For the last 3:38 of yesterday’s game against the Houston Rockets, the Portland Trail Blazers did not score a single point. After Damian Lillard drove for one of his beautiful layups from the left with 3:39 left in the game, the Blazers were within two points – down only 98-100. They wouldn’t score again.
It started going immediately downhill – the very next possession, the Blazers left James Harden (yes, the likely first team All-NBA shooting guard) wide open for a three-pointer, which he promptly drained. Blame is hard to assign, but the trouble appeared to start when Lillard gave a half-baked attempt to double team Howard, allowing Rockets guard Jeremy Lin to dart into the lane, sucking Wesley Matthews in, at which point Lin was able to find the open Harden.
While an egregious error, and an eternally frustrating one (at that point in the game, giving Harden a wide open three has to be one of the least desirable outcomes), I still had faith that the Blazers’ potent offense could pull them back into it. Sadly, this would not prove to be the case.
The next possession started with a deep Aldridge jumper with a full 14 seconds left on the shot clock. It missed badly, but Robin Lopez secured the offensive rebound. He kicked it out to Matthews, who then missed a 25-foot three pointer with a full 22 seconds left on the shot clock. Even after this, the Blazers still clung on to life with a Chandler Parsons miss on the other end, before Lillard came back down and promptly shot a pull up three with 16 seconds left on the shot clock.
Terrence Jones made a layup on the other end, pushing the lead to seven, before Dwight Howard blocked (maybe catching a bit of arm?) Aldridge twice in a row to snuff out the Blazers’ next possession. At this point it was essentially over.
It’s easy for me to sit on my couch and blather on about what the Blazers should have done, but truthfully, those two offensive possessions before the Jones layup (comprised of the Aldridge jumper, the Matthews three, and the Lillard three) still hurt me. The Blazers had one of the most explosive offenses in the entire league throughout the season, yet the best they could do in crunch time of a close-out playoff game was three deep jumpers?
I would hope, no, actually I would expect, the Blazers to get better looks than that. I know they are capable of it, which is the most frustrating part. The Blazers still have an excellent chance to close out the series, but to see an entire season’s worth of hard work come down to sloppy plays is particularly painful.
Throughout the series, I have been judging Head Coach Terry Stotts pretty harshly. I’ve had some discussions with friends, and I am firmly in the encampment that says coaching makes a huge difference in the NBA, especially in the decisions players make (this is particularly true after watching Rick Carlisle and Gregg Popovich playing a cat and mouse game, and Scott Brooks utterly wasting Kevin Durant’s talents).
The thing is, we don’t, and won’t ever be able to know, who was responsible for those plays. Even if Stotts did not call them (and my suspicion is he did not directly do so), my hope would be that his players, our beloved Blazers, are disciplined enough to know the correct decisions to make in these clutch situations.
I still put Stotts comfortably in the better half of coaches in the league, and maybe that’s all you can ask for. People also often forget that coaches themselves can improve, just like the players they are in charge of. I am most interested in seeing how Stotts responds in Game 6.