Missed Opportunity in Houston
Not only do I have a lot of notes in front me during games, along with a detailed storyboard of facts, stats, and trends, I tend to scribble a lot of little things down. For whatever reason, I use a little column on the left side of my sheet to list big, or game-changing situations. It's usually just the time of the game, the score, and maybe a player's name.
After a game ends, I usually notice that I have written down some stuff that I can't make out, or things that seemed important at the time, but turned not to be a big factor in the outcome. Mostly though, I'll note key possessions, and key shots, made or missed. In other words, it's kind of my area to keep track of opportunities.
I only bring this up because as soon as the game ended in Houston on Saturday night, I noticed that I had written down A LOT in this column, and not much of it was good. There were so many opportunities, and big moments in this game, where the Blazers came up short. If you simply get beaten by a better team, or get out-executed in a game, that's actually easier to live with. This was not one of those nights.
While it's true that the Rockets had some great individual performances, this was Portland's game to win or lose. Little things that needed to happen, happened. Luis Scola and Samuel Dalembert got into foul trouble and weren't big factors, and Kevin Martin, who always plays well against the Blazers, didn't have a good shooting night. Yes, Kyle Lowry was terrific, but the Blazers should have been able to absorb that and still win.
Houston was able to grab a 14-point lead in this game, and it was definitely a positive that the Blazers were able to battle back and take a lead. But, there were many chances for Portland to drop the hammer and simply put this game away. I had at least nine of these possessions jotted down on my sheet, and there were probably others that I didn't write down.
We know that so much of this game is mental, and confidence is such a huge factor. Yes, the Blazers are still learning one another, and they did have to go into this game for the first time this season knowing they wouldn't have Marcus Camby in the lineup. But, Nicolas Batum and Craig Smith were so good off the bench, it should have made up the difference and then some.
Batum, who has needed to get more aggressive and have more of a take-charge attitude, came through with flying colors against the Rockets. I'm not even talking about his scoring, because a lot of that was a result of him getting red hot from long range. You're not going to get that from him every night, so that's a bit out of his control. I'm talking about his defense, and his willingness to put the offense on his shoulders. He was brilliant in those catagories. Nic's four blocked shots were incredible. Every one one his four were highlight-quality stuff.
I realize one of the hot topics after the game, and something frustrating to a lot of you, was that as hot as Batum was, Portland stopped going to him in the second half of the fourth quarter and overtime. He took only one shot from 6:52 in the 4th on, and that was in the final seconds of OT. Honestly, some of this is on him, and some of it is on his teammates. It's up to Nic to make sure he becomes a consistent go-to guy, and once he does that the team will look to him in the clutch. The fact of the matter is that he hasn't proven that he wants the ball in late-game situations. I think he could be, and should be, one of those guys on this team. I also think that will happen. He's just too good. Remember, he's only 23.
Craig Smith has been terrific, and absolutely carried this team during a stretch when the Rockets were threatening to build a very big lead. Smith punished the Rockets inside, and ended up with 11 points on 4 of 5 shooting. He played only 16 minutes, but will be counted on more if he shows this kind of desire.
As frustrating as this loss was it has to be remembered that we're still early, and this was, afterall, the Texas two-step. It's never easy to win in San Antonio and Houston. And, as I said above, this team is still figuring itself out. But, I also recall a road trip early in the season last year, where the Trail Blazers gave a few games away and ended up regretting it the rest of the season. Let's hope they remember that and use it as movitvation as we continue on this trip.
They had so much confidence flowing as they got off to that 7-2 start, and put together some impressive wins. Let's hope they can get that back, and learn to seize opportunties late in games. I want players to demand the ball in crunch time and want to pull the trigger with the clock running down. That's all attitude, and the Blazers need to get that back.