In a game that the Blazers had made nearly every play to win, a disappearing act by the Blazers (save Wesley Matthews) down the stretch in the fourth forced overtime, and a series of miscues in the extra period doomed the Blazers to the 118-113 loss.
There is a lot to say about this game. A good writer would be able to contain themselves, but I’ve never fancied myself to be more than a few ticks above mediocre.
Therefore, I’m eschewing my usual format for a stream-of-consciousness mixed with the pertinent stats to give you a sense of how one person felt to watch this game.
My first thought is that the Blazers definitely came out of the gate to play in this one. They looked amped. There was no possession during which they slept, no defensive assignment they didn’t take seriously. Heck, even Earl Watson got his first bucket of the SEASON, and that was in the FIRST quarter. Watson, filling in for Mo Williams (who is attending family concerns), had 3 boards to go along with his two points and a few turnovers in his 12 minutes.
The biggest positive of this game? Portland’s defense, which was hedging smartly on screens, jumping out at nearly everyone (with the notable exception of David West, who was an insane 13-16 from the field), and generally looking interested in preventing the Pacers (especially superstar Paul George) from getting anything easy. George was held to 5-23 shooting, but he did chip in 7 assists and 6 rebounds.
There was a lot of bumping and a lot of grabbing early on. The Blazers are no stranger to physical play, and neither are the Pacers. But the Blazers’ shot was working quite a bit better than their opponent’s, and Portland found themselves with an early lead, up 18-12 with 3 to go in the first and up 28-16 to start the second.
That second quarter started with a bit of a stutter, which turned into a full-blown Pacers run, partly because the Blazers trotted out Watson, Thomas Robinson (0 points and 1 rebound), Joel Freeland (5 rebounds and a block), and Dorell Wright (2 points, 3 boards, and a block) to compliment Damian Lillard (38 points and 11 assists, for his second career game of at least 30 and 10). That lineup isn’t going to hold many leads.
As I’ve often criticized in the past, Terry Stotts probably kept his starters sidelined a bit too long. Before long the lead was just 30-27 with 8 to go in second.
With Aldridge back in with Lillard, however, things freed up again. Portland went into halftime up 50-45, Lillard having already scored 20 of his 38 total points, and Aldridge having scored 15 of his 22 total points (also finishing with 9 boards and a block). Robin Lopez had a great half, as well, with 8 and 8 (ending with 17 and 14).
The third quarter saw the Blazers play hard, but the Pacers play harder, and they nabbed a lead early in the period. Wes Matthews was driving, but unable to finish most of the time, trying to make up for his 0 first-half points (Nicolas Batum also was blanked at the half).
A spurt by the Blazers and a Lillard four-point play near the end of the quarter put the Trail Blazers up by 8. In what may have been an omen, George Hill hit a runner with less than a second left, cutting the lead to 6. But the Blazers shrugged it off, riding high and feeling like they could take on the world.
The feeling didn’t last.
Aldridge picked up his fifth foul with with 6:30 to go. Thinking he could go a bit without his superstar, Stotts took him out of the game.
Now, I don’t really question Stotts’ coaching chops, and I recognize what he did was fairly standard. But what happened the last time he benched his best player? The Pacers went on a run. And saving your best player from fouling out doesn’t really matter if you lose.
The Pacers, sensing an opening, went on a 6-0 run, cutting the Blazers lead to two before Aldridge went back in two minutes later. The game was tied, the crowd was boiling, and the momentum was all Indiana when Robin Lopez was trapped directly under the basket, hesitated, and flipped up a shot that looked awkward until it went in. An underrated moment of the game that turned the tide from “All Indiana, all the time” to a back-and-forth contest.
The Pacers did actually get a lead before Matthews (who finished with 19, all of them coming after halftime) decided to turn on his wallhack, aimbot, and whatever other cheats he had to score 7 points in 70 seconds, allowing the Blazers to weather George Hill’s and David West’s scoring and tread water.
With a minute to play, the Blazers missed a flurry of shots, and the Pacers made a stupid mistake by stepping out of bounds. Nicolas Batum (finishing with 4, 6, and 4 with 2 steals, 2 blocks, and 4 turnovers), who had exactly 0 points thus far, stepped to the line with the Blazers up 1 with 22 seconds. He canned them both, forcing a Pacers timeout.
The Blazers were one stop away from victory.
They got it… but they forgot that allowing an offensive rebound after a stop is about as good as not stopping at all, and George Hill hit a triumphant three with under 10 seconds to go to tie the game. Overtime.
By this point, Aldridge hadn’t scored since 9 minutes to go in the fourth, and Lillard hadn’t scored since 6 to go. After playing so well in the first half, the Blazers needed their best players to get back on the horse.
However, they also needed some defense, particularly on David West. While Batum’s slashing layin scored overtime’s first points, it was an again-wide-open West that tied it, and the pit in Blazers fans stomachs grew.
When Batum was fouled and had the ball go out of bounds, there was no foul called, but the Blazers were given possession…. until the review, which clearly showed a foul, but which also clearly showed the ball going off Batum. The officials couldn’t go back and tack on a violation, so Pacers ball it was.
The stomach pit grew larger.
Then Robin Lopez got a rebound, but lazily passed it right to Paul George, who missed a three but got the O-board and was found under the hoop for an easy dunk.
The stomach pit growled.
THEN Lillard hit a stepback to seemingly calm things down, but the Pacers answered. Even when the Blazers got a stop, Aldridge, falling out of bounds about as slowly as humanly possible and finding no immediately help, tried to fling it through David West to Damian Lillard. West got an easy dunk.
The stomach pit roared.
By the time Damian Lillard thought to attempt another shot in overtime, the Blazers were down six. His three cut that in half, but the Pacers got ANOTHER offensive rebounds, and it was over.
The stomach pit turned into a yawning chasm and consumed this Blazers fan’s soul in a cry of despair.
The Blazers, once having a 25-15 rebound advantage, ended the game winning that battle just 47-46. They had a 7-0 offensive rebounding edge at that half that was just 13-11 by game’s end. That, along with some poor rotations and what I saw as a lack of assertiveness when it was needed most (and of course a few blundering errors) was the story of how such a well-played game turned into an egg laid at the feet of the best team in the league.
Give the Pacers credit. They played better when they needed to, and they were the better team in this one.
The Blazers will have no time for reflection as they take on the Minnesota Timberwolves tomorrow, Saturday Feb. 8th on the road at 5:00 p.m. PST.