Well it had to happen. Even the most die-hard, head-in-the-sand, homer Blazer’s fans had to know that Portland wasn’t going to go 82-0. Three straight wins were nice, but the way Portland played in those wins was right on the line. One slow start, and any of those three wins could have just as easily been losses. Monday night started flat and slow, Portland never really got their feet under them, and despite a monster game from LaMarcus Aldridge, couldn’t get passed the Chicago Bulls. Led by a career-high from Luol Deng, Chicago jumped on the Blazers early, leading 32-21 after one quarter, and never really let up.
The Blazers have been able to establish early leads in their first three wins, but have also put together runs in the fourth quarter three nights in a row that cemented each win. Monday night, Portland trailed by double digits most of the evening, but managed to stay close enough to make yet another fourth quarter run a possibility. This time though Nate McMillan had pulled the starters and it was up to a struggling Rudy Fernandez, Armon Johnson, Dante Cunningham, Febricio Oberto, and Luke Babbitt to mount the game winning comeback. Not the best lineup to have on the floor, but of course it was the first night of a back-to-back and the third game of a four-game cross country road trip.
With the bench on the floor, Portland put together an eight-point run and cut the lead to 101-92, the first time the Blazer’s were within single digits since the beginning of the second half. Cunningham forced a turnover from Chicago’s All-Star point guard Derrick Rose, and on the run out Luke Babbitt found himself wide open from deep with a chance to cut even further into the lead. Babbitt passed up the three, and on the drive to hoop was called for traveling. Two Chicago possessions later, three-point specialist Kyle Korver drained a three, bumping the lead back up to 11, and that was all she wrote. Portland’s first loss.
I’m not trying to place the blame for this one on Luke Babbitt, he was seeing his first action as a professional basketball player and he had nothing to do with the problems Portland was having through the first 45 minutes of play, but I am saying that if you’re out there, which he was, and you can hit those shots, which he can, please, please, please shoot the ball. With less than three minutes left in a game that Portland was not going to win, Babbitt shouldn’t even think twice about letting it fly. Ah well, ever loss is a chance to learn. There’s no reason to over analyze, you simply cannot win them all.
Here are some very brief thoughts I had on tonight’s game:
- Luol Deng almost beat Portland all by himself. Deng hadn’t done much in Chicago’s first two games, a win and a loss, scoring 13 points in the opening night loss to the Thunder and 9 points in the win at home against Detroit. Monday night Deng exploded for a career-high 40 points, shooting 14-of-19 from the field. Its possible that Deng flew under the radar in Portland’s prep for Monday’s game, focusing instead on stopping Derrick Rose. If that’s the case, when the Bulls show up in Portland on February 7th it won’t happen again.
- LaMarcus Aldridge finally broke out of the mini-slump he’s been in to start of the season. LA scored 33 points, hitting 12-of-19 from the field, and grabbed nine rebounds. Too bad for LA not one other Blazer had a good game.
- Portland looked strong on the offensive glass on Monday, but unfortunately there were too many times when they were unable to convert offensive boards into easy baskets. Attacking the offensive glass is good, it shows determination and hustle, but its all for naught when they can’t be turned into points.
- The Blazers got killed in the open floor. Chicago outscored Portland 27-to-10 on the fast break, enough to get them the win. Rose is a great all-around talent, a little more range and he would be the best point guard in the league, but on the break and with a full head of steam he might be the best player working other than LeBron James.
- Chicago got most of their fast break points because Portland missed a lot of shots. The Blazer’s shooting stats for Monday night: 33-of-80 from the field for 41% and 0-of-14 from three for ZERO percent. Until Greg Oden comes back, Portland will live and die by their jumpers. So far they’ve looked good, especially from three, but if they miss FOURTEEN three-pointers they will not win.
Sunday night was a very sad day for the Blazers fans, players, and extended family and for the NBA as a whole. After battling with bladder cancer, Maurice Lucas, one of the best and most loved Blazers of all time, passed away. Luke was honored pregame with a moment of silence, and there will be a service in his honor to be held Monday, November 8th at the Memorial Coliseum. Coach Luke was 58.
The Blazers close their road trip Tuesday night in Milwaukee against the Bucks.