The Portland Trail Blazers tried to overcome a hobbled LaMarcus Aldridge (5-22 shooting for 12 points, with 12 rebounds) and an injured Joel Freeland, but could’t, sinking to the Oklahoma City Thunder 98-95.
This game was mostly a very good game. It’s been frustrating that the last few close losses to good teams have also been “good games” for stretches, but that was the case again tonight. Tarnishing that luster were a couple of dry spells when even mediocre offense would have probably gotten the job done. Most notably, to end the first quarter (when they had every chance to push out a double-digit lead, and didn’t), the start of the fourth quarter (when they went nearly 4 minutes without scoring and saw their 4-point lead turn into a 3-point deficit), and the last two minutes of the game (when they were held scoreless and saw their two-point lead turn into the final margin of a 3-point loss).
LaMarcus Aldridge looked bad. After tweaking his groin in the last game, he was questionable to play tonight… maybe he should have sat. And don’t let the rebounds fool you, because he looked less mobile than a post-injury Joel Przybilla out there. His shot was flatter than week-old Mr. Pibb. Why, then, did the Blazers ISO him late in the game, when he had been shooting under 25% and had no expectation of magically healing his strained groin? Who knows.
Speaking of puzzling decisions, why on earth did the Blazers not call a timeout down by 1 with less than 24 seconds to go in the game, instead opting to let Lillard drive? Adding insult to injury, he had his elbow poked, causing him to lose the ball, but it was simply ruled out of bounds to the Thunder.
This may not have been Coach Stotts’ finest game, and between these questionable strategies and his unwillingness to get his starters back on the floor when leads slip away or deficits become unmanageable is starting to weigh on whether he’s a great coach, or just a pretty good one.
The worst part about this game may not even be the loss, but Joel Freeland’s injury. The Blazers rely on him as their only competent backup big, and he got injured in the first quarter. As Nicolas Batum attempted to block a Kevin Durant floater, Batum collided awkwardly with Freeland’s knee from the side. Freeland was helped off of the court (after uttering a well earned expletive) and would remain in the locker room for the rest of the game.
There was also plenty of good to be had. The Blazers, having blown their huge first-quarter lead, found themselves tied with just over 2 minutes to go in the first half. Instead of hanging their heads and accepting it, they stiffened their collective upper lip and marched out to a 10-point halftime lead, capping a 16-4 run.
Robin Lopez (17 and 14 with 2 blocks) looked like a hero at times, as he so often has this season, blocking shots and maneuvering his way to offensive rebounds and tip-ins. Where the Blazers would be without Rolo, we’d rather not speculate.
CJ McCollum looks capable on offense even when his shot isn’t falling, going 5-12 for 15 points and showing the Blazers that they wouldn’t miss Mo as much as they thought, should he, say, happen to be packaged for a reliable backup big…
The story of this game, unfortunately, will be another one that got away. Had the Blazers found some offense at any of those three crucial times, the Thunder’s confidence may very well have been tested and splintered, opening a pathway to Portland’s victory.
As it stands, this game will be tossed in the dustbin of “coulda-woulda-shoulda,” and hopefully will leave less of a sour taste in the mouths of the players as it does to armchair analysts statewide.
Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews alternated guarding Durant, to mixed success, but they made his life about as hard as could be expected, and may have pressured him into some late-game mistakes that would have been heralded as heroic stops had this game gone the other way. Batum’s 18 was more points than he’s used to seeing lately, just as 11 was the opposite for Wesley, but their worth was in providing two semi-legitimate answers to the unsolvable puzzle that is Kevin Durant.
Damian Lillard didn’t look great (again), but, and I don’t tire of pointing this out, if 16 and 7 assists is a bad game, you’ve got yourself a pretty good player. His late-game whiffs were of the variety that he’s used to making. Here’s hoping Dame gets his groove back sooner rather than later.
Earl Watson, Meyers Leonard, and Thomas Robinson were all asked to play more than usual, and all three performed… well, adequately might be overstating it. Not terribly? That’s better.
The Blazers have one more game until the All-Star break, tomorrow, on the road, against the Clippers, at 7:30 pm. Weeee…