As expected, no?
Really, the biggest break the Blazers got was catching the Nuggets without their best defender in Kenyon Martin. Without him, the thinking could have been that LaMarcus Aldridge could have a huge night in the post and the Blazers could put enough shooting around that performance to steal a win. It was a thin glimmer of hope in a game that Portland didn’t really need, but it was something. That hope wound up being akin to throwing down your budget of gambling money on 23 red at the roulette wheel, losing all of it, and saying, “Well, I had a chance.”
From the get-go, without Marcus Camby, the Blazers’ gameplan appeared to be to try and outscore the Nuggets. They were looking for home run passes, streaking out on the break and generally playing without caution for the shot clock. Problem was, they also appeared to have mentally checked out of the defensive side of things, conceding that they had little chance of stopping Denver in a straight-up game. Layups weren’t contested, rotations were made with eyes more than feet and the Blazers in general looked like they were trying to play defense in NBA Live ’95, years before programmers figured out how to get little bunches of polygons to take charges.
Put it all together and you get a Denver team shooting 59 percent from the field and scoring 125(!) points per 100 possessions. That left a paltry 24 defensive rebounds, total, for Portland to collect, which means just 36 — add 12 Denver turnovers — possessions at the most where they didn’t have to begin their attack out of a dead-ball situation. That’s 36 out of 94 possessions. No wonder they could only muster 14 fast-break points despite trying to run all night.
It wasn’t all bad news. In fact it could have been much worse than it was. Carmelo Anthony stole his fair share of lunch money from whoever Portland tried to throw at him, but Nic Batum was fundamentally solid despite his strength disadvantage — he just couldn’t avoid fouls when Anthony took him underneath. Jerryd Bayless had a solid, if uneven ball-dominating offensive night and, along with Rudy Fernandez‘ four threes, was largely responsible for Portland being, technically, in arm’s length of the lead with 10 minutes to go. And I’m pretty sure Andre Miller killed a man with a trident. He might want to lay low for awhile.
But none of it mattered because Brandon Roy and Aldridge, in combining to shoot 9-of-28, were the opposite of the cat’s pajamas. They were the cat’s really nice rental tuxedo. Aldridge didn’t seem to relish not having Martin around, appeared to know he just didn’t have it going on offense and abandoned the post as the game wore on. Brandon Roy couldn’t hit any of his usual off-kilter layups, in part because he was running into two defenders everytime he probed inside — the Blazers shot 11-of-28 in the paint — and in part because his touch around the rim was way off. Both were active and made contributions elsewhere, but neither were anywhere close to what they need to be to beat Denver in Colorado.
It’s a shame, in that sense, that the Blazers actually got Rudy and Jerryd to have good games on the same night, but it was all for naught with the stars in their doldrums. In the future, with a consistent defensive presence, the Blazers will be able to afford an off night from one of the cornerstones, but they didn’t have that luxury in this smackdown — one that Chris Andersen didn’t even deem worthy of his usual post-block, post-dunk celebrations. Portland may have been within single digits at times, but they never acted a threat with the proceedings as stale as, um, things that get stale when you leave them out.