I’ll say what every Blazer fan is thinking, then I’m going to move on and actually try to talk about this game: Portland was robbed. And not just regular robbed, they were grand theft, smash and grab, hit and run, robbed. Dallas shot 29 free throws Saturday night. The Blazers shot 13. You know who else shot 13 free throws? Dirk Nowitzki. I’m not going to harp on this too much, the officiating is part of the game, and just like the team its fans are going to have to find a way to get over this game, but there is something amiss when a team is not allowed to play hard defense on a spot-up shooter because every time he takes a shot, or dribbles, or moves, or breaths there is a foul called. Ok, that’s it. On to the game.
The first thing every Blazer fan should do after they have taken a deep breath and reminded themselves that to win this series one team is going to have to win four games not just the first game or the second game, is try to look for the positives. There were plenty. The first thing that comes to mind is that Portland actually didn’t play all that well. The Blazers feel behind by double digits in the first half because they went cold from the floor. Dallas didn’t show some crazy new defense that Portland has never seen before, and LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t break a leg or something horrible like that. The Blazers, as they have been known to do, started shooting jumpers. We’ve seen it before, and we’ll likely seen it again. It’s fixable. In fact, Portland has been pretty good this season at recovering from bad shooting nights by either shooting better, or scoring by attacking the rim.
Here’s another positive; the Blazers seemed utterly confused at times with their lineups and match-ups. How is that a positive? Well mostly because the Playoffs are about finding ways to adjust. Tuesday, that is going to be the same Dallas team lined up against the same Blazer team. The winner of this series is going to be the team that adjusts first. Portland has a game tape now that they can look at and pick out the match-ups and lineups that didn’t work and change accordingly. Dallas doesn’t. Their game plan probably won’t change. Here’s my advice for Portland, stop playing Brandon Roy. Maybe don’t stop playing him altogether, but don’t have him out there down the stretch when you need a basket. I understand that he can create his own shot, and that Wesley Matthews, Rudy Fernandez, and Nicolas Batum all struggle in that department. But Brandon just can’t hit a thing.
You won’t find a bigger Brandon Roy believer than me, and when he knocked down his first shot Saturday night I thought for sure he was going to have a big game, but at this point the Blazers are killing themselves by having him out there late. He needs the ball in his hands, as we all know, and because of that the offense stops. He doesn’t have the first step to beat people to the rim, and his jumper left him weeks ago. He has been able to drive and dish, but for every time that play is intended there are two or three times when Brandon’s toss to the wing is in desperation and leads to a rushed shot. Not only that, with Brandon dominating the ball like he does, Andre Miller is not given the chance to initiate the offense. Dre was solid, and attacked all game. He took two too many threes, but still he carried the team most of the night. Between Brandon handling the ball down the stretch and Andre, there’s no discussion. It should be Andre every time. I want Brandon back more than anybody, and I’m only slightly ahead of Mike Rice in being late to the “it’s over” party, but this is the Playoffs. The time to see if it’s working has come and gone. It’s not working.
Marcus Camby falls into the match-up discussion as well. Camby dominated the boards, grabbing 18 rebounds in 29 minutes, but he wasn’t on the floor for Portland’s final run. The Blazers gave up a few huge offensive rebounds that could have helped extend the dry shooting spell Dallas found themselves in that let Portland back into the game. Dallas, like Portland, is a shooting team. Having a guy like Camby, who is a magnet for rebounds, helps in the corralling of long missed shots, and keeps possessions to one-and-done.
So come Tuesday night, expect less Roy more Camby. Those adjustments are important, and could be the difference in this series.
Along the lines of Portland playing poorly, one more positive is that Dallas played very well, better than they have in both of their loses at home to Portland, and better even than at least one of their wins in the big D. Nowitzki, the aforementioned beneficiary of more than a few friendly whistles, couldn’t miss down the stretch. Nowtzki is a hand full every night. A guy with his size and shooting ability is flat-out impossible to defend. Dirk’s three in the corner with under four minutes to play, putting Dallas up one 75-74, was one of the biggest shots of the night, and it was one of the few that wasn’t accompanied by a foul call. Give him credit for that. Along with Nowitzki, Jason Kidd turned in maybe the best game he’s played since before I graduated from high school. Kidd was absolutely on fire. An ungodly 6-of-10 from three, 9-of-14 from the field, and 24 points.
Again, you may ask how could this possibly be positive? Dirk can play this well again, but there’s a good chance he won’t get these types of calls again, or at the very least there will be some balancing out in Portland’s favor. There is no doubt that coach Nate McMillan is going to say something to somebody about the disparity in foul calls. And Portland wasn’t the only team on the wrong end of lopsided fouls calls in the first night of the Playoffs. In the nail-biting Playoff opener, Chicago, the overall number one seed led by likely MVP Derrick Rose shot 32 free throws compared to 17 for the Indiana Pacers. Chicago trailed that game the whole way until late in the fourth quarter. In the second of four games Saturday there was an even larger free throw differential. Miami, a heavy favorite to reach at least the Conference Finals, shot 39 free throws. Philadelphia shot 15. I’m not claiming some kind of conspiracy here, Miami and Chicago both have offenses that are predicated on hard drives to the hoop, but the NBA has some history of these kind of free throw based incidents in the Playoffs. Short of admitting to any wrong doing, of which I’m accusing nobody, there is a chance some of those numbers might regress towards the mean in coming games.
And then there is Jason Kidd. In 2010-11 Kidd scored 20 or more points in only two games. He did have one game in which he hit six threes, but on the season his shooting percentage from three was a less than spectacular 34%. In his four games against the Blazers his shooting dropped steadily every night. Starting with 11 in the Mavericks’ win on December 15th, then 8, then 1, then zero. This is what happens in the Playoffs, a team scouts for two or three guys that are steady killers, and then the one guy they thought for sure wasn’t going to do a thing goes off. It won’t happen again, we just have to hope that one amazing night from Jason Kidd isn’t the kind of thing that shatters the confidence of this Portland team.
What’s going to be important to remember, for fans and the team alike, is that this is going to be a long series. Dallas has simply dealt the first blow. It’s not like 2008-09, when Houston came into the RG and wiped the floor with a starry-eyed group of Playoff noobs, and it’s not like last season, when Portland stole Game One in Phoenix, and woke a sleeping giant that would go on to blow the Blazers out three times, sweep the Spurs, and reach the Conference Finals. The home team absorbed a pretty good shot, and did what they should do in the series opener, hold on and get the win. They still have to do it three more times before this thing is over.
Just a quick thought:
- Gerald Wallace, Rudy Fernandez, and Wesley Matthews combined for only seven made field goals. Wesley was probably the biggest no-show in my opinion, hitting only a single shot in 19 minutes. He’ll have to do better. Rudy knocked down his first three-point attempt, but it wasn’t enough to get him going. And Gerald Wallace played the whole first half without a field goal. I’m going to once again try and look at this as a positive. No way all three of these guys stay this cold for Game Two. Along with cold shooting from a few key offensive individuals, Portland was miserable from deep. The Blazers were 2-of-16 from beyond the arc, and only two of those missed threes were charged to Andre Miller. Nicolas Batum was the worst culprit, shooting 1-of-7. Like I said before, Portland did not play well, and were in this game almost all the way to the last minute.