Blazers 83, Rockets 86 Re-Thoughts

Elephant in the room before we go any further with this one. This loss isn’t all on Steve Blake’s late three-pointer so just stop it. Was it an absolutely horrible decision? Duh. Was Blake one of the reasons why Portland lost? Yes. But, to say that play is the reason Portland lost the game isn’t quite right. Understand that. Even if on the next morning it is still beyond me how you don’t dribble weave it to Rudy Fernandez on that play, or get him off a screen or something. Ok, I’m still bitter about it. (Sidenote: Mark Jackson pulling out the ‘Steve, you’re not at Maryland’ line anymore like Blake’s a rookie was just beyond dumb. And to believe this guy almost got a head coaching job because of his awesome insight. Momma, there goes that man again!!)

What have we learned about this years Playoffs so far? That the team who is the most aggressive is usually the team that is coming out with the W. To put this simply, Houston was tons more aggressive than the Blazers were and they went out and won this game. The Blazers’ performance was very Game 1-esque, it might have looked different because it was in Houston but all the elements of Game 1 stank were there. Remember when like around Season 5 or 6 of the Cosby Show, Rudy Huxtable started getting old and growing a moustache and they brought Raven Symone in the dumbest way possible. And it was just Cosby doing the same things he did before but with a different kid and everyone know. Game 3 was kind of like that….except worse somehow. You have to give credit to Houston though, they made some key adjustments that worked out very well. They took Roy and LaMarcus away. Couple that with the aggression they showed and they deserved the win. It wasn’t just finding ways to stop Roy and LMA, it was also their transition defense. Portland couldn’t get out and run which means they couldn’t take advantage of Houston’s turnovers. I think their first fast-break points were on a Steve Blake pull-up three. That says it all.

My feelings on Game 3 are kind of like a Sour Patch Kid: sour & sweet. This isn’t one of those games where you can put one nice sticky band-aid on it and boom it’s figured out. This is just a weird, confusing feeling. Its the return of the painful playoff loss that just kind of sits with you like a meatball sub. It’s lingering longer than the guys in Pineapple Express. For every positive comment or thought I have about this game, a negative one creeps right by it or vice versa. It is driving me wild. Don’t believe me? Watch me do my dance then. On one hand, Portland reverted back to their Game 1 tentative ways (BOO). On the other hand, they came back from down 17 and made this a game (YAY). On one side you can say that Portland showed an ability to compete and win in Houston (YAY). On the other hand you can say the blew a chance to steal a win on the road, the type of chances you don’t get too often in the playoffs (BOO). You can say that Portland managed to be right there despite Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge combining to shoot 12-for-33 (YAY). On the other hand you can say the blew a game where Yao, Artest and Brooks combined to shoot 8-for-26 (BOO). And I could keep on going but for my sanity’s sake I’m going to stop. Just a weird feeling thinking about this game. But, at the end of the day Game 3 is in the books. Houston is up 2-1 and a completely new slate starts up with Game 4.

The most disappointing aspect of Game 3 was the return of the tentativeness. From the tip it was clear that Houston was not going to let Brandon Roy beat them. We all expected this….well apparently all of us except for the other Blazers. Their help defense was everywhere, building walls around the ball anytime Roy even looked at penetrating. They also looked at ways to get LaMarcus Aldridge out of rhythm. Double-teams worked (4 turnovers) as did quick rotations on the pick-and-roll. Also working was the fact that he started the game 1-for-7. Portland needed guys to step up, every one and their mom knew that. Was it going to be Blake? Outlaw? Batum? Rudy? It seemed like no one wanted the ball in the first half. Honestly, the only people ready to play in the first half were Rudy Fernandez and…*gulp* Channing Frye. (Oden added himself to that list later). Those two just went out and played basketball. Rudy got his mojo going early, Channing had that ‘F*** it I might as well just hoop while I’m out here’ swag. Everyone else was swag-less. The rest of the team was pump-faking, passing up shots, holding the ball, over or underdribbling. Just a lot of overthinking offensively from a lot of people. It was wildly disappointing.

Portland did a lot of un-Portland type things in this game. They got beasted on the boards (32-41) and on free throw attempts (10-24) just like in Game 1. Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge were just way off, more off than that one time Cartoon Network showed Saved by the Bell instead of cartoons. Roy had 19 points on 18 shots. If you’re a Houston fan that’s exactly what you want to see. Those are Rudy Gay, Vince Carter type numbers. The positive is he got to the line 8 times, which shows that his jumper was just off. The negative: his 8 attempts were 80% of the Blazers free throw attempts. He took nice shots he just could not get it going. It happens. LaMarcus finished with 13 points on 15 attempts. Not only that but he had 4 turnovers, struggling with the double team and the attention brought his way. He just wasn’t strong with the ball at times. The positive? At least he had 8 rebounds comparted to 1 in Game 1. Let it be known that these two cannot struggle if Portland wants to win this series. They especially can’t struggle if Portland wants to win in Houston.

