The Blazers began the game with suitable defense and amazing ball movement, building a 16-point lead, pissed it away, and were stunned rather than motivated in un-Blazer-like fashion while the Suns hit jumper after jumper. They lost this game 106 -120, but it was deer-in-the-headlights from the middle of the second quarter on.
For the stretch from the end of the 2nd quarter and through a good chunk of the third, it was as if the Blazers had forgotten that rebounds were a good thing. They ended up losing the rebounding battle just 39-43, but there were minutes-long stretches where the Blazers got no offensive boards AND no defensive boards. It was frightening.
Dane Carbaugh had a great article about how the Blazers have defended the pick-and-roll this year. They’ve had a good bit of success fighting over screens and allowing help defense to stop drives, but in this game the help was sagging (by design, to stop said drives) and giving up uncontested jumpers, which is how Phoenix got back in the game. An adjustment there might not have been a bad idea.
The Blazers also lacked any of the fire, grit, passion, scrap, you name it, that has exemplified their previous come-from-behind heroics. A loss is okay… it was going to happen at some point. But just how quickly the Blazers went from “dominant” to “disinterested,” and how unwilling they were to get the ball moving once their offense hit a rough patch, was disheartening to say the least.
LaMarcus Aldridge should have been the guy they went to when times got tough, but Phoenix’s double-teams really flustered him, and nobody else could be bothered to make the extra pass to the open man. One of the most pivotal moments came with him on the bench in the second quarter. His replacement, Thomas Robinson, blew three consecutivee defensive assignments and gave up 8 points in short order. Stotts kept Aldridge out of the game far too long, and by then the momentum had decidedly shifted. LA finished with 24 on 10-18 shooting, but he could have (and should have) shot 10 more shots considering what was happening with everyone else.
Goran Dragic played like the second coming of Steve Nash, particularly his ability to shuttle around the court, dribbling without being trapped, dipping into the paint two or three times and picking his spots on both passes and shots. He finished with 31 points off 10-18 shooting and 10 assists.
Damian Lillard was abused by Dragic on both ends. Despite a couple of threes after the lead was insurmountable, it’s tough to tell when or if Dame’s going to get his killer instinct back. One of his best attributes thus far in his short career is that he has “poise,” and stays “cool” and “even” regardless of circumstances. Lately, that’s just looked a lot like “tentative” and “passive.” He had 16 points and a lone assist with 3 turnovers.
Nicolas Batum, like many of Portland’s squad, played quite well in the first half, and had 8 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists at halftime. Unfortunately, he finished with 15, 4 ,and 5. He stayed as active as he could, but it’s tough to get assists when the ball isn’t moving.
Robin Lopez had a double-double at halftime, and that’s exactly where he ended the game, with 10 points and 10 rebounds. He was unable to save the Blazers from their collective inability or unwillingness to box out. When Dragic is swooping through the paint and grabbing loose balls, there’s a problem.
The Blazers, having just played 12 games in 20 days, get a well-deserved rest and will carry a beautiful 13-3 record into Thanksgiving. That is an achievement that shouldn’t be downplayed, but it’s disappointing and stinging to know that they could have seized the #1 spot in the West had they kept from crumbling tonight. They’ll play the 8-8 Lakers on Sunday, Dec. 1 in Los Angeles at 6:30 pm.