An interesting night for the Trail Blazers Thursday in the Rose Garden. Let me point out just a few things here:
- All in all, the Blazers had stretches of playing their best basketball of the season. Particularly in the second and third quarters, when they pushed the ball on the fast break and spread it around in the halfcourt offense.
- Portland got a ton of fast-break points in those first three quarters.
- The Blazers finished with 50 points in the paint, which is outstanding for them. There were times, between the fast break and the layups in the halfcourt, when I thought this team was playing as well as it has in a long time.
- Alas, the inside scoring shut down in the fourth quarter and overtime. Portland became a jump-shooting team again. And for the most part, they weren’t good jump shots.
- Oklahoma City came into this game reeling. The Thunder had suffered a brutal loss to the Clippers the previous night and even worse, had not played well all season. Hard to believe, but OKC came into the game ranked 29th in field goal percentage and 29th in field-goal percentage against — being a bad offensive team and a bad defensive team is no way to get through a season.
- The bad news is, I’m afraid the Blazers probably got them back on track.
- The Thunder made a key defensive change during this game, switching Serge Ibaka onto LaMarcus Aldridge, after Jeff Green proved unable to guard Aldridge. Ibaka immediately got physical with the Blazer power forward, which works. Aldridge, a dominant player in the first quarter, drifted out of the picture as the game went along.
- The Thunder made a a huge mistake late in regulation. It got the ball with about 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter and intentionally ran the clock way down — ensuring that no matter what happened on that possession, the Blazers were going to get the final shot. The right NBA play is to get a shot with about 32-36 seconds to go on the game clock so that you end up with the final shot of the game. The Thunder should have paid the price for that by losing the game on the final shot.
- Uh, three patella injuries inside of a year to the same team? Seriously, that’s pretty ridiculous.
The big thing that happened in this game also speaks to the core of the Blazers’ offensive problems over the last couple of seasons — how much isolation for Brandon Roy is too much?
Certainly what we saw last night was too much. Roy had several opportunities in the final minutes of regulation to salt this game away for the Blazers but he wasn’t able to get to good shots. He simply could not beat his man off the dribble but that didn’t seem to change the team’s relentless attempts to stick to that inept offense. Even though the Portland motion offense had provided an opportunity for all the team’s players to chip in and was getting inside shots consistently (remember all those points in the paint).
Roy vs. Durant on the last possession of regulation was a total mismatch from the start. Roy waited too long to go to work on Durant, didn’t allow himself enough time to get a shot. Durant was smart, refusing to leave his feet on Roy’s fakes and the final shot was a prayer that went unanswered.
I cannot believe Coach Nate McMillan said Roy vs. Durant was “the matchup we wanted.” Really? I do not see any reason why. Durant is too big and too smart for him. He stayed on the floor and made Roy shoot over him.
There is this thing in the NBA where, late in games, everyone is going to say, “Get the ball into the hands of your best player and let him win the game for you.” Well, OK. If you’ve got Kobe or LeBron or D-Wade. That’s fine. But Roy is nowhere close to that level. And besides, even when the Lakers do that with Bryant, they’ll often make three 0r four passes first, run Bryant off screens or backpicks to either help him get open or force defensive switches that give him a more favorable matchup.
Portland does nothing like that for Roy. It puts all the burden on him to get himself open. And for whatever reason, that’s looking increasingly difficult for him.
It was painfully obvious in overtime Portland was going to have trouble generating any offense. By then, most of the players who had been left out of the offense during the Roy and Aldridge isolations in the fourth quarter had lost their touch. I don’t think it’s fair to leave Nic Batum, for example, out of the mix for about a half hour, then expect him to drain a difficult jump shot. Same with Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews or any of the others.
And the interesting thing last night was that Roy’s isolations weren’t forcing double-teams. Durant played him straight up, which meant there was nobody for him to dump the ball off to — and that the one-on-one stuff was even more useless than usual.
But all in all, I liked a good portion of Portland’s game. I think that slowly the Blazers are finding their way to a better offensive flow. I loved it that they scored 18 fast-break points, for example. I mean, that’s not great but for them, it’s pretty decent. And all the points in the paint mean they’re on the right track in the halfcourt.
I think they need to resist the temptation to slip into all the isolations late in games, though, and continue to push the ball up the court — man, the second unit is really good at that — and things will work out OK.
This game wasn’t as disastrous as it looked. At least progress seems to be being made — and the results of the isolations at the end might mean change will be in the offing for those late-game situations.