Portland's Turn to Hold Serve
Going into a playoff series you tell yourself that you've got this to fall back on- two home games, just like your opponent had. It's kind of a worst-case-scenario thing going into the first two games of a series. It's more of a "let's steal game one," to a "let's earn a split on the road," to a "okay, all they've done is hold serve."
Technically, that's all Dallas has done in this playoff series. They've won two games they were expected to win. Any result other than 2-0 Dallas following that trip would have taken an upset. You sit and talk yourself into these things when you're the one down two games in the series.
Honestly, it feels like the hole is deeper than that right now. It was a long flight home.
It really doesn't make much sense to feel that way, especially seeing how the Trail Blazers were in position to win game 1, and were down one point to the Mavericks going into the fourth quarter of game 2. Perhaps the reason it feels like this mountain just got bigger is that Dallas was better in the second game, and is playing very, very well, getting contributions from anyone they toss out there.
One of the big advantages I felt the Blazers had, going into the first two games, was all the pressure the Mavs were feeling. It's usually on the home team in those first two games, and given their recent history of earlier-than-expected playoff exits, I really thought Portland could seriously dent Dallas' mental state with a win. Or, as others have put it, Portland's best chance for a win in Dallas would be in one of the first two games. The thought was that if the Mavericks were allowed to get that confidence going, and start rolling, look out.
That's where we are right now.
Now then, I'm kind of a voice-your-fears first kind of a guy, and then I usually sort things out and end up feeling positive. In other words, this is a typical process for me.
If the past has taught us anything, it's that a lot can change, quickly, in a seven-game playoff series. Momentum can swing back and forth, and home crowds make a big difference. The one thing I heard voiced over and over in Dallas, by people close to the Mavs' team, is their respect for Portland's home-court advantage. Perhaps they were just trying to motivate themselves for the first two games, and the importance of not dropping one of those.
The one thing that really gives me hope, other than coming back to familiar surroundings, is that I don't think Dallas can play a lot better than they did in game 2. I'm not saying we've seen their absolute best, but just about everything went right for them on their home court. They got big games from Dirk, out-of-the-ordinary big games from Jason Kidd and Peja Stojakovic, and their bench was tremendous. Their second unit outscored Portland's second 39-11 in game 2.
The Blazers can play better. A heck of a lot better.
We saw Portland make adjustments after game 1. They tried to be more physical. They tried to get themselves to the free-throw line, and they tried to run more. They were better in these catagories, but I still think the area they can really pound is fast-break points. Like most teams, the Blazers run more at home. They take a few more chances at home, and their bench always plays better at home. They also shoot better from long range at home. The Blazers did shoot 50 percent from three-point land in game 2, but that's a tad misleading. Andre Miller hit two threes (giving him 6 now for the season), and Marcus Camby hit one (giving him 1 for the season).
Pressure has to be taken off of the half-court offense, especially late in games, and running is a big way to do that. Pushing the tempo is also a way to get your confidence back, and that's clearly something that needs to be addressed.
And, they need Brandon Roy.
Nate McMillan got heat for playing Brandon during the fourth quarter of game 1. He then took some heat for not playing him in the fourth quarter of game 2. Brandon spoke out, and everyone is now focusing on that. I don't think this is that big of a deal. It's not going to split the team, or anything like that. It's not like this issue has just popped up. I still maintain that Brandon is going to play a key role, and is going to have to, in this series. Portland badly needs a closer. Roy can still be that guy.
What the Blazers need more than anything else is their beloved home court. Clearly, if Dallas was feeling the pressure in the first two games, they won't be feeling it now. It's Portland's turn to deal with that. Rather than the weight of the moment scaring them, and having them crawl into a hole, I think it'll inspire them. Nothing motivates like the fear of failure.
It worked for Dallas in games 1 and 2. Now, it's got to work for Portland.