Even if all the reasons weren’t the same, the Trail Blazers went ice cold at the exact same time for the third-straight game, and dropped the first game of this four-game road trip. The New Jersey Nets, who are showing signs of life after beating Atlanta in their last home game, defeated the Blazers 98-96 on Sunday night.
In their last three fourth quarters the Trail Blazers have been outscored by a staggering count of 85-51. In the most obvious statement of the day, you’re not going to win many games when you’re on the bad side of that equation. What’s more troubling is the fact that the Blazers have only averaged 17 points in their last three fourth quarters. You can’t even really accurately call that a slump.
As you know if you’ve watched the last three games, even though the offense has suffered, the defensive effort hasn’t been there either. The Blazers allowed 48 percent shooting to the Jazz, then gave up 52 percent to New Orleans, and on Sunday watched the Nets, who came into the game shooting just 44 percent on the season, shoot 53 percent in this game.
Nate McMillan always talks about trying to achieve “sustained positive momentum” in games. But, if you’ve noticed, in the last three games we’ve seen wild swings and a ton of runs. Sometimes this happens when you’re not getting balanced scoring between your first and second units. But, the Blazer bench has been decent lately, so I don’t think that explains it. I’m not sure all of this can be explained by saying it’s simply been a lack of concentration, and inconsistent effort, but that’s where I tend to go when looking for an answer.
This team has also seen its confidence take a major hit, and that has really shown up down the stretch, especially when they’ve built a lead. They held a 12-point second-half lead at New Jersey on Sunday. Then, it appeared that fear started creeping in and they found themselves in another major offensive lull. Rather than putting a team away, it almost appears they get completely conservative and start waiting for bad things to happen. We start seeing poor shot selection, a lack of movement, and a bunch of attempts at the rim when the shot clock is winding down.
You can’t blame this loss on the team’s big producers either. When you get 21 from Brandon Roy, 20 from LaMarcus Aldridge, and 25 from Wesley Matthews, they should win. So, that’s just saying that Portland isn’t getting enough from its supporting cast.
There were some key moments of Sunday’s game that seemed to really turn the momentum. As I said, the Blazers asserted themselves late in the first half and carried an eight-point lead into the locker room at halftime. They built that lead to 12 in the third, and looked poised to drop the Nets and win the first game of the trip.
I’m not going to toss any blame at the referees in this game, but a key turning point in this game came with about seven minutes to go in the third quarter. Devin Harris, who minutes earlier had flown down the lane and ran over Marcus Camby for an offensive foul, did exactly the same thing with 7:11 left in the third and the Blazers up 8. It looked like an offensive foul, and was called that way by the official who was in position under the basket. Even as it seemed the Nets accepted the call, an officials conference took place after the initial call and it was changed. Camby, it was ruled, had instead been called for a block- his 4th foul. He had to come out of the game, and less than 2 and a-half minutes later the Portland lead was gone.
We went back and forth down the stretch, and the game was tied at 89 with just over a minute left. Not only were the Blazers struggling to score at that point, the Nets were following them down that path. But, when Devin Harris nailed a long three pointer, it gave New Jersey a 92-89 lead, and Portland wasn’t able to recover.
I’ve seen it written today that this is now rock bottom for this Portland team, so far, this season. The players were frustrated after the loss and did hold a players-only meeting in the locker room. That’s a very positive thing, and the kind of thing McMillan wants to see- self policing.
To listen to McMillan’s post-game comments,click here.
We’re now in Philadelphia, and this trip continues on Tuesday night against the 76’ers. Then, it’s on to Boston on Wednesday, before the trip wraps up in Washington on Friday.