The appropriate way to start things off after the Blazers blow a 25-point lead to the Utah Jazz: with the fans. So, what hurt the most?
@DigitalDaggers: #1 Jumpshot after Jumpshot after Jumpshot #2 Nate not coaching the team out of #1.
@mitchwinn: only 10 points in the 4th quarter. they had 10 points in the ot.
@SKSevenSwans: watching the lead slowly but surely decrease. Like Chinese water torture.
@Ell_21: dre being absolutely horrific down the stretch.
@_BlazerNation_: The fact that we only scored 24 pts in the 3rd, 4th AND OT hurts me the most. Smh.
@Seth_Johnston: FESEEEEEEENNNNKOOOOOOOO! (you can quote me on that).
This was the type of game that makes it exceedingly easy to bring out the doom and gloom, but, to the credit of most of the folks we were in contact with on Twitter, there was less of that and more reactions based on realistic expectations.
In many ways, the Blazers were due to blow a massive lead like this. Things like that happen to most teams over the course of the season — though not always at home to a division rival — and Portland had allowed a ton of near comebacks in fourth quarters after gaining double-digit leads. Until now, they tended to make a final push to earn the win, however ugly some of them turned out to be. But it happened enough times that we had the data to construct a solid model of the team: offensively efficient enough to go up big, defensively deficient enough not to stay up.
Marcus Camby was supposed to fix that, sure, but not against the Jazz, though he did try with 18 boards and four blocks. The Jazz aren’t the worst matchup in the league for Portland just because they have guys that can penetrate and score at the rim, the type of guys a weakside defender like Camby can help neutralize. The Jazz are Portland’s worst nightmare because they are big, bruising and physical, and above all that they pass better than anyone. The fact that Camby was brought in to plug the defensive holes doesn’t make Utah any better of a matchup for his lengthy frame, either.
A few folks lamented the volume of jumpshots which led to the Blazers getting outscored 44-19 over the final 19 minutes, including overtime, and they had every reason to. The Blazers opened the fourth quarter with five consecutive misses from the perimeter. After a Brandon Roy bailout three to begin overtime, they missed another five consecutive jumpers. They scored 30 points in the paint and allowed 50 on top of 16 offensive rebounds. Those are numbers that aren’t going to take you deep into the playoffs.
But they are numbers that the Blazers have won consistently with, too. They lost the lead with jumpers, but they got it with them, too, hitting eight consecutive perimeter field-goals mixed in with free throws between the first and second quarters to go ahead 17, and the finished the half with another three with range. With a Jazz defense that collapses the paint and runs off your shooters as well as any team once they start firing their jets and electrons, the Blazers still worked their sets, albeit deeper and deeper into the shot clock, and earned some decent looks. A Nic Batum three here, any one of four misses in the final minute fall there, and this is a win. The simplicity of the following statement may read like an excuse, but offensively the Blazers hit a defensively-encouraged rut, and on defense they were just as outmatched as they have been since the two big bodies fell their season’s final fall.
It hurts to see the Blazers clinging to a one-game lead in eighth place in the Western Conference, but the loss doesn’t speak to how they will fare in that battle. The Jazz bring to light the limitations of an Oden-less rotation, but they hardly prescribe any big changes to the system, nor do they urge on the lamentations over focus, toughness, determination and the other buzzwords. These are the 2010 Blazers, and they will fare better against most other teams doing the exact same things, good and bad, they did today.
LaMarcus Aldridge had another first half worth of thousands of heads silently nodding in approval. He fought for position, he used counter moves in the post, he made and used contact and was the focal point of Portland’s offense during their extended run. The 10 rebounds were great, but he had nine of those midway through the third quarter, when a flurry of fouls moved him to the bench. By the time he returned, the Blazers were scrambling for any offense by that point and they never settled down enough to re-establish LMA down low. He couldn’t do much against the Deron Williams-Carlos Boozer combo in the second half, but it’s worth noting that seven of Boozer’s 16 rebounds after halftime came with LaMarcus on the bench.
For most of the game it looked like another one of those “Who is that? It can’t be Roy. Roy is better than that” nights. But after Portland’s offense sunk into some cold crevice of the Atlantic Ocean, Roy went on a bit of a run, scoring nine points after the 6:38 mark in the fourth, getting to the line eight times over the next four minutes while only making four. You can probably attribute some of those misses to his leg(s), but it just looked like Portland needed Roy to create too much against a defense that makes it very difficult to get anywhere. A good test for him personally, and perhaps a confidence booster in that hammy, but the package wasn’t there to pull Portland out of the hole.
As mentioned, Camby did everything he could on defense and on the boards while offering a 1-of-7 from the field. It’s a credit to him that even after Utah started boxing him out with two bodies, he was still close to every loose ball, but he’s not the type to bully his way through people. As good of a help defender as he is — and boy does he take some mean swipes at shots — he’s still of the long, athletic mold, which isn’t all that different from Aldridge in terms of one-on-one defense.
Nic Batum was a lightning rod in the first half, scoring 14 points on an array of jumpers and easy buckets. But he didn’t get back into the game until there was a minute left in the third, and by that time the rhythm had left him. For the rest of the night he drew the duty of keeping Williams out of he paint, which he did with some mild success, certainly more than anyone else did. You would like to see him get into the second-half rotation earlier, especially when Martell Webster is having a non-appearance, and be more involved in the offense, but you also have to point out that Utah didn’t give him much space after the early jumpers.
Webster was hardly noticeable, which is strange because of his usual high level of performance against the Jazz. It’s a shame, but before you go jumping on the “Start Nic” bandwagon, think about what you want from each player. Webster has admittedly been pretty bad whenever he tries to create on offense. Batum has shown some promise in that area. It’s possible Batum has more room for offensive growth, and he’s more likely to use some of those expanded tools in the second unit.
Andre Miller did a fine job keeping the ball in circulation in the first half, but he was just as at fault as anyone when things went sour with a bit of a quick trigger from the perimeter — 5-of-18 overall.
I’m officially nominating Rudy Fernandez for the Most Polarizing Blazer role now that Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw are out of town. His energy in the passing lanes and in transition is infectious to the rest of the team. He changes the game when he gets out and runs, as well as when he makes hard cuts to the rim. But when the defense swarms him and there’s no space coming off the picks, he isn’t really going anywhere and can waste valuable time doing just that. He wants to create, the Blazers need him to create, but as exciting as some sections of his work can be, the painting as a whole still winds up being a bit of a mess, despite the complete lack of turnovers.
We’ve mentioned how bad a matchup Utah is, haven’t we? Well the Jazz are Godzilla, and Juwan Howard is Japan. That should tell you how his night went. Dante Cunningham didn’t fare much better outside of some nice jumpers.
And finally Jerryd Bayless. I’m sure there will be some hate for him tomorrow after nine ineffective minutes when the Blazers desperately needed him. One thing to remember is that in the last couple weeks, and especially now that Blake is gone, he is essentially playing a new position at point guard than even earlier in the year, when the call was to supply as much self-induced offense as possible. And in that new position where he has to be a new sort of player, that new player has hit a rookie wall. As such, we are in standby mode with Bayless.