Plenty of games are decided at the foul line, but Tuesday night’s ugly 84-81 loss in Dallas went a step further: this game was decided at the foul line at halftime. All I keep coming back to when thinking about the game is the foul Wesley Matthews committed on DeShawn Stevenson with less than half a second on the clock in the first half, which resulted in three free throws. Jason Kidd picked up a technical foul while the officials were trying to determine whether Matthews’ foul was committed before or after the halftime buzzer sounded, and Matthews missed the technical free throw. Eventually, the referees decided (rightly) that there was still a fraction of a second left on the clock, and awarded three free throws to Stevenson, who drained them all to put Dallas up by three at halftime. You hate to reduce an entire game to one sequence in the first half, but had Matthews not committed that foul with three-tenths of a second in the half, the game would have ended up going to overtime–or possibly even being won by the Blazers if they had taken better care of the ball on their last possession of the game.
But even putting these unfortunate halftime events aside, this was still a highly winnable game for the Trail Blazers. Neither team played spectacularly well (understandable given the injuries on both sides), and neither team led by double digits all game. The game, especially the second half, was defined by runs–a 7-0 run by Dallas here, a 6-0 run by Portland there. The Mavs’ runs simply came at more opportune times, and they found a way to get points when they needed them. It’s not every day the Dallas offense commits 14 turnovers, and the Blazers simply did not take advantage, scoring only 8 points off the Mavs’ miscues.
With key scorers Dirk Nowitzki and Caron Butler out of the lineup, Dallas’ reserves stepped up big. Jason Terry, starting in Butler’s place, scored 18 points, including 12 in the final quarter. Shawn Marion, filling in for Nowitzki, added 8 points and 9 rebounds. Early on, neither team could hit a thing from deep, but DeShawn Stevenson hit two threes in the third quarter to spark a Dallas run. Tyson Chandler also had a solid game, putting up 14 points and 13 rebounds while going 7 for 9 from the floor.
Despite the Blazers’ free-throw woes and lack of capitalizing on Dallas’ turnovers, there were a few bright spots on their end. Playing in his hometown always seems to bring out the best in LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 28 points and 10 rebounds tonight. As the Blazers struggle to patch up the holes created in their lineup by injuries, the emergence of Aldridge over the last few weeks as a legit 20-10 guy is the story of the season. He was terrific tonight, but his strong performance was not enough to make up for a lack of bench production. Only two Blazers reserves (Rudy Fernandez and Patty Mills) scored any points at all, and they only combined for 11. Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum also struggled offensively, although Batum’s minutes were limited in the second half by a minor ankle injury. The other major redeeming quality of this game for the Blazers was Marcus Camby’s second 20-rebound game in less than a week.
Neither Portland nor Dallas were playing under ideal circumstances tonight, and though the game stayed close, the Mavs were the team that got buckets when they mattered most. Chalk it up to an off-night for the Blazers and hope the worst is over for this three-game road trip. Tomorrow they face Houston in a rematch of Monday’s 100-85 victory before heading into Minnesota on Friday.