It didn’t take much for Tuesday night’s game to turn into a blowout. And when it went in that direction, it most certainly didn’t turn in Portland’s favor. Not often can you point to one specific set of plays that made the specific difference between winning a game and losing a game. Tuesday was different. The last two seconds of the second quarter Tuesday night was just enough time for Portland to go from being right in the midst of a close game to being completely run out of the Pepsi Center.
The fateful sequence began with a three from J.R. Smith, and ended with a steal and layup by Arron Afflalo. Portland ended the first half down seven instead of down two. Denver, a team that plays well when they’re playing well, and plays poorly when they’re playing poorly, smelled blood. The Nuggets, led by the always even-keeled Chauncey Billups blew up a seven-point lead into a 20-point lead during a third quarter that was atrocious for the Blazers, and that was all there was for Portland.
Who knows how this game would have turned out if the Blazers hadn’t given up five points in one second. Playing without Carmelo Anthony, Denver was more than beatable. Unfortunately for Portland, heavy legs due to playing the night before in Salt Lake City and the absence of Marcus Camby kept the Blazers from ever mounting a real come back. Apart from the first few minutes of the third quarter, all of the second half of Tuesday’s game was garbage time. We shouldn’t let Tuesday’s lack of cohesion and execution cast a cloud over Monday’s big time win in Utah, but Portland needs to be able to take a punch and recover, especially against a team as punchy as the Denver Nuggets.
Denver did the bulk of their damage early with their inside game, getting a lot of offensive production from Nene and recently returned Kenyon Martin. That strategy played into Portland’s hands. The Nuggets are infinitely better on the run when playing without Melo. Slowing the game down into a half court affair kept Portland close, even when they weren’t shooting particularly well. Without Camby in the middle, the Blazers were unable to block shots or get offensive rebounds, and most of their offensive possessions were limited to one and done. Efficiency and ball movement allowed Portland to get its fair share of open looks, and they were doing a good job of knocking them down early. Denver pushed out their lead in the third quarter by getting up and down the floor, and by tightening up their interior defense. Portland didn’t have a consistent answer, and by the middle of the third period the only thing that remained to be seen was which members of Portland’s razor thin bench were going to get the garbage time minutes.
Just as the Blazers couldn’t spend too long congratulating themselves about beating Utah, they don’t have the time to stew over their most recent set back in Denver. Thursday Portland plays at home against the Jazz for the second time in one week. The Blazers have had to battle these last few weeks to stay close to .500. Portland needs to string together some big wins in order to build confidence going forward. Losing like they did Tuesday won’t derail the comeback effort that has been mounting over the last half-a-dozen games, but the Blazers need to get over it in a hurry if they want to stay in the hunt for the playoffs.
Just a few random observations I had over the course of the evening:
- I’m not sure I could bring myself to do to my body what Chris Andersen has done to his. His new ink make’s him look a little like a circus performer, or a guy with horrible taste in long sleeved turtlenecks. Andersen is coming off a break of a few months due to injury, and has lost a step or two. He more than made up for his ineffective-ness by adding a ridiculous Mohawk to his Technicolor arms and neck. Give him time; I bet we see Chris Andersen with a full face tattoo before too much longer.
- Armon Johnson was the lucky recipient of 12 garbage time minutes. Armon’s court time has been scant since the back-up point guard slot was handed over to Patty Mills. Johnson started out strong, attacking the rim and hitting a nice running floater on his first offensive possession. After that, though, it went down hill for Armon. He looked a little out of sync and out of control, and ended up with two pretty bad turnovers. Johnson made no overall impact on Tuesday’s outcome, but it’s nice to see him come out with energy even if it is somewhat un-harnessed.
- Like Armon Johnson, Luke Babbitt got some meaningless minutes Tuesday night. Luke looks like he’s gaining more confidence, and it might not be long before Nate puts him into a game when it still matters.
- Marcus Camby was dressed and on the bench Tuesday night, but did not play. His status for Thursday’s game is as of yet undetermined.
- Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, and Wesley Matthews were hit-and-miss all night. None of the three wings looked like they were too interested in attacking the rim. Blame it on tired legs if it makes you feel better.