In the middle of the third period, as I was watching the Blazers lay yet another egg and all but seven of Portland’s 22-point lead had evaporated, I thought to myself, man this is so much harder to see live and in-person than sitting on my couch at home. That feeling was amplified by a factor of ten when, with a minute and a half, the Clippers had gotten the lead down to only three. I would love to say that my frustration and anger, that has been festering unhealthily as the losses continued to mount, disappeared when the final horn sounded Sunday, and the losing streak was FINALLY over. It would be a lie to say that I didn’t feel at least some relief, but the overwhelming feeling I had was that Portland, right now, is not very good. They’re missing too many shots, taking too many bad shots, missing assignments on defense, and failing miserably to capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes. Yes it feels good to get the win, and yes I feel that some of the speculation about the eminent demise of this version of the Portland Trail Blazers may have been a tad overblown. But after that, this team is still a ways from being relevant.
Even when playing well on Sunday, Portland looked a step slow. Way too many offensive possessions went deep into the shot clock, and more times than anybody would like to see, a few passes by the Clippers lead to open men with good looks at the basket. In the first half the Clips were 0-of-8 from deep. In the second half they were 7-of-17. Bad teams are going to take a lot of bad shots, and keep thinking bad looks are good looks for a lot longer than they should, but if LA could have gotten hot from deep in the early going, Portland may not have had a large enough lead to pull out the win. Of course it’s silly to hypothesize about what could have happened when we know what did happen. I just bring up the three-pointer issue because there are teams in the NBA that have guys that actually should shoot threes. If Portland plays perimeter defense against good shooting teams the way they played against the Clippers you can forget about 20-point leads.
If Sunday marks a turning point at all in Portland’s season, I would point to something that happened post-game that may very well be a watershed moment. In the home locker room following the game, the biggest group of reporters was surrounding the locker of Wesley Matthews. Two stalls down from Wes, those stalls belonging to Armon Johnson and nobody, Brandon Roy was dressed and talking only to one journalist. The crush of reporters never came for Brandon, and he gave his post-game interview without a single television camera in his face. The transition from Brandon to Wesley hasn’t been a hostile takeover, and I would go as far as to say that from a basketball standpoint it isn’t yet a takeover. Nate McMillan still wants to run isolation sets for Brandon until every person around the globe sees it coming a million miles away. When the ball starts going to Wesley exclusively, and it’s Brandon who gets the ball when the defense collapses, the switch at the top will be complete. It may never happen, but I think Nate may do himself a favor by coming up with some plays for Wesley before too much longer. Matthews 26 points were a game high, and during the third quarter when B Roy was coming up empty, it was Wesley that mad the clutch baskets.
In the end, when it looked like another melt down was happening right before our eyes, it was defense that put Portland over the top. Andre Miller made a couple of fantastic defensive plays, including a neat pick from rookie Eric Bledsoe right in front of the hoop. Nobody has come out and said that this Blazer team is not interested in winning, but the fighting spirit is most evident in Miller. The dude’s been a big time player all his life. It’s his grit and fight that will be able to salvage this season.
Post game, both in the locker room and clogging Twitter, there was plenty of qualified happiness about Sunday’s win. I’m right there with everyone that has said we’ll take it, but. That but being, let’s see what happens when a team with a road victory comes into the Rose Garden. Who knows though, it may have taken only one win to get these guys back into it. Only time will tell.
Portland plays the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday at the Rose Garden. Phoenix is both a team that Portland should beat, and a better team than a few that Portland has lost to in the last few games. If you’re looking for a test of where this team really is right now, it’s coming right around the corner.
Here are a few brief thoughts:
- After much hype, and one road game, Joel Przybilla made his 2010-11 home debut with 2:02 remaining in the opening quarter. His entrance was preceded by a nice highlight package and a huge standing ovation. Joel made his presence felt early with a horse collar on Blake Griffin, but his impact was minimal to say the least. His line: 9:34 played, 1 point, 1 rebound, five fouls. Joel brings the kind of intensity and toughness Portland has been missing, but he is going to take some time to catch back up to the speed of the game. It’s pretty great to see him back on the court, though.
- Patty Mills got the back-up point guard minutes again on Sunday. There are a ton of mixed feelings about what Patty brings as far as basketball skill. I personally like his quickness, he’s a great passer, and on Sunday he was perfect from the floor. That being said, he’s a little slow on man defense, he got lost a few times on defensive rotations, and he probably doesn’t have the physical ability to get inside either on offense or defense. I do like what I’ve been seeing from Patty, don’t get me wrong, but he has a lot of things to work on before he can get that bump from 10 minutes a game to real back-up point guard minutes.
- Four of Portland’s starters got into double figures in scoring. Led by Wesley’s 26, Portland’s top scorers were, Brandon with 14, Andre Miller with 13, and Marcus Camby with 12. Nicolas Batum was the fifth Blazer to reach double figures, he added 13. Nicolas also contributed a career-high 13 rebounds. LaMarcus Aldridge had an altogether forgettable night. He missed a lot of easy shots on his way to shooting 2-of-10 from the floor. LA missed both his free throw attempts, before fouling out with only four points scored. Look at this two ways: It’s great that Portland wins with LaMarcus struggling, or LaMarcus struggling is literally the last thing this team needs right now.
- A few words on the LA Clippers. One reason this Clippers team looked like they could finish their comeback against the Blazers, is that they are almost the exact opposite team. Whereas Portland has little to no inside presence on offense, the Clips have a bevy of brutish pivot men. Craig Smith is a brawler, DeAndre Jordan is enormous, Chris Kaman plays sometimes, and then of course there is Blake Griffin. These guys are big and mean, and they play with a tenacity that far outstrips their collective abilities. Griffin is a big timer, and everybody knows that, but the other big Clippers aren’t a basketball player between the three of them. However, when Sunday’s game came down to a fist fight, it was the Clippers all the way. As far as Blake Griffin goes. He is very good, unlimited potential, top shelf work ethic. My one beef; every time he goes to the hoop it isn’t a foul. Portland got no favors from the refs Sunday night, but they were especially dubious when it came to calling fouls perpetrated against Blake Griffin. Griffin shot 16 free throws. Luckily for Portland he converted from the free throw line only seven times.
At the end of the day, I feel like I can’t have it both ways. I get mad when Portland loses games they should win, so I think I shouldn’t be mad when Portland wins games they should probably lose. Let’s hope that Sunday’s win was enough to break this early-season funk. Either way, I’m taking it.