The Portland Trail Blazers came out of the gate about as interested in playing basketball as Lakers fans are in sticking with their team in tough times, falling behind big early and doing the bare minimum to get back into the game before falling to the Lakers 107-106. It was a festival of frustration, an arena of apathy, and a washtub of “what the heck?” large enough to make you question what, exactly, the Blazers thought they were doing at times, with not enough streaky hot stretches to make up for it. The only player who looked consistently like they cared was Robin Lopez, who tied a career-high with 7 offensive rebounds (16 total), and had 19 points with 3 blocks.
Just to reiterate: the Blazers started this game with about the most atrocious basketball of the season. They had 8 turnovers in the first quarter, almost all of them to lazy passes made again and again, even after it become very clear the Lakers were pressuring and pestering, looking for exactly those kinds of passes to steal.
If the Blazers’ defense was lethargic, their offense was sedate. Even Mo Williams (7 points and 5 asissts), who you can almost always rely upon to push the tempo and sprint into the offense, was walking it up. Damian Lillard (20-5-5, but just 1-4 from the line… and he’s a 90% free throw shooter) looked like his girlfriend just broke up with him and he couldn’t be bothered to do much else than sulk and take horse tranquilizers.
With all of this as the backdrop, the Lakers said, “really? Okay!” and played respectable basketball, finding Pau Gasol on the block and hitting open jumpers to take a 33-20 lead after one.
The second quarter was better for the Blazers, who at least looked like they didn’t want to lose anymore, if not that they were playing to win. LaMarcus Aldridge (21 and 6) got hot at the right time, but the offense was still not flowing, and still looked stagnant. But even a half-functioning Blazers team was enough to stop the bleeding, and Portland faced a 7 point halftime deficit.
The energy started flowing in the third, and the Lakers’ lead never got back into double digits. Then Dorell Wright (8 points, all in the third) said, “to hell with losing,” and with the Blazers down 9 with 2:30 to go in the 3rd, Wright hit a three, got the steal, then after a series of Portland offensive rebounds hit another three to pull it to 82-79 and force the Lakers timeout.
The Blazers were down 87-84 going into the fourth, and the hump the Blazers needed to get over, which in realty was only a few possessions, felt more like 15 or 20 points.
After the Lakers built their lead back up a bit, Lillard was at the line for two and ended up missing both.. but then the Blazers got the offensive rebound, and Lillard drilled a three. Then the Lakers scored, only to have Mo Williams hit an and-one. But this was no time to be trading buckets, and as time kept slipping off the clock, the Blazers made no meaningful progress.
Then, in a bizarre turn of events, the Blazers had two opportunities to cut the lead to 3, blew them both, then got the ball in transition with numbers only to see Nicolas Batum (17-15(!)-5) pull for three… and he hit it. If that ball hadn’t gone in, I can’t even imagine the scolding he would have gotten. But it did, and he didn’t, and it was just 103-101 with 3:40 to go.
The Blazers took their first lead since the early game on a Lillard free throw, only to have him miss the second. However; he got his own rebound! Up by one and with the ball, the Blazers were primed to push the lead and crush the Lakers’ spirits with 28 seconds left.
Instead, Matthews missed a less-than-perfect three, and the Lakers scored to take a 1-point lead with 6 seconds left. Those moments, with the team down and time running out, are the moments players like Lillard are built for. The shots may not always go in, but you know, you just KNOW, that they’re going to get a look.
Not this time. Lillard was smothered, forced into an unsightly three which had no chance, and that was your ballgame.
The Blazers had better be pissed about this one. They played totally, inexcusably poor for far too long, and they paid the ultimate price with the loss. They get a day off to lick their wounds before facing the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. at the Moda Center.