Under a minute left in Wednesday’s game, and I found myself standing beside my couch in the living room screaming at my television. Portland looked dead in the water at the beginning of the fourth period, and I had been resigned to the fate that I expected. So many melt downs in the fourth quarter. Obviously this was simply one more. But Wednesday something different seemed to be happening. The Blazers some how put together a 15-0 run, a run of four points more than they scored in the entire fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers, and then a jumper in the lane from Brandon Roy cut the score to 96-95. I had one distinct feeling as I screamed at the TV, and it might not be the one you’d think.
I was angry. I was angry because if Portland had played with half as much heart, energy, and fight in their two previous games they would have rolled into Boston after crushing Philly and New Jersey in the days before. They would not be in the middle of a morass that now includes five straight losses. We fans would not be knee deep in speculation as to where Portland is going to land in the 2011 lottery. As it is, Ray Allen pulled his head out and drilled a back breaker, and Portland’s valiant attempt against Boston counts for nothing more than the losses the team has already sustained on their now 0 and 3 road trip.
Or maybe not. Two things happened Wednesday night that could be a turning point for Portland. Starting in the first quarter it was clear that the Blazers were interested in attacking the rim. It didn’t always look nice and it didn’t always work, but getting closer to the rim is going to make it a hell of a lot easier for Portland to generate offense. The Blazers scored 42 points in the paint. Although that wasn’t too much more than Boston’s 38, you have to look at the difference in personnel. Boston has Shaq, who probably has scored 80% of his more than 20K lifetime points in the paint; Kevin Garnett, who likes to spot up but has no problem getting to the rim; and plenty of other guys with the MO of putting their head down and attacking the bucket.
The second thing Portland did Wednesday night that could signal a turn around at least for right now is actually two things. They both happened in the fourth quarter and they are related. Everybody knows, without the help of the constant reminders from Mike and Mike, that Portland has been outscored in the fourth period in its last few outings by about half a million. Wednesday Portland outscored Boston 23-20 in the last 12 minutes, that’s an improvement. Directly related to this is that in many of the Blazer’s blown fourth quarters as soon as things start looking dour the guys in black and red were quick to check-out. With just over five minutes to play Kevin Garnett pushed Boston’s lead to 16. Pregame, losing by less than 20 would have felt good, at halftime those feelings were replaced by that glimmer of hope that the Blazers would be capable of pulling off a miracle. But with five minutes left, in the cold harsh light or reality, it looked like we weren’t even going to have the good fortune of witnesses a 20-point loss. But like I said earlier, Portland didn’t pack it in. It made me angry at the time, but when the final horn sounded, I allowed myself to believe that a four-point loss against one of the best teams in the NBA on their home court might be just enough to start the journey into the light.
Of course, Portland still has one more game on this Eastern swing. A loss to Washington on Friday, and we might be back to square one. Or really square negative one.
If the Blazers needed to forget about their last two fourth quarters, they might do well to remember Wednesday’s. They played with heart, they looked like they belonged on the court, and they took one of the top teams around to the bitter end. If we are in the market for moral victories, which at this point we might be, Wednesday’s loss meets the criteria.
- Armon Johnson got bumped on Wednesday for Patty Mills. Mills has never played a meaningful moment in his professional career, and Wednesday I would say he made the most of his opportunity. Mills’ stat line was less than memorable, eight minutes played, one rebound, two assists, and two fouls, missing his only field goal attempt, but he didn’t turn the ball over at all. Johnson got the boot for turnovers. He’s the better player, but what the Blazers need is a reliable ball handler working with the second unit. I’m not saying Patty’s that guy, but getting minutes in a big game has to mean something. Patty did throw a nice look away pass on the fast break and a sweet lob to LaMarcus Aldridge.
- Keeping track of the other roster shakeup, it might be safe bet to say that Nicolas Batum is going to be coming off the bench for a little while. Wesley Matthews showed yet again that he can bring it on offense. His 23 points led all Blazers, and was second only to Paul Pierce’s 28. Matthews was 5-of-7 from deep. If he can get it going like this against teams that aren’t 7-1 at home, and one or two more guys can chip in with reliable offense there could be a modicum of hope after all.
- Matthews made two big plays in the fourth quarter, but only one of them counted. He turned a steal into a fast break bucket that extended Portland’s late run, and he pulled down a rebound on Ray Allen’s first dagger attempt. Unfortunately in Boston when you get fallen on by Kevin Garnett that’s a foul on you. I’m going to make myself feel better, and blame everything on the refs.
- Speaking of fouls, Sean Marks returned Wednesday, becoming the first Portland big man this season to go down with an injury and COME BACK. Marks bricked three shots in a row and collected five fouls in eight minutes. I love the effort from Marks, and it’s unfair to dump too hard on this guy, but it will be a breath of fresh air when Joel Przybilla comes back. That could be as soon as Friday. Here’s hoping.