Depth has been a buzzword for the Blazers since the first day of the 2012-13 season. With eight new players, a new coach, a new GM, and a new President, this season was billed as one dedicated to rebuilding Portland for the seasons to come. That didn’t mean, though, that the Blazers would be allowed to not play their scheduled games. As we’ve watched through 62 games, a roster of four, sometimes five, contributing players tends to not be enough to get more wins than losses, especially on the road.
But depth, or lack of depth, was on display in a kind of different way Sunday night in New Orleans. In this case, Portland didn’t fail to finish a close game that would have been a very nice win because their starters were worn out from playing too many minutes or because the Blazer bench wasn’t able to contribute in limited minutes (the major depth-related issues this team has faced this season).
Sunday night, Portland’s lack of depth had more to do with not having the right personnel on the floor at the right time, or more specifically, not being able to put the right guys on the floor at the right time because they aren’t on the team.
What am I talking about specifically? On the Hornets’ final possession, down a bucket, NOLA’s point guard Grevis Vasquez took a hard drive left going one-on-one with Nicolas Batum. As Vasquez bulled his way into the paint, Jared Jeffries stepped up from the baseline to help, leaving his man, Ryan Anderson, uncovered. Vasquez, kind of a shooter, not really a scorer, and a very very good passer, slipped a pass to Anderson who put NOLA ahead with an easy lay-up, an easy lay-up made that much more of a dagger because a late recovering Jeffries was called for a blocking foul. Anderson converted the three-point play with just over a second left, basically sealing the game.
A lot of things happened in Sunday’s final minute or so. Some were very good (Terry Stotts calling a play for Damian Lillard to hit a three with Portland down two and no shot clock left to work with), and some not so good (a penultimate possession for the Hornets that included a forced look from Vasquez and an offensive rebound from Anthony Davis that eventually ended in a three from Anderson and was much worse than what happen four or five seconds later). But how the final play worked itself out had as much to do with the players Portland has to put on the floor as it did with anything else.
I’m not trying to pin an entire loss on Jared Jeffries (a little used vet who has basically been all upside in his role with the Blazers). It’s just that having to play Jeffries on the final play of the evening was probably the difference maker. Jeffries is a smart and tough defender, however, his lack of meaningful minutes in the last month or so led to him making the wrong decision at a crucial moment.
With the ball in the hands of Grevis Vasquez and the clock running out, Portland was in pretty good shape. Nicolas Batum has the speed to stay in front of Vasquez and the length to defend Vasquez at the rim. When Jeffries stepped up to help, Vasquez was given his best bail out option, a pass off. That Jeffries stepped up to help at the rim wasn’t in and of itself the wrong thing to do. Time and situation dictated that likely Vasquez was going to try and get the finish and the win all by himself. But personnel (Vasquez) dictated that playing the pass was likely more important than playing the shot.
Add to that equation that Vasquez would neither be able to shoot over Nicolas Batum nor get around Nic for an easy score at the rim, prudence would say the help-side defender should just stand his ground and live with the consequences. In the instant that the play lasted, Jeffries made an instinctual decision, it just happened to be wrong. A player with more time on the court and who was more familiar with time, score, situation, and personnel situations might have made a different choice.
Sunday, that’s how Portland’s lack of depth bit them this time.
A basketball game is not won or lost in one possession or on one play, though. Sunday the Blazers were unable to do finish enough defensive possessions with rebounds, couldn’t get easy baskets in the middle of the third quarter when they really needed them, and basically failed to repeat the things they did well against San Antonio.
There are going to be a lot of games from 2012-13 that will be real head scratchers when we take a step back and look at the season once it’s all said and done. A lot of those games are going to be losses (at home against the Kings and the Cavs; roadies at Detroit and Washington), but there are going to be a few that are wins. Beating the Spurs by 30 in San Antonio is going to be one of them.
How does this squad beat one of the best teams in the league by the largest margin of the season (and I would like to go on record and say the Spurs didn’t lose just because Tony Parker was out), and then turn around and lose to the team with the worst record in the West? It happens in part because the Blazers didn’t shoot the lights out in NOLA like they did in San Antonio.
It also happened because the style of play favored by the Spurs is much more conducive to big games from Portland (up and down, lots of shooting, no defense) than the style of play used by the Hornets (grind it out, low scoring, defense). The Blazers haven’t yet reached the level where they can impart their will on an opponent. Until they reach that point, they’ll continue to lose to teams that play the style of game that was on display Sunday.
The good thing is, though, Portland has already done some of the hard work, they’re beating the good teams. Winning games against bad teams is much easier than winning against good teams, or so the Blazers’ 2012-13 record against the Spurs (2-1) as compared to their record against the Hornets (1-2) would suggest.
The Blazers are back in Portland for a three-game home-stand starting Tuesday against the Grizzlies. The Blazers then finish March with six of their last eight games on the road. Luckily, after Portland’s last extended road trip, the Blazers will have only four road games remaining.
Just one thing:
- Meyers Leonard did not play Sunday. Neither did Victor Claver. However, the prognoses are not dire. I expect both guys will be back in action at some point next week.