If the Blazers were a better team, or at least a team with a better record, it would be the games like Monday’s that would drive this fan base absolutely crazy. Portland lost this game two or three times, and still managed to give themselves a chance to win it once.
If the Blazers needed this win for the purpose of making the post season or competing for home court advantage in the playoffs, it would be that much more infuriating that Portland couldn’t make a shot for almost four minutes, then made three ridiculous buckets to get within a single point, then were the beneficiary of a fortuitous turnover that enabled them to get probably their best shot of the final few minutes, and then couldn’t convert on that shot.
If the Blazers had something left to play for, it would be a lot more frustrating that Terry Stotts once again played the favorable match-up (LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Spencer Hawes) instead of the preferable match-up (Damian Lillard vs. Jrue Holiday) and it once again came up empty. LaMarcus got off a good shot, a shot that would have been a game winner, but I for one would have rather seen Damian Lillard with the ball going straight at the basket instead of LA with the ball and backing towards the hoop from the angle.
If the Blazers weren’t probably about a week from mathematical elimination and an early summer, trailing by 14 points against a 26-win team would be considered absolutely unacceptable regardless of how many points Portland ended up losing by.
Good thing the Blazers aren’t making the playoffs or playing for home court and have very little left to play for. Because there isn’t going to be a post season, and because the games that remain have little to no actual significance we should at least try to find a moral victory in the loss Portland suffered Monday to kick-off this five-game road swing.
I’ve railed against moral victories in the past, and I’m not changing my opinion at that matter, at least not fully. Moral victories are a trap teams should avoid, especially young teams early in their season or in their run as a team. By celebrating a minor success or something that can be construed as a minor success, a young team with a lot to learn might forget that the point of a basketball game isn’t to learn from losing, the point of a basketball game is to win.
But Portland has won a lot in 2012-13. They’ve accomplished a lot of of concrete things. They probably aren’t going to undo a whole lot be looking at Monday’s win and pulling out a few things to celebrate. Especially if losing by one to Philly is the closet Portland will get to a win on this trip.
So here are my two moral victory celebrations from Monday night, they’ll probably sound familiar.
First off, LaMarcus Aldridge proved that he deserved his third Western Conference Player of the Week honors. LA finished with 32 points, 16 in the first quarter. Stotts called his number on the game’s final play because he’d been playing so well. That LaMarcus missed a game winner takes away from the fact that he has become the guy who gets the ball every time in game winning situations. That hasn’t been the case with LA before.
For much of LaMarcus’s career it was Brandon Roy getting the game winning looks. Without Brandon, there were a lot of different guys getting their numbers called with the game on the line. Portland needs a guy they can go to late in games. This season has been about a lot of things, but one of the main things has been establishing LA as the primary leader of this team. Getting him the ball and letting him try to win a game he’s dominated offensively, is part of that development. The hope is, that at some point (say late in a close playoff game) LaMarcus will get the kind of play called for him that was drawn up for the win on Monday, and in that situation he won’t freeze up since he’s been there and done it in low-pressure situations over and over again.
And if the the first moral victory is the play and leadership development of LaMarcus Aldridge, then of course the second moral victory has to be the play of Damian Lillard. Damian and LaMarcus have already shown that they can be a dynamic tandem, but Damian is also continuing to show that he can be a force all by himself.
Jrue Holiday, the 76ers point guard, is in his third year as a pro. He’s widely regarded as one of the best of the NBA’s crop of young point guards. Holiday made his first All-Star Game this season. Jrue put on a show in Portland back in December, but couldn’t lead his team to a victory. Monday, he and Lillard played to a tie. Holiday got Philly’s last bucket (the eventual game winner). Damian got Portland’s (a three over Holiday to bring the Blazers back from the brink. Holiday tripped over his teammate and the Sixers turned the ball over to give Portland a shot at the win. Lillard missed a free throw after a reverse lay-up and a foul that in some people’s eyes was the difference maker.
How is Lillard vs. Holiday being a tie (even if Portland lost) a moral victory? Holiday’s an All-Star. He’s a proven point guard (even if he’s young). He’s a favorite among many around the NBA. Lillard played him to a stand-still. If Damian would have gotten a look at the end of Monday’s game, Portland MIGHT be leaving Philly with a win. Lillard once again showed that he’s here to stay.
So there are my moral victories. Don’t be fooled, Monday’s is a bad loss. There are only a few more games left to lose before the outcome of games becomes irrelevant. The Blazers struggle mightily on the road, that needs to be corrected. I’m taking the moral victories this time, and this time only, because it’s not going to get any easier on this trip.
Portland travels to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks on Tuesday.