It also didn’t help these two out that other than Rudy Fernandez no one decided to show up. Rudy carried the Blazers and would have gotten the game ball and my affection forever had Portland been able to pull it out. Steve Blake’s line looks ok….but he had a horrible game for being Steve Blake. It felt like he had way more than 2 turnovers. It was just weird to watch Blake play like the opposite of himself. The compliment I have always given him is that he’s solid and he doesn’t take anything away from the dinner table. Tonight he decided to break dishes in a Sergio-esque performance at times. I mean seriously, I’ve never cringed when Steve Blake has the ball in his hands until last night. The positives? He may have broken out of his slump (4-for-7 from behind the arc), he can’t play worse and he will get doubted by a ton of people over the next day. Blake has proven doubters wrong his whole career. Travis Outlaw was again a no-show, shooting 2-for-11. That means for the series he is 9-for-30. I just threw up in my mouth a little. And this is our #3 scorer who is running around out there with no confidence. He let Kyle Lowry D him up and I’m pretty sure he’s considered a midget in 15 states. How Outlaw didn’t jump over him in the post and get that fadeaway off is beyond me. Even when Portland started feeding him it wasn’t working out. If Travis keeps producing like this, Portland is going to struggle to put points up. The positives? Portland is still in this series despite Travis Outlaw playing just as well offensively as you or I could given the situation. He’s due. Greg Oden also played well…until we started trying to run everything through him.

Defensively, my biggest problem was how poorly the Blazers protected the paint, especially in the second quarter. So many uncontested layups and dunks in that quarter. I know Big Joel was in foul trouble but he let Scola get an And-1 on him and then Carl Landry low-key beasted him in the post. Definitely not calling the big fella out….but it was shocking to see. Aaron Brooks was slicing to the basket…Von Wafer was dunking…Portland just didn’t do a very good job of protecting the paint tonight. Also the performance of Luis Scola and Landry in the first half sure didn’t help. Those two combined to go 13-for-22 and scored 29 points. Getting that kind of production from those kinds of players is huge. The toughest part to swallow may be the fact that we finally got Yao, Brooks and Artest to struggle on the same night and couldn’t pull it off. That’s the toughest part if you ask me. You don’t get those oppurtunities that often. It’s kind of like Portland had the chance to take a pretty girl home but instead opted to take her number down and call her next week. It’s hard to think of a positive attached to that one because Yao and Brooks have been trouble all series. As much as I want to pull the ‘Roy/LMA can’t play much worse card’, the ‘Yao/Brooks/Artest can’t play much worse card’ is right there.

It is time to stay positive. There is plenty of basketball left to be played and believe it or not there were some encouraging things to come out of this game. The thing is, despite the disappointment…Portland somehow got into a game they had no business being in. None. I mean if Portland had come back and won we all would have been like thieves in the night. Statistically, Houston was beating them badly in every category and there Portland was surging right back. You take away Shane Battier’s three two steps behind the 3-point line and this might be a completely different ball game. I know, coulda, shoulda, wouldas…but still. What I liked most about this game was that Houston’s biggest weakness got exposed. What weakness? Their inability to execute in the 4th quarter. You take away those 6 free throws at the end and the Rockets only put up 14 points in the fourth. Their superstar is Yao Ming and he can be taken away easily in late game situations. All of a sudden you can’t get Yao the ball, the offense stagnates, there is no more kicking it to the weakside and moving the ball for an open shot or a great drive. Portland showed an ability to do that last night. It seemed like Houston just got tight, they didn’t know where to go. With a lot of series and close battles ahead this is only a good thing. Early in the fourth they like to go with Von Wafer and Kyle Lowry before subbing their starters in. Which means, in the fourth quarter the Rockets depended on Von Wafer, Kyle Lowry, Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola and Ron Artest to make plays. I’m not sure that sentence is a bad thing at all.

For Portland’s sake lets hope there is a carry-over between that second half of Game 3 and Game 4. The one thing we know about this team is that they are resilient. Now it’s Portland’s turn to make their adjustments to what Houston has presented. And if they can make the right adjustments, there is a really good chance that Portland heads back home with this series even at 2. Game 4 is going to be mighty interesting to say the least…

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