Here’s the good news: it’s over. Portland’s road slog is finished. We survived. The Blazers survived. We can all breathe a little easier today than we did yesterday. Here’s the better news: what looked for sure to be an 0-7 road trip that was going to basically end this team and was going to be so bad as to nullify any learning that could be had turned out OK with two impressive gut-check wins, a decent showing in Brooklyn, and a three quarter fight in Indiana. Here’s the best news: the Blazers have the next two days off, and don’t play a road game until two days before Christmas.
Here’s the bad news: Portland won three of four quarters in Indiana Wednesday night against the Pacers, but played such a bad third quarter that they were unable to hang on and extend their winning streak to three.
The impact of this trip won’t be felt right away. Maybe by the end of the month we’ll see some major change, in the rotation or the attitudes of the players or something else, that will alter the course of this season and expedite the rebuilding process, also maybe we won’t.
Portland looked poised for a big evening at the start of Wednesday’s game. Possibly they were tired of the slow starts, possibly they were on a basketball high from their big comeback in Charlotte, whatever the case, jumping out to a double-digit certainly made it look like the Blazers had progressed beyond what we all saw in D.C. and Detroit (forget Boston, that game was doomed from the start).
Sadly, this one was not to be. Possibly Portland ran out of gas. Maybe Indiana got their act together. Possibly the Blazers went through a standard shooting regression. Take your pick of reasons why. Each one as as valid as the next.
My reasoning for Portland’s cold third quarter and subsequent loss is pretty simple, Damian Lillard stopped shooting. More specifically, the Blazers’ offense stopped going through Damian. Portland entered Wednesday’s third quarter with a two-point lead. Their first four offensive possessions went Wesley Matthews missed jumper, Nicolas Batum missed jumper, LaMarcus Aldridge miss at the rim (Roy Hibbert block), LaMarcus Aldridge missed jumper. Four straight offensive possessions to start a pivotal stretch, and not a single shot from Lillard.
The Blazers scored on their fifth possession of the quarter (a 16-footer from J.J. Hickson), but their lead was gone by then. It would take two more possessions (another long miss from Nic and a turnover by way of traveling by Hickson) before Lillard would even get his first shot, a make from 18 feet. By that point in the quarter, Indiana’s lead was only two, but far too much time had elapsed. Furthermore, a rhythm had been established offensively that, though probably not intentionally designed to go away from Lillard, didn’t result in many more field goal attempts for Portland’s hottest shooter (going into the third quarter Damian had only missed a single field goal attempt and he knocked down his first look of the third quarter).
After his first bucket of the second half (at the 8:23 mark of the third), Damian wouldn’t score again until there was just over two minutes left in the third quarter and the Blazers were down by 10, a deficit they wouldn’t be able to overcome.
I talked to Damian after Portland’s last home game, a win against the Timberwolves if you can remember that far back, about the possibility of shooting the ball more. I’m not advocating for Damian to be selfish or play hero ball, I just feel like there are times when he plays as if he’s obligated to get the ball to his teammates when he could be looking for his own shot. Dame told me that his goal is to always work within the flow of the offense and to try to maximize what is available and being given.
If the best option available is give the ball to a wide open Nicolas Batum or Wesley Matthews, that’s what he’s going to do. If the best option available is LaMarcus Aldridge in the post, then that’s what he’s going to do. Similarly, if his own shot comes within the flow of the offense then he’s going to go with it.
That attitude is perfectly fine. In fact it’s outstanding. Being amenable to an offensive system and being able to control an offense while also being a productive scorer is what makes Damian such a special player and puts him light years ahead of his competition for Rookie of the Year. I want none of that to change.
What I want from Damian is to come to the realization that although LaMarcus Aldridge is an All-Star and Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum can be knock down shooters, there are times when he is Portland’s best offensive option. Wednesday’s third quarter was one of those times.
It’s a tall order to ask a rookie to shoulder the whole burden of an offense, and I don’t think it’s the right decision for every night, but taking on a bigger offensive role, or at least recognizing how well he was playing and taking a more active role in scoring and not just facilitating, is the next step in Lillard’s development into an elite point guard.
Portland’s schedule for the next few weeks is significantly lighter. Hopefully they’ll all take some time to rest and recuperate. Hopefully too they’ll get a chance to see just exactly what went wrong and what can be corrected so December doesn’t go the way of November.
So maybe that’s the actual good news: Portland loses and so they don’t get to completely forget how bad this road trip really was. Although it might have been better for the Blazer’s morale to come out of Indiana with a win and a 3-4 trip looks infinitely better than a 2-5 road trip, these guys need to feel the actual sting of a bad east coast swing. Having to actually deal with how the last two weeks went instead of getting bailed out by three straight wins should serve as motivation for the rest of the season.
Portland is back in action Saturday at the Rose Garden for Round One of December’s three-game Blazers/Kings showdown.
One quick thing:
- Nicolas Batum had a rough night Wednesday. He played only 29 minutes, shot 2-of-8 from the field and 1-of-5 from three, and finished with a -10. According to Twitter (Casey Holdahl and Chris Haynes reporting) Nicolas suffered a bit of an injury that sidelined him for the stretch run of Wednesday’s game. Hopefully Nic’s injury isn’t/won’t be serious. But an injury does explain some of his poor play.