The Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Dallas Mavericks 131-120 on Saturday night. The game quickly turned into a shootout, one in which Portland didn’t maintain the adequate firepower to match up with the hot-shooting Mavs and Luka Doncic, who recorded a 40-point triple-double.
During postgame media availability, Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said the game turned out the way it did because Portland tried to adapt to Dallas’ offensive style of play, rather than mucking the contest up with defense and fight.
I thought we waited too long to fight, to scrap and claw like we usually do and how we usually play. In the first quarter we kind of let it be like an offensive game, which is easy to do the way that they play and we’re getting up and down. Our guys, we’re telling them ‘attack, attack, attack,’ we felt like they had no rim protection. ... And we did. ... but we really just couldn’t make a 3.
To Billups’ point, the Trail Blazers scored 72 points in the paint, but went a rough 7-of-32 from 3-point range — and that’s with sharpshooters Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant back in the lineup. On the other side, the Mavs shot 16-of-47 from deep, to go along with 52 paint points.
In the interview, Billups also gave clarity to a situation at the start of the second half. Billups called a timeout just 18 seconds into the third quarter after Doncic scored on a midrange jumper. On the play, Billups said Trail Blazers center Deandre Ayton was supposed to blitz Doncic out of the pick-and-roll, but instead, the center stayed back in drop coverage.
I was just upset at us. We come out, we say what we’re gonna do at the start of the quarter, end of a half, and right away we don’t do it. We’re supposed to be in a blitz and we don’t blitz the ball. I hate to have to waste a timeout on that. It’s not really wasted because I’m getting my point across, but at the same time, now we’re short on timeouts the rest of the way. I’d rather attack that right away, but it sucks that I even had to attack that right away. We getting our ass kicked in the first half, we come in, we talk about what we need to do, and boom, we come out and we’re just not focused.
Billups said the lack of execution on that play was just one instance of a larger problem regarding the team’s focus at times this season.
That’s been kind of an issue for us, we gotta focus better in and out of timeouts, halftime, before the game, we get off to slow starts. We just gotta be better with our focus.
On a brighter note, Billups discussed Scoot Henderson’s improved play in the second half of the game, following a rough first half for the rookie point guard. Henderson went 0-of-2 for zero points and two turnovers in his first shift, then rebounded in the second half to finish 5-of-10 for 13 points, three rebounds, three assists and one block. Billups explained what changed for Henderson between the two halves:
I just told him to slow down. I thought in the first half he just was running too fast with no intent. He was just throwing the ball everywhere. That’s why I had to pull him out. And then in the second half he had a plan. I said, ‘when you run up the court, know what play you wanna run. Get us organized, now attack.’ … I told him when he was at the scorer’s table, ‘see what we need. We need some stops. We need some extra-effort plays and then we can push, but just have a plan.’ And I thought his second half, his fight sparked us. You get the block at the rim, he’s emotional. I thought that gave us a lift, which is what you want for anybody coming off the bench.
From a larger perspective, Henderson’s development has been on a more positive trajectory since returning from an ankle injury that caused him to miss nine games in November. In the 10 games since his return, Henderson has come off the bench as opposed to starting the game. Billups explained what went into that decision to keep the rookie in a bench role since the injury:
It just kind of happened that way when he got hurt. … One, he was on a minutes restriction, and two, I just felt like that was really going to be better for him because before he got hurt, everything was just so rushed. I felt like he was kind of putting pressure on himself. I like how he’s been coming off the bench for us, so my thing is, let him get his footing up under him. Let him get comfortable, and then when it’s that time again, he’ll be back in there. But right now, I like where he’s at.