lose win in one of the ugliest games in recent memory 90-89 with no offense, intermittent energy, and an uncanny ability to play down to their opponent.
I’m going to completely forgo any play-by-play because it wouldn’t bring anyone joy, not even Suns fans. It was an ugly, ugly game. But there are some important points to take away from it.
- When the Blazers needed Damian Lillard, he delivered. He had a bad shooting game, going 4-13 with zero threes and 11 points. But his threat loomed large, allowing him to split the defense like a cracked pistachio and dance into the lane for an uncontested layup with 6 seconds on the clock to put the Blazers up by one. The Suns managed three point-blank shots in the game’s waning moments, the last looking like only the hand of God himself kept it from falling, and the Blazers ran off the court like they stole the game which, of course, they did. Lillard also had 8 assists, 3 boards, 2 steals, and 2 turnovers.
- The Blazers were more talented, but tonight, as they often do, they played down to their weaker opponent. In this game, the Suns played like they wanted to win. The Blazers played like they expected to win.
PredictablySomehow, they didn’tdid. And they didn’t deserve to. They really didn’t.
- To be fair, the first quarter was full of energy from both teams, and the Blazers were slightly ahead. Then the ball started bouncing off every Blazer hand. Layins rolled in and out. The Blazers’ energy flagged. The Suns weren’t pretty either, but they were much more consistent, and despite their talent deficit it felt like they were always a quarter-step ahead of the Blazers in a close game. When you’re not executing, you had better have energy. If your energy deteriorates, you’d better be executing well. But the absence of both energy and execution is horrid to watch, and that’s how the Blazers were operating for much of the contest.
- The Blazers offensive sets were totally puzzling. I was watching hard… very hard… to find some method in the madness, and more often than not couldn’t find any. Half-assed screens, half-speed curls, and dribbles galore were the Blazers’ preferred method of playing as poorly on offense as they possibly could. Every time a screen was set, it was as if the screener was already leaning to roll toward the basket before he even got there, and very often he barely even made contact with the defender. The Suns, on the other hand, were screening better than a Louisiana sun porch on a hot August evening.
- Aldridge and Lillard looked disinterested, save for spurts. Did one of Lillard’s spurts come at literally the EXACT right time? Why, yes it did! But frankly, all of that swagger, that “I can take over whenever I damn well feel like it” attitude all but evaporated into a puff of mediocrity. Aldridge had a nice little run to start the third and ended with a double-double, and Lillard had flashes of greatness, but they weren’t nearly the factors they’ve been lately. Aldridge finished with one of the most unremarkable double-doubles ever, his 12 points (on 5-19 shooting) and 12 boards felt more like 6 and 6. Sure, they’re both nice players even without that extra confidence, but it was the difference between having a couple of nice players and a couple of stars tonight.
- Robin Lopez had his best game as a Blazer with 13 points, 15 rebounds, and 1 block, showing that stats sometimes mean very little, as his positive impact far eclipsed Aldridge’s- even if it looked the same on paper. He was by far the most consistent Blazer on the floor all game when the Blazers desperately needed stability. It was like watching a gyroscope on a roller coaster: no matter what the game did, Lopez was steady.
- Thomas Robinson’s energy in the fourth quarter was the jolt that got the crowd and the rest of the team going. The Blazers wouldn’t have won without it. He was swaggering a little in the first half, but he really got it going when Portland desperately needed something, anything, to get them motivated. He dove to the basket instead of taking fadeaways, and went straight to the rim rather than spinning into waiting defenders. Unfortunately, his free throws abandoned him, and the Suns even intentionally fouled him on one occasion when, thankfully, he at least hit one of two. He finished with 15 points, 8 boards, a steal, a block, and a turnover, and also had his best game of the season, possibly of his career.
- Wes Matthews had 11, Nicolas Batum had 9, and Mo Williams had 12. None of them were forcing the issue (good), but outside of Williams, none of them ever tried to BE a force in the game at all (bad). Mediocre games for all three, but I appreciate that Mo is starting to reign in his chucking a bit.
- Screens. Phoenix set them, Portland didn’t. I mentioned it earlier, but this point needs emphasis. The Blazers need to dedicate a practice to setting good screens, because it will make everything else in their offense easier.
The Blazers will try to forget almost everything about this game save for parts of the fourth quarter and the last minute or so. The Blazers (6-2!) take on the Celtics (4-5) in Boston on Friday at 4:30pm Pacific.