard’s hands off those passes, he created sparkly Christmas magic. His 20 points in the period were more than enough to outscore Dallas At the end of three quarters the score read 81-71 Mavericks. Maybe this former blowout would end up close?
It did, but the final period was less war on Christmas and more war of attrition. Neither team showed any continuity on either end of the floor. The quarter was typified by runs of 2-3 points, unforced turnovers, and silly fouls. The just needed to protect the ball and score at a rudimentary level. For a while they seemed incapable of doing it. But Portland’s comeback effort would be for nought. The game came down to the final possession. Old school met new wave as Wesley Matthews picked up Lillard with 8 seconds remaining. Lillard started the set 35 feet from the hoop and ended it with a contested, leaning, fadeaway three with less than two seconds on the clock. Score one for the old guard: the shot fell short and the Mavs walked away with the single-point win.
The Clay Mathematics Institute is offering a $1 million prize to anyone who figure out what’s wrong with the Trail Blazers right now. After an embarrassing defeat in Sacramento last night, the familiar phrases were tossed around; effort, heart, hustle, defense, energy, etc. But it appears that the Grinch who stole all that stuff hasn’t returned it yet.
At this point platitudes and cliches fall flat. The energy in the crowd at the Moda Center was more Rolling Stones 2029 Reunion Tour than Drake, Chance The Rapper, and J. Cole super show. The fans were looking for something to inspire them before investing the effort. It took a half hour for anyone to speak above a whisper and audible groans typified the evening.
All season long these recaps have spoken of blown rotations, missed assignments, and incorrect reads. Those were a factor again tonight. But something else is clearly at play here. The Blazers are past stalling and are beginning an uncontrollable tailspin. With three of the next four games against the Toronto Raptors and the San Antonio Spurs, pulling out won’t be easy.
Damian Lillard went from sole proprietor of all your masonry needs to flame-throwing, face-melting, supernova-esque hot in the matter of 30 real-time minutes tonight. His final stat line doesn’t represent those extremes well but here you go. The good: 29 points, the bad: 6 turnovers, the ugly: final result.
CJ McCollum ended up with more field goal attempts (16) than points (13) tonight. When he needed to zig, he zagged... hard. These kind of games aren’t all that common for McCollum, so chalk it up to the weirdness of the evening.
Shabazz Napier got an extended run for the Blazers tonight, complete with meaningful minutes. In the first half Napier was Portland’s best player. He finished the evening with 10 points on 50% shooting from the field, adding some much-needed hustle. He’s the one player in a Blazers uniform you probably didn’t scream at tonight. Well done Bazz.
For all the badness, you can at least count on Mason Plumlee and Maurice Harkless to give you everything they have right now. They’ll make mistakes from time to time, but they’ll do it at full speed. Neither had banner evenings, but on a night when nearly everyone else on the roster looked like they were playing in snowshoes, their effort shone through.
Links and Such
MavsMoneyball might actually be angry about this win. Not as angry as Portland fans though.
Blazer’s Edge Night 2017
Want to assist us in sending 2,000+ underprivileged Portland-area kids to a Trail Blazers game this spring? Check out Blazer’s Edge Night 2017 for information on how to get involved, and help spread the word!