A Missed Opportunity
I have absolutely no explanation for what happened in the NBA on Tuesday night. You'd have had an easier time accurately picking the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament than predicting the upsets in the league on this evening.
Sure, you get the occasional shocker in the NBA. Sometimes you'll see a couple of surprising scores on a given night. But, not like this. Not during crunch time, with so much on the line.
Four teams, with nothing to play for, beat four heavily-favored teams, with everything to play for, and in all four cases, did it on the road. That just doesn't happen. I doubt that makes you feel any better about Portland getting whacked at home by Golden State, but at least we weren't alone in our frustration.
Houston, with its playoff hopes basically on the line, fell at home to the lowly Sacramento Kings. Memphis has been as hot as anyone, rarely showing any cracks. But, the Grizzlies fell at home to the L.A. Clippers. The Blazers, coming off wins over Oklahoma City and Dallas, were blitzed in their building by the Warriors. And, the Lakers, desperately trying to catch San Antonio, were dealt a mind-numbing loss by the Utah Jazz, at the Staples Center. The same Jazz team that has had trouble playing dead over the last two months.
So, you could say it was just a very strange night, and the Trail Blazers at least didn't lose any ground. And, hey, they clinched a playoff spot with Houston being upset at home. But, in reality, this was a huge missed opportunity.
First of all, give Golden State some credit. The Warriors aren't awful. Heck, in the east they'd be just one game out of the final playoff spot. We all know they've given Portland fits in recent years. But, this was at the RG, where the Blazers had won 8 in a row. And, on a night when the scoreboard around the league finally went in their favor, this was the chance Portland had been waiting for.
Early in this game the Blazers were staying close using smoke and mirrors. They were giving a jump-shooting team wide open shots, and were giving them extra possessions by turning the ball over. They were also getting outrebounded by a team that outrebounds no one.
To be tied at 47 at halftime with Golden State? That should have been the wake-up call. You dodged a bullet. The second half is when you flip that switch you've been looking for and steamroll this team. That sounds good, but it didn't happen. Well, it did, it was just the other team doing the steamrolling.
The Blazer defense went from bad to worse in the third quarter, and it was target practice for the Warriors. They buried the Blazers in the third quarter, outscoring them 37-21. Portland appeared to go into panic mode, and started tossing up three pointers. They ended the game going 3 for 21 from behind the arc, so that didn't work.
Golden State shoots 50 percent from the field, the Blazers 41 percent, and school was out. The Warriors hand the Blazers their worst home loss on the season, on a night when the Blazers had the table set perfectly for them to take advantage of a rare (at least lately) Memphis loss.
The positive news (and there is some) is that the Blazers did clinch a playoff spot. But, we all know they covet the sixth seed in the west. They were holding their destiny in their own hands. Now, they are going to likely need some help to avoid getting the Lakers in the first round.
What's left isn't easy. The Blazers play Utah Thursday night, and the Jazz, coming off the win over the Lakers, will get point guard Devin Harris back for that game. Then, they host the Lakers at the Rose Garden on Friday. After that, it's Memphis at the Rose Garden, followed by a game at Golden State.
The positive, again, is that you clinched and didn't lose ground to the Grizzlies. The bad news is the team that was watching from home, New Orleans, just saw their window of opportunity slide wide open. Yes, they want Dallas too. And, they've got the season series with Portland in their back pocket.
Burn the DVD of this game, and quickly turn the page. On Tuesday night, there were four teams saying that. We just didn't expect the Blazers to be one of them.
To listen to Nate McMillan's post-game comments, click here.
Thursday's game is on TNT, so the TV crew isn't going to Salt Lake City with the team on Wednesday. Mr. Rice and I will be hosting Trail Blazers Courtside on Wednesday, from 6 to 8, on Comcast Sportsnet, 95.5 The Game, and trailblazers.com.