Sunday’s loss in LA to the high-flying, lob-crazy Clippers in Los Angeles, Portland’s very first of the season, is going to feel like the kill joy at what was otherwise a pretty awesome New Year’s Eve party. As it should. One very questionable timeout call a few minutes after an absolute prayer/miracle bank three at the shot clock buzzer–both by Chris Paul–were enough to keep the Blazers from completing a furious fourth quarter comeback. And that’s a real bummer.
But let’s be honest with ourselves. This loss speaks more about the Clippers inability to close out a game than it does to Portland’s ability to win a game. The Blazers were never really in this one, and probably should have lost by 20. Luck, and some home cooking, is why the Clippers were able to hold on and win; bad play, poor execution, and second straight game of too many turnovers were what put LA in the place to win this thing at all.
For three quarters, Portland played like a team that might have only played together two or three times ever. That makes sense, seeing as there has only been three regular season games so far, and there has been a lack of practice time to improve on any issues that may have been exposed in game tape. But, after the first three games of the season, we’ve already come to expect more from this Blazer team. That’s a good thing, because it shows that has fans we have a lot of faith in our guys, and that we’ve all progressed beyond the denial phase of our Brandon Roy/Greg Oden grief into the acceptance phase. We accept that these Blazers are the ones that we have. And we want them to win.
If Portland wants to snag their first road win in the first week of January, here’s what they are going to have to do. STOP TURNING THE BALL OVER. Twenty-one turnovers is not as bad as 25, but against a team that lives on run outs and dunks in their building, it’s not going to get the job done. Sunday there were two main culprits. Jamal Crawford turned the ball over five times and Raymond Felton turned it over six times. Makes sense. They handle the ball most of the time. Overall, both guards played well; Crawford single-handily jump-started the fourth quarter comeback that fell one stop and two buckets short. But they also made some costly mistakes.
One thing I saw more than once, and needs to be curtailed for this team to be successful, was the wild throw-ahead pass up court. Getting out and running is great, Portland has the athletes to do it, the games or more exciting, and the team will win by employing this strategy. However, blindly tossing the ball ahead to a defended guy or into the camera guys under the basket doesn’t do anybody any good. Watching game tape, getting acclimated, and calming down a little will solve that problem.
As far as ball handling, both Crawford and Felton turned the ball over off the dribble a couple of times. That comes a bit from both guys trying to do too much with the ball, and a bit from the other four guys without the ball standing around and watching. We should all be familiar with the stand around while Brandon goes to work offense, but Brandon is gone. Moving without the ball, setting good off the ball screens, things like that, while Jamal or Ray is working to break their defender down on the dribble will open up the floor, limit the times when the ball handler ends up in traffic or in the corner with nobody to outlet to, and will cut down on turnovers. Hopefully that will be something that comes too with more court time.
I like Jamal Crawford on the floor at the end, he can light it up. I like Raymond Felton on the court then too, because he can effectively instigate an offensive set. Looking at Sunday as a whole, the fourth quarter was really the only one that I liked watching at all, and that was the problem. The Blazers need to find a way to get out of the gate in a hurry. Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and the rest of the Clippers are hurting to prove that they are just as good as ESPN wants them to be. They jumped out early, and through three quarters were the better team on the floor.
Portland should look at this as one that got away, and they should also look at it as a lesson. They are going to be better man-for-man than a lot of teams in the league, but when playing on the road, they need to execute if they want to win. This team can execute, they can follow a game plan, if they have to they can probably even run some plays. They just need to find a way to dictate pace and style of play when they don’t have the insane RG crowd cheering them on.
As it was, the Blazers almost stole this one, and they had no right to be in it at the end. There’s some good in that. This team is not out of any game at any time, regardless of the score. Next time, they just have to show up early, and impose their game. They can do it at home. On the road it takes a little more effort, and lot better execution.
Portland has a day off then finishes this two-day road bounce in Oklahoma City.
Here’s a couple of things that I noticed:
- Nicolas Batum didn’t have the game-changer type of performance I kind of thought he was going to have, but he looked very good, and he was on the court at the end of the game. Nic finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, and was +8 for the game. He forced one shot going to the rim, had a bad turnover in the first half, and when he was hot in the second quarter he passed up a three that he should have shot, but at the end of the game I would have been happy with Nicolas getting the look to try and make it a one-point game that went to LaMarcus Aldridge. I have a feeling the Nicolas Batum story might be dying on the vine.
- Four games, four different leading scorers for Portland. Sunday Jamal Crawford led all scorers with 23 points. It’s not as impressive because the Blazers failed to get the W, but still, it shows that this is a deep and dangerous team. There is going to be a night this season when Jamal, Gerald Wallace, Wesley Matthews, and LaMarcus Aldridge all get hot in the same game and whatever team happens to get in the way is going to get absolutely steamrolled. A good game for that to happen would be in Oklahoma City, or back at home against the Lakers, but I bet it happens when the Cavs are in town.
- Chris Paul was definitely out of bounds when he called timeout in the fourth quarter, and he very clearly traveled before he went out of bounds. It must be nice to be playing in LA, and finally getting some respect from the refs. Although, when you play as poorly as Portland did on Sunday, you can’t blame anything on refereeing.
- Minutes watch (and new locker room subplot possibility): 29:34 for Gerald Wallace. Crash didn’t really show up for this one. 0-of-5 from the field, zero points, -10 on the night. He needed to get involved early on the offensive end, and it just never happened. I expect it to not carry over to Tuesday. There isn’t a guy on the Thunder roster that can guard him. I’d put him on the short list for leading scorer next time out.
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