In fairness to the Blazers, it seems that Portland can really only play Boston tight once a season. In 2008-09, Portland was blown out in Boston 93-78, only to turn around 11 games later and beat the Celtics at the Rose Garden 91-86. One of the most exciting games in recent memory, that 2008 home version of Blazers vs Celtics featured a team without Brandon Roy, due to injury, and included an infamous back-of-the-head slap from LaMarcus Aldridge to Kevin Garnett. It was also the last time Portland beat the Boston Celtics.
The trend continued the following season; Portland lost in Boston again in an overtime thriller 98-95, I’m sure everybody remembers the big time three from Ray Allen in that game, then were run out of their own gym later in the same month 96-76. What’s the point of that brief trip down memory lane? To say this, the good news is that Portland got to play well against Boston once in 2010-11. The bad news, that game wasn’t on Thursday night.
Thursday was not Portland’s evening. Although it was never a blow out, it also was never that close. For what it’s worth, Boston is one of the best teams in the league. They are built around veteran players, they get up for games every night, and the execute their game plan. They rushed Portland on offense, made the Blazers work for every thing, and were able to basically get whatever they wanted on offense. Boston also has something Portland does not. Depth. Thursday, if one set wasn’t working, or one guy was not getting it done, the C’s could go to their bench. When Portland’s offense went to sleep, there was nothing to do but wait for it to come back on line. In clicked in with under two minutes to go, but at that point it was a case of too little, too late.
LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t struggle in quite the same way he did in the Blazers’ last outing, but nothing was easy for him Thursday. Using KG, Glen Davis, and Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics made LaMarcus work. He was up to the task a few times, but getting banged down low every single possession can wear on a guy after a while. LA’s handles were sloppy, and when trying to force the issue, he ended up turning the ball over. LaMarcus finished with 17 points, and added an impressive 16 rebounds, but it took him 20 shot attempts to get there. Also LA shot only two free throws, meaning that for as well as Boston was doing at taking away his inside game, they did it all without fouling. LaMarcus could have helped himself out by trying to initiate contact, but a few body blows from Perkins or Garnett, and it could have been an even longer night for the Blazers.
The big question over the last few months has been, who is going to be the Blazers’ second consistent scorer. It has rotated most nights, but one thing has been pretty clear. When the shooters don’t show up the Blazers don’t win. Not including LaMarcus, four guys took 10 or more shots Thursday night. Of those four, Andre Miller made the most shots, going 6-of-15 for 14 points, and Patty Mills made the least, 3-of-10 for seven points. The poorest shooting night came from Wesley Matthews, 4-of-15 for 12 points, and it would have been a lot worse had Wesley not buried two threes late in the fourth quarter. As a team, the Blazers shot 37%. Even with almost 30 more shot attempts than the Celtics, those kind of shooting numbers don’t usually lead to a win.
If there is a positive that can be taken away from Thursday, and I feel like there is, it was that Portland showed heart, and never really gave up. The Celtics are a tough team, one of the best in the league, and they got there by playing tough defense, being mean, and playing smart, efficient, and effective basketball. Portland has been ravaged by injuries, I’ll get to the most recent injury momentarily, and is still trying to figure out what kind of team it really wants to be. The Blazers came into Thursday’s match-up serious underdogs, even on their home floor, but they never rolled over. Portland was down by as many as 15 points late in the fourth quarter, with guys like Von Wafer and Semih Erden on the floor for the C’s. The Blazers kept fighting, managing to cut the lead to five with under a minute to play before the game was basically sealed by a Kevin Garnett offensive rebound. One reason Portland stuck around Thursday was obviously because emptying the bench isn’t an option when you have no bench, but that shouldn’t take away from the overall effort that the Blazers showed in the final seconds Thursday night.
Portland has the unenviable task of moving from hosting the second best team in the league to hosting the best team in the league on consecutive nights. When asked post game about preparing for the San Antonio Spurs, both Coach Nate McMillan and LaMarcus Aldridge were pragmatic. Rest a day, get treatment, hit the gym, practice, practice, practice. That’s the beauty of the NBA, there’s always another game right around the corner.
Portland can take solace in knowing that at the very least they don’t have to play the Celtics again in 2010-11, or if they do it won’t be until the NBA Finals. They can look forward to next season, knowing that they’ll get at least one good shot at this team.
A couple of brief thoughts on the evening as a whole:
- Nicolas Batum played only 14 and a half minutes Thursday, leaving in the middle of the second quarter and not returning. Nic complained of pain in his knee, there’s a shocker, and will undergo an MRI tomorrow morning. Nicolas was upbeat when addressing the media following the game, saying that he knows when he needs surgery, like when he knew that he needed shoulder surgery, and he knows that he DOES NOT need surgery this time. The MRI will tell for sure. As of right now losing Nic would be a big time bummer. LaMarcus said post game that he’s somewhat numb to the injury thing, and as a whole I’m sure Blazer Nation is also. That being said, everyone should do whatever they can in their power to ensure that Nicolas does not need surgery. I feel like having written that sentence I may have just jinxed him.
- One surprising side effect of Nicolas going down to injury was minutes for Luke Babbitt. It wasn’t Luke’s finest performance, but then again he did spend some time guarding Paul Pierce which isn’t easy for anyone. In the first half Luke didn’t seem to want to shoot. In the second half he launched a corner three on one of his first possessions. I couldn’t tell which was a better strategy, having Luke shoot or having Luke not shoot, the outcomes were strikingly similar. Post game, Nate said he wanted Luke to shoot when he was on the floor. The good thing for Luke is that teams are likely not going to defend him. That means he’ll get open looks, he just has to knock them down. In eight and a half minutes of play, Luke scored two points, making 1-of-2 field goals.
- The Blazers marketing team is pushing the three goggles to the limit. Cardboard three goggles were on sale for the first time Thursday night. It didn’t help with Portland’s shooting though. The Blazers were 4-of-16 from deep, with three of those deep balls coming at the end of the fourth quarter.
- There were lots of Celtics fans in the Rose Garden Thursday. Dante Cunningham called out Rip City on Twitter to that end following the game.
- Speaking of Celtics fans, Bill Walton was in the house Thursday. He and I share a birthday in case you were wondering.