I gotta say that losing game Two definitely hurts. It puts a serious crimp in the possibility that Portland will take this series, and it’s starting to make all those members of the media, me included, that picked Dallas to lose look a little silly. I will say this though, I really and truly believe that this series isn’t over yet. Dallas has held home. That’s all. Portland has a crazy home court advantage, and has shown that they can hang with this team when everybody in the building is screaming their heads off for their opponents. If the Blazers can regroup, and win games three and four at the Rose Garden, this could still be anyone’s series when it returns to Dallas tied at two games a piece.
Regrouping and adjusting after loses is key in the Playoffs, and though it’s not panic time yet, Portland has some work ahead of them in their travel day. The problem is, who do the Blazers focus in on to try and stop. Game one Portland did a decent job of limiting Dirk Nowitzki through most of three quarters, only to have him finish the night off at the free throw line, and that will most likely be the game plan going forward. Game two didn’t go quit as well, as far as stopping Dirk, but he was far from the difference maker.
So far in this series, though, it hasn’t been Dirk that is killing the Blazers. As we all know, the “Blazer Killer” title went to Jason Kidd in game one. It was passed to an equally, or possibly even more unlikely old dude in game two. Jason Kidd hadn’t had a big game like he did in game one all season; Peja Stojakovic has hardly played all season. Dallas is Peja’s third team in 2010-11, and according to Basketball-Reference.com he appeared in only 33 games during the regular season, logging only 617 minutes. So you can imagine that it comes as a bit of a surprise that game two would feature Peja scorching hot from deep, 5-of-10, and basically playing like he’s back in Sacramento, its 2003, and his absolute disappearance as a big time basketball player never happened.
So that’s the story thus far, two guys over 30 explode for big games from deep, and Portland doesn’t get the much needed split in Dallas. There’s not much more to it, but because we might be getting down to the very last few games in this up and down season, I think there are a few stones yet to turn over.
I’m going to do like I normally do and start with the positives. Two, or actually three, jump out at me right away. The three in the corner from Marcus Camby, and the two three-pointers from Andre Miller. I’m highlighting these plays for a reason. Andre Miller and Marcus Camby clearly aren’t about to throw in the towel. Dre is no three-point shooter, and of course neither is Camby, but in two key situations, Andre’s second three doesn’t count because it was Portland’s last field goal when they trailed by 10, they found themselves with the ball with time running down on the shot clock, and they delivered. You won’t see many plays run for Marcus Camby at the three-point line, and every time Andre chucks up a three Blazer fans everywhere cringe, but these guys know that Playoff basketball may come down to one or two possessions. Neither of those baskets won the game for Portland, obviously, but they did show that if Portland does go on to lose this series, it won’t happen without a fight.
Portland got some solid play from its starting five, which is another positive, and Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews showed a little more of the kind of play that we’re used to. Wallace, especially, did his best to get the Blazers out on the break, running even after made baskets, and showed a solid back-down game that might have been criminally underused going down the stretch. Portland is still without a go-to guy when they absolutely need a score, but more and more, that guy is looking like it could be Gerald Wallace. Wesley Matthews improved over his game one performance, scoring 13 points, looking a lot more active going to the basket. Wesley took a nasty knock to the head from Jason Terry in the first quarter that slowed him down a little bit, but overall he played a lot more under control Tuesday night, actually having an impact on this game late. Wesley’s jump shot has to get better, though. Luckily he plays a lot better with the home crowd behind him. If he can break through in game three, it could go a long way to turning this series around not only for him, but for the whole team. So, like game one, game two isn’t a total waste.
However, there were a lot of negatives, Tuesday night. If Portland wants a shot at the second round, there are some things that need to happen. The defense needs to get better, which goes without saying, specifically in the pick and roll. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd can run pick and roll, and pick and pop, with their eyes closed, and they are going to do it as long as they are on the floor. Portland’s bigs, chief among them LaMarcus Aldridge, were making life difficult for Dirk one-on-one, but were switching on the pick and roll. Every pick and roll switch led to a mismatch on Dirk, which led to a basket, a trip to the free throw line, or worst of all both. Early in the game, Wesley picked up Dirk in a switch on a pick and roll, Dirk pulled a pump fake, got Wesley in the air, hit the shot, got the foul, and converted the three-point play from the line. The next three possessions LaMarcus Aldridge played Dirk straight up on the block, Dallas didn’t send the pick, and LA versus Dirk one-on-one ended in three straight bricks. Dirk is a great shooter, and a tough defensive assignment. He backed down Nicolas Batum; he shot over Wesley Matthews. He’s a shooter though, and with a hand in his face, like LaMarcus could do, and without the ability to overpower his man with his back to the basket, Dirk could only dream about backing down LA, he’s a much more one-dimensional and less effective player.
Portland has to figure out a way to limit the pick and roll, or at least figure out how to play the pick and roll without switching. It’s going to require perimeter players going over screens, and big guys staying at home. The way Jason Kidd is shooting, his man shouldn’t ever go under a pick, and letting Dirk catch the ball with his back to the hoop might not be a bad idea. Dallas was getting a lot of shots by moving the ball, if Portland can stop the ball from moving sideline to sideline, and force the Mavericks into a one-on-one half court iso game between Dirk and LaMarcus, they’ll give themselves a chance.
It’s not all defense, though, Portland has to start hitting outside shots. In game one Portland made only two threes. In game two that number improved to seven, but that’s still not enough to get Dallas out of the paint. They don’t all have to be threes, any perimeter jumper will help to open up the lane for drives from Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Gerald Wallace. So far, no Blazer wing has been consistent shooting. Rudy Fernandez has been non-existent, as has Brandon Roy, and Nicolas and Wesley are rushing shots at times, and looking less than confident in their jumpers at others.
Along with being consistent from the field, the Blazers have to improve their mental toughness. By mental toughness, I mean the little things that can be the difference between winning and losing. Tuesday that difference showed in lack of effort on the defensive glass, and misses at the free throw line. Offensive rebounds are momentum killers on the road, and are given up simply because one guy out-hustles another guy. Too many times Portland gave Dallas extra possessions that ended in big buckets. When the tables are turned, and the crowd is behind the Blazers, they too might get the extra emotional boost needed to chase down a loose ball, we’ll just have to wait and see. Free throws are all about focus. Working hard to get to the stripe is negated by misses. Missed free throws can torpedo a rally, and Tuesday Portland’s nine missed free throws were basically the difference.
To win a series in the Playoffs, one team has to win four games. That much we know. Dallas is half way there. With two games down, and Portland still needing four wins to advance, this is now a five game series. The Blazers can do themselves a favor by forgetting about the outcomes of games one and two. Approaching game three like an elimination game may be just the right thing for Portland to do. This season isn’t over, not by a long shot, but one more game with poor free throw shooting, or one more game with the Blazers absolutely failing to guard the hot shooter on the perimeter, and it will be summer vacation before we know it.
Just one quick thought:
- A wise man once said it’s not a series until a team loses at home. Dallas held their home court, now it’s Portland’s turn. Remember, if Portland wins out at home they only have to win once in Dallas. That one time could very well be a game seven.