OKC Exacts Revenge in Portland
Of all the painful missed opportunties the Trail Blazers have suffered in close games this season, this was the most gut wrenching yet. The final result greatly overshadows what could have been one of the grittier performances of the season by Portland, who was without their starting point guard on Monday night.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored a season-high 39 points, and was simply brilliant through stretches of this game. The Blazers rallied from 12 down in the second half to grab a six-point lead with 2:18 left in regulation. They then went ice cold, and had several bad offensive possessions. They still nearly survived and pulled out the win.
Trailing 103-101 in the closing seconds, Oklahoma City gave the ball to Kevin Durant, who drove down the right side of the lane, hoping to tie the game. LaMarcus Aldridge followed alongside Durant and blocked the shot against the backboard with 6 seconds to go. The blocked appeared to preserve the win for Portland, as the sellout crowd went nuts.
Referee Scott Foster then, after the ball had been knocked out to midcourt, called Aldridge for goaltending. You know all of this, and if you're a Blazer fan you were (are) likely furious.
It is very difficult, when calling a game (especially on a broadcast that's being carried nationally on NBA TV), to keep emotions in check at a time like this. I haven't always done that, but in this case I did my best. We waited for the replay before issuing much comment. That's not easy. And, if you check in with this blog much you know that I don't spend time bashing referees. It's just a waste of time, and being I know many of them, I understand that's a brutal job. I can't for the life of me figure out why they do it.
I will also say that Foster is one of the best referees in the NBA. That's why you see him consistently work deep into the playoffs each year, and is regarded as near the head of his class. I can tell you that I'm sure he wishes he had this one back. After wading through the mass of angry Blazer fans to get to the officials locker room, I'm sure the first thing he did was rewind the tape and look at the call over and over and over again. As many times as you have watched the replay, you can bet that he's watched it a whole lot more.
Because it was Foster, we waited (on our broadcast) well after the in-house replay, and crowd reaction, to attempt to make a judgement. I certainly felt he deserved the benefit of the doubt. But, in the end, I certainly agreed with everyone else that this was not goaltending. It took guts for him to make that call, and know he was about to feel the wrath of 20,559 fans, but that doesn't mean that in this case he was correct. This may sound strange, but I get the human element of all of this, and I actually felt bad for him.
Referees don't enjoy deciding the outcome of games, and that's why many times you'll see them do their best to let things go in the final seconds. Foster, again, is usually one of the best at this. I also think that 99 out of 100 times he doesn't make that goaltending call. This was a bad break, a rough moment for him, and a blown call at a very bad time for Portland. But, that doesn't totally change the way I feel about Foster. I know you may disagree, and that's fine. I'd still rather have him in these situations than many others.
And, I know it's cliche, but the Trail Blazers had other chances to win this game. They're the first ones to admit this. It probably shouldn't have come down to that final play, and that final call. But, it did, and that's what hurts.
Portland will get this figured out at some point, and that doesn't make anyone feel any better right now, but the team is now 1-8 in games decided by six points or fewer. Considering the recent history of this team, this is a mind-boggling number. This team has been so good in recent years at coming up big in tight situations. They just can't get over the hump in these games.
It snowballs too, and the next time they're in this situation it won't be any easier. Cracks start to develop in your confidence. We could go back and talk about dozens of other situations in this game, but the fact is we're still talking about coming up short in a huge, pressure-packed moment. That's what separates the elite teams from the good teams. Yes, it's a good thing that most of your losses have been winnable games. They have been right there, so many times, and could so easily have won a good number of the games they have lost. But, at the end of the day, a loss is a loss.
When you're struggling through a time where you can't catch a break late in a game, things like this, and calls like this, seem to happen. It's a cruel reality of this game.
It's such a fine line, and I know I've said that so many times after so many games. If Batum's lays the ball in for the win, or Aldridge isn't called for goaltending, perhaps everything turns around for the Blazers. As it is, we're left searching for answers, and the noose is just that much tighter the next time we're in this situation.
That next situation could come on Wednesday night, and the Trail Blazers simply need to be better. Houston is in town, and if you missed it, they just won in Denver. They won't give a darn if Portland feels it got jobbed on their own court.
Turn the page and move on, as difficult as that is to do after a heartbreaking loss like this.