We’re going to do things a little differently tonight. Since the Blazers won a relatively simplistic game — neither team could defend the paint all that well — in which they followed a familiar pattern in failing to hold a double-digit lead in the fourth, we’re going to delve into how that happened rather than go further into the broader happenings of a contest that played out rather predictably (relatively speaking). After all, we keep telling you that this Portland roster survives on it’s offense and merely gets by with its defense, so why don’t we show you for once. Show, Don’t Tell, the professors like to say.
The Blazers began the fourth quarter up 73-62. Just under four minutes later, after scoring their first point of the quarter, they were tied, 74-74. This is how it happened, spanning from the start of the period to the 8:11 mark, beginning with a lineup of Bayless, Rudy, Webster, Juwan and Aldridge:
- Offensive Possession One: Bayless swings the ball to Juwan at the top of the key, who gives the ball to Rudy on the left wing. Juwan sets a moving screen that, despite not making much contact, helps free Rudy to drive the middle with a burst of speed. Rudy then attempts a floater over Jason Thompson, hitting back iron. 73-62, 11:45.
- Defensive Possession One: Garcia, with Rudy defending, brings the ball up and passes to Tyreke Evans coming off a down screen, right wing. As Evans waits for a pick, Garcia retreats to the left wing, Rudy stays right side to watch Evans. Evans gets the pick and moves forward with one dribble. LaMarcus Aldridge steps in to cut off Evans, but Rudy is still there, swiping at the ball and watching the pass sail over his head to Garcia, who hits an open three. Martell Webster was in the area to rotate onto Garcia, but had to watch his own man cutting back door. No rotation should have been necessary. 73-65, 11:28.
- Offensive Possession Two: Bayless comes down left side, giving Rudy the ball top key as he splits a screen in the paint to free himself. Aldridge is there to set a pick, but Rudy seemingly calls him off, directing the offense with a pointed finger. Defending is Sean May, so Rudy goes isolation on the right wing. He dribbles between his legs twice and gets by May going baseline. Both Kings forward come over to defend, but Rudy flips up another floater that hits glass and spins off the rim. 73-65, 10:59.
- Defensive Possession Two: Evans brings the ball up with Bayless defending. Evans waits for a May pick and gets Bayless caught briefly. Bayless goes over the top of the pick but Juwan, who was on May, was behind the play ready to help. Evans passes to May, May makes a jumper with Juwan closing out. 73-67, 10:45.
- Offensive Possession Three: Bayless to Rudy right wing. Rudy gives to Juwan top of the key. Bayless uses a baseline-cutting Webster to get open left wing and receives the ball from Juwan. Bayless enters the ball into Aldridge, 17-feet away. Aldridge tries to take Thompson to the middle, but Thompson draws the contact, falls back, and Aldridge is whistled for an offensive foul. 73-67, 10:23.
- Defensive Possession Three: Evans brings the ball up on Bayless, crosses over and drives middle. Bayless stays on his right hip while Aldridge steps up to meet Evans in the paint. Evans jumps and hits Aldridge’s man, May, who was five feet away being help defended by Webster. May catches and takes one dribble to back up to the free-throw line. Webster releases and four Blazer defenders within eight feet watch as May makes the uncontested jumper. Mike Barret implies that May should have been called for three-in-the-key. May, having deftly stepped out of the key as the play developed, was in the key for 1.9 seconds. 73-69, 9:56.
- Offensive Possession Four: Bayless brings it up, Aldridge sets a screen and Bayless winds up with Thompson defending right wing. Bayless crosses over right, beats Thompson inside and misses a layup with Thompson recovering. Offensive Possession Five: Aldridge grabs the rebound and passes out of a cluster of defenders to extra-super open Webster, who hits front iron. 73-69, 9:37.
- Defensive Possession Four: Garcia comes up the left side on a slow break with three Blazers trailing. Aldridge is in the paint, shading toward Garcia as May sprints down the middle. Aldridge commits to neither, though Webster is nearby to rotate over, as Garcia draws his eyes right and hits May in the middle. Aldridge slaps down on May, who gets to the free-throw line and makes one. 73-70, 9:31.
- Offensive Possession Six: Miller subs in for Bayless and brings the ball up. He hits Rudy left wing, who then tries and fails to use an Aldridge screen. He gives a bad pass to Aldridge, who passes back and sets another pick. Rudy bursts towards the rim and misses a floater, back iron, as May decides to wait on the rebound and not to step up and defend. 73-70, 9:09.
- Defensive Possession Five: After a Howard foul, the ball is inbounded top key to Evans, with Webster defended. Evans dribbles right, drives left and finishes at the rim with Webster riding his right hip. Both Aldridge and Juwan were taken out of the paint by the offense, but Miller was feet away from stepping in and taking a charge. 73-72, 8:55.
- Offensive Possession Seven: Rudy and Juwan work a pick on the right wing. Juwan pops out as Rudy takes the ball top key. Rudy passes to Juwan, who posts up May, drives left into the paint and is fouled by Thompson. Juwan makes one of two free throws, scoring Portland’s first point of the quarter. 74-72, 8:37.
- Defensive Possession Six: Batum subs in for Webster. Evans begins top key with Batum defending. Evans goes left wing, using a pick by Thompson, passes to Thompson and gets the handoff coming back, but Batum fights through the pick. Evans dribbles left, spins back into the paint with Batum perfectly situated between him and the basket. Evans shoots from eight feet away off his right hip, misses left and gets his own offensive rebound with three Blazers in the area. Defensive Possession Seven: Evans passes out to Thompson on the left free-throw line extended. Thompson drives middle and draws contact from Batum, who had rotated over a hair late. Thompson makes the running hook after the contact, but misses the extra free throw. 74-74, 8:11.
There you have it. Fourteen possessions and a 12-1 run later, the game was tied. Of Portland’s seven offensive possessions, three were used by Rudy. In all three, Rudy either used a defensive mismatch or a pick on the perimeter to get near the rim. In all three, he shot a variation of a floater. Two were defended, one was ignored by the help defense, all three shots missed. Another possession ended with Aldridge charging into Thompson, a questionable (with a bad camera angle) but not terrible call, while the fifth was Bayless missing a similar shot to Rudy’s misses, Aldridge grabbing the board and Webster missing an open three. The last possession, Juwan got to the free-throw line.
If we decide that Rudy freeing himself for a floater in or around the paint is a quality offensive possession — it remains to be seen whether it actually is or not — then six of the seven offensive sets resulted in good shots, the outlier being Aldridge’s charge. So, there was not a huge problem on offense other than, with most of the early plays being for him, Rudy being unable to finish at the rim.
The run happened, as it has happened so many times before, because of the defense. If we define a quality defensive possession as one where the shot is well defended, whether or not it goes in or not, only one of the seven Kings sets was well defended, when May hit a Juwan-contested long two. The Blazers allowed two open jumpers, one layup, an and-one after an offensive board and put the Kings on the line after getting beat in transition. The best defensive possession was when Batum stuck Evans and defended an awkward shot in the lane, but the Blazers failed to secure the rebound (Evans got it), so it cannot count as a complete quality defense.
In two of the cases Evans broke down his defender in isolaton — understandable given his talent — but the true problems, as shown in the play analysis, were simple defensive recognition and help rotations, whether it was simply failing to step to the side and meet a driver or outright forgetting about and failing to communicate responsibilities. These problems have hounded the Blazers for most of the season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, in looking back at all the leads the Blazers have nearly or fully lost, they were at the root of most of the evil.