Early Hole Too Deep for Blazers
The Lakers have only lost twice at home this season. They fell earlier this season to the Blazers in Portland, and they lost their last game, which was on Saturday night in Phoenix. Those three facts, along with many others, made the Lakers a safe bet in this contest. But, the way it happened wasn't at all predictable.
If I had told you before the game that the Trail Blazers would win the second, third, and fourth quarters by a combined 11 points, I'm sure you would have taken it. And, you would have felt pretty good about Portland's chances. So, consider the wacky fact that they won those three quarters 85-74, and still lost the game by double digits. Let that sink in. Yes, it's crazy.
That's the result of getting outscored 29 to 7 in the first quarter. I've seen a lot of NBA games, and I can't ever remember a team building a 30-point lead early in the second quarter of a game. That just doesn't happen. Well, it happens, obviously, but doesn't happen very often. The Lakers built that 30-point lead thanks to a 21-0 run, that had people in Portland chucking remote controls at their TVs (it's okay because Rice and I weren't doing the game).
Portland, for whatever reason, simply didn't seem ready to play. Or, maybe they were ready to play but weren't ready to respond to getting hit in the mouth. I'm not sure how that happens, when you're playing your rival, in their building, knowing they'll be out for revenge, but it happened on this night. The Blazers came out and shot 3 for 17 in the opening quarter, and were outrebounded 21-5. Obviously, one of the main reasons the rebound total was that lopsided was because they missed 14 shots, but that's just ugly and too tough to overcome.
Then, almost equally as shocking, the Blazers got themselves back into the game due to some red-hot three-point shooting. This is not normally a good three-point shooting team, as you know. They cut the Laker deficit to just 10 on a couple of occasions, and had several chances to cut the lead to single digits. The crowd even started getting nervous.
Amazingly, the Blazers nearly put together their highest-scoring, and lowest-scoring quarters in the same game. The seven points in the first, was obviously the low. The 36 points in the third, was one point away from their high quarter of the season.
In the end, the Lakers had enough to finally close the deal and won the game 103-92- a final score that wouldn't have been that shocking if you had missed the game and just caught the score on your mobile phone later in the evening. After all, this has always been a series dominated by the home team.
So, after being so deflated early in the game, you probably ended the night filled with equal parts frustration and perhaps hope, that they were able to outscore this team by 11 the rest of the way. If they even just get outscored by 10 in the opening quarter, they win this game. I know it's not that easy, but you get the point.
This felt like one of those times when one of my kids makes me so irate, and then immediately follows it up with something so incredibly cute and sweet that it totally disarms me and I stand in silence wondering what just happened. I usually end up saying something like, "how can you be so bad one moment, and then be so good the next?"
As a fan though, I have to admit, the sting of that first quarter is a tough memory to erase, and an even tougher thing to wrap my head around.
This Blazer team has had a tendecy to follow, and not always lead. In other words, things snowball so completely, and so fast, in both directions. What you get are wild swings, and inconsistency.
We've pointed out on broadcasts that you can usually get a good indication of how a night is going to go at the free-throw line depending on what the first trip there is like. If the first couple of guys at the line struggle, it sets a bad tone. Maybe that's a reach, but it certainly seems like that's the personality of this team. They just haven't had someone to step up to bust the rest of them out of cold spells. When one goes down, they all go down. In this first quarter, missed shot followed missed shot, and once that confidence bubble is popped, look out.
I'm not even sure what the fix is in a situation like this, but it certainly seems mental. It's all about confidence. It's clear this team's confidence is shaky, and that's understandable. They just don't seem to bounce back strongly from a flat, or challenging moment.
Look, this is the NBA, and I get that. You're going to go through droughts during games. Every team battles that. But, someone has got to be able to scream "enough!" and put the team on his back. It just hasn't happened enough. And, again, this was troubling because the cold spell happened right out of the gate in a big game. They need a dose of toughness, and someone who isn't afraid to step on feelings (who isn't a coach), and perhaps someone to bring some nasty to a game. LaMarcus Aldridge said exactly this same thing in early January after a loss in Atlanta. His words were "we like each other too much, that we don't always hold each other accountable."
Yes, I've fought the this-team-is-too-nice label on occasions this season, but you people are starting to win me over. You know the one good part of that? It's fixable. So is this season.
Tuesday night is the final game before the All-Star break, and it should be looked at as an opportunity. What is this team made of? We could soon get the answer. It certainly won't be any easier, as the NBA's hottest team will be on display at the Rose Garden. The San Antonio Spurs, who have won 11-straight games, will be the opponent.
Time to get mad, and