It’s not the Christmas present the Blazers probably wanted, but given the way Portland played down the stretch, it was the present they deserved. Put Golden State next to Portland, and most nights out of the year the Blazers are the better team. Factor in too many turnovers, cold shooting from LaMarcus Aldridge, and a white-hot night from Monta Ellis, and that equation changes. Portland wins the game when Monta doesn’t have the ball, when Monta does have the ball they lose. Saturday, Monta had the ball a lot. That’s it and that’s all.
Portland had their moments in this one, let’s not forget that, but they just didn’t come at the right time. Saturday should have been yet another big night for LaMarcus Aldridge. Golden State doesn’t have a single guy that can cover him one-on-one, but LA was back to not attacking the rim. A few times getting he even got into the lane, but held off on the lay-up or the dunk because David Lee and Lou Amundson was in the way. With the few days Portland had off following LA’s breakout nights, the All-Star buzz was in mild to full effect, of course. If LaMarcus wants to be considered for the All-Star Game, which at this point he should be consider but not selected, he needs to take it to guys like Lee and Amundson. He didn’t, and that really handicapped the Blazers.
Above everything that happened Saturday, it was the turnovers that spelled doom for the Blazers. The turnover that was the real killer: the cross-court pass. The Warriors are not a great defensive team, as evidenced by a slashing back-cut from Patty Mills in the third quarter, but they excel at a very specific type of defense. Every Warrior player, especially Monta Ellis, lives for the pick six. The steal that leads to the fast break lay-up and/or dunk. It’s a beatable defense, smart passes and head fakes leading to back door cuts and easy lay-ups, but lazy cross-court passes are the bread and butter on which this type of defense thrives. Too many times Portland got in trouble trying to attack one side of the hoop, turned to pass across court, and then ended up chasing one Warrior or another the length of the floor.
Two of these cross court debacles sealed the game for Golden State. The first came on a Dorrell Wright steal of a Rudy Fernandez pass with the scored knotted at 97. The second came two minutes later when Ellis picked off Wesley’s cross court pass attempt. The Ellis steal iced it for the Warriors, and although it wasn’t a great example of how Wesley played, it was pretty emblematic of how Portland closed out their evening.
Give Golden State a lot of credit, in fact, give them all the credit. In my mind, they should have won a week ago in Portland. Golden State is not a great team. Monta Ellis and Steph Curry are great players, David Lee can help a good team be a great team if he could ever get on a good team, but for what it’s worth, these guys are probably going to be on the wrong side of the playoff picture. That being said, for just the right amount of minutes they were the best team on court Saturday night. Luckily for them, they picked just the perfect combination of minutes, and came out with the win.
The road is pretty dark now for Portland going forward towards the end of this calender year. A tough back-to-back at division rivals Utah and Denver, and we could be once again looking at an O-fer road trip. In the month of December, the Blazers have beat only the Phoenix Suns on the road, losing to Boston, Washington, San Antonio, Memphis, Dallas, and now Golden State. With the home wins, some of the overarching sense of dread has temporarily abated, but a 1-9 road record for December does not do anybody any favors come March and April.
Just a few quick thoughts, then go enjoy what’s left of your Christmases and related Holiday activites:
- Monta Ellis can play. He may not make the All-Star team this year, he may never get on a good team, but he can fill it up. Ellis finished with 39 points, including all of the Warriors’ final seven. Each bucket he hit in the last minute probably felt great considering how his last meeting with the Blazers went.
- Along with the bad turnovers, it was bad defense that killed the Blazers. Too many times Portland left shooters open both from deep and inside. David Lee is a face-up shooter. Late in the game he was left open from spots where he’s just totally automatic. That can’t happen if you want to win.
- A game changing moment that might stick with me for a little while came in the fourth. A well executed pick and roll left LaMarcus unguarded at the rim. Rudy Fernandez lobbed the ball up for LA, who cocked back to throw down a huge dunk. Instead of completing the huge dunk, and bringing Golden State maybe two possessions from giving up, he got rimmed checked. LA laughed heading back down the court, but there was enough time left on the clock that those two points mattered. Golden State can win games by sticking around. You’ve got a better chance of beating them with six minutes to go than you do with two. If LA sticks that dunk, Portland steps up the D for a few minutes, and this could have gone the other way.