Oh boy. Where to start with this one. Well, I guess we can start with the obvious. In my humble opinion, LaMarcus Aldridge cleanly blocked Kevin Durant’s driving layup with six seconds remaining in Monday night’s fourth quarter. The officials saw it differently. And that’s just how it goes sometimes. The worst part of the goal tending debacle–beyond the simple fact that a blown call led to an underwhelming overtime period in which the Blazers couldn’t do anything and ended with one of the poorest possessions in recent memory–is that that is all we are going to remember from what was, all things considered, one of Portland’s better nights of basketball. One blown call, and all the things the Blazers did well become irrelevant.
There’s a flip side to that too, though. One blown call and we’ll all forget all the things Portland didn’t do well. To be fair, yes the Blazers got robbed, and yes coach Nate McMillan was absolutely correct when he stated in a very matter-of-fact fashion during his post game remarks that LA made the block and that the game should have been over, but it never ever should have gotten to that point. With 2:18 left in the game, the Blazers led 101-95. They were outscored 8-2 the rest of the way. That’s not closing the door. When you put yourself in a situation to let the referees decide the game, you can’t complain when their calls go against you.
Monday night’s locker room was a picture of frustration post game. LaMarcus apologized for being rude but said he wasn’t interested in going back and forth over whether or not his block was clean, Wesley Matthews kept his head when addressing a couple of writers, Elliot Williams and Armon Johnson silently watched SportsCenter on the locker room television, with Williams saying softly to AJ, and anybody else close enough to overhear, “here it comes,” when the Blazers/Thunder highlight package got to LA vs. KD at the rim for the game. No doubt in the mind of this team, they believe they gave one away. A big one. And that’s exactly how they should feel.
Portland played three good quarters of basketball, failing a lot in the second quarter but not enough to give the game away, got a huge performance from LaMarcus, got guys to contribute when they needed to down the stretch to battle back then take a late lead, and overcame most of OKC’s extra hustle through drawing offensive fouls, forcing turnovers, and getting defensive rebounds in the fourth quarter. With the backing of the home crowd, that should have been enough to beat the best team in the Western Conference. Sadly it wasn’t. Blame it on the refs if you want, and I’m right there with you, I want to and I will, but when it comes down to it, Portland has to find a way to win this game.
At the very end of Nate’s post game, The Oregonian‘s Jason Quick asked if Nate thinks this team needs a closer. This is the million dollar question, or better yet the $65 million in guaranteed money that walked out of the Rose Garden when Brandon Roy retired question. Nate said they’re working on it. LaMarcus is working on becoming that player. Monday, with the Thunder leading by two and the shot clock and game clock sprinting to the finish line, LA passed up a tough look with two defenders in his face to give the ball to Kurt Thomas at the top of the key. Thomas is automatic from that spot, 2-of-3 on the night basically from where he was standing when he caught the ball, but he’s also a smart basketball player. The pass wasn’t great. He wasn’t going to have the time to load up and get a clean shot like he wanted, so he didn’t take it. He gave the ball to Jamal Crawford instead–who up to that point I maintain had played pretty well as the stand-in for Raymond Felton–and then the whole thing fell apart; the aforementioned worst possession of the month.
I have no problem with Kurt Thomas shooting an elbow jumper to tie the game in overtime, I really don’t. But he’s a rhythm shooter. That pass needs to be right on the money. What I’d rather see is LaMarcus going strong to the hoop, and trying to get the bucket or at least get to the line. LA worked hard all night, though, and you can forgive him for deferring when he thinks it’s the right thing to do. He has to know, however, that number seven wouldn’t have done that.
But Roy is gone. LaMarcus is the man now, and post game you could see that that new burden weighs on him more heavily when the team loses. That’s a good thing. Some players would look at their 39 points and say, hey what matters is that I played well. LA needed a little help from his teammates, and he just didn’t get it at the end. Next time my guess is he takes that last shot.
This one is going to sting for awhile, but there’s no time for this team to wallow in their collective sorrow. The best thing they can do is come out Wednesday night and beat the pants off the Houston Rockets. That’s a good team too, but not Oklahoma City good.
Portland still has plenty to prove. They have to prove they can win on the road, they have to prove they can beat both good and bad teams, and they have to prove that they can take a sucker punch like the one they got on Monday night and get right back up and keep fighting. Tomorrow we’re all going to remember that KD was gifted a game tying bucket, but it’s not the first time a call has gone against Portland, and it won’t be the last. In fact, there will be some night this season where the Blazers end up the beneficiary of fishy officiating. That’s the NBA. The best teams in the league win, regardless of the situation. By not letting this loss turn into two or three losses, Portland can take important steps along the path to proving they are one of the best teams in the league, and not just a team that can kick the living hell out of the Charlotte Bobcats.
Couple of things:
- Just for those who missed it: LA’s line 14-of-28 from the field, 11-of-11 from the line, six rebounds, three assists, 39 points. ALL STAR GAME!
- Almost everybody not named LaMarcus on the Blazers struggled shooting. Jamal Crawford 6-of-18, Nicolas Batum 5-of-15, Gerald Wallace 2-of-9. Wesley Matthews was actually one of the lone bright spots shooting wise, hitting six of his nine shot attempts. Wesley was getting some hate vibes from Twitter in this one, mostly because he turned the ball over a couple of times in the third quarter. He has been playing a little below par as of late. I still think all he needs is a big offensive night to turn it around.
- Minutes Watch: 7:46 for Nolan Smith. With Raymond out, Jamal played a team high 44:49. Nolan got the back-up PG minutes, and there weren’t very many of them. He played alright, getting a nice layup in the fourth quarter. Nolan is still working on deciding when to shoot and when to pass. He had a couple of good looks at the hoop that he just didn’t put enough muscle behind. If Raymond is going to miss any extended amount of time, Nolan might need to hit the weight room a bit and spend a couple extra minutes working on hitting threes so he can feel comfortable shooting next time he’s on the floor.
- Standings Watch: This could have been a big one for Portland. According to Yahoo Sports, the Blazers were in the five spot prior to Monday’s game, ahead of Utah, the Lakers, Dallas, and Houston, and trailing Denver. Utah and Denver lose, as does Portland obviously, but Houston wins. Post game standings provided by NBA.com have Portland dropping to eight, Utah jumping to five, Houston jumping from nine to seven, and LA climbing from seven to six. Dallas falls to nine. Denver holds steady at four.
- The Blazers and the Thunder will be a good Playoff match-up. I’m hoping for a 1 v 4 in the second round (or wishful thinking 1 v 2 in the Conference Finals), but a 1 v 8 in the first round will still bring plenty of fireworks.
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