Jazz Deal Blazers Crippling Blow
By mikebarrett Posted in: Jazz
I don't know if that was the final blow to the jaw of the Trail Blazers, the one that finally has the legs wobbly and sends them to the canvas, but we'll find out soon enough. I do know this- we've had this same feeling after so many games lately that it's beginning to define this season. And, you don't want to be defined by close losses.
The Trail Blazers are now 4-12 in games decided by five points or fewer. As we've stated on so many occasions, this is a category this team prided itself on in the past few years. Get Portland in a close game at your own peril. This season it's been just the opposite. When the Blazers have gotten themselves into a tight spot, late in a game, the ground starts to rumble and cracks begin forming. And, the close losses absolutely feed off of each other. The erode confidence and it becomes even tougher the next time you're in a similar situation.
The Utah Jazz are not a better team than Portland, at least on paper. But, the teams have one major difference, when looking at the stats. Utah is 9-6 in games decided by four points or fewer. That's it. They've closed the door in tight games more often than not.
Do the simple math. The Trail Blazers have played 16 games that have been decided by five or less. If they simple split these games, go .500 in the 16, they would be 29-25, instead of 25-29. That's just saying they win the same amount as they lose, in those situations. Things would look a lot different, and a playoff appearance would be right around the corner.
So, even though this isn't exactly a profound thought, this is what this league is pretty much all about, correct? Either you get a player who carries you across the finish line, when put in spots like this, or you're doomed to be an also-ran. Yes, it's good that they've been in 16 very tight games, and have given themselves an opportunity to win a lot more than they have, but you've simply got to come up with more than 4 of those 16.
Let me also say this morning that I feel badly for Raymond Felton. Holy cow, was he ever on an island last night in the final few crucial plays of that game. It's certainly no fun to re-live what happened, but the Trail Blazers led the game 97-94, with 2:30 to go, and had the ball. After Utah pulled to within one, Felton dribbled the ball off of his foot and out of bounds. One the next possession, trailing by one, Felton had the ball taken out of his hands by Jamaal Tinsley, and the Jazz scored again. That was it.
It also should be pointed out that Felton, for as much as you don't want to believe this, didn't lose this game by himself. The Trail Blazers shot 5 for 16 in the fourth quarter, as a team.
And, other than the horrible moments late, Felton played his tail off. He had just four points, but also had 8 assists and 9 rebounds, one night after nearly collecting a triple-double against Minnesota.
But, as we stated above, it's all about closing the deal, and what you do in the final moments of a game.
The final few offensive possessions for the Trail Blazers ruined what was actually a very entertaining, and hard-fought game. But, this was a huge game, and huge games are defined by huge moments. The Blazers fell flat in the huge moments of this one.
What really stings is the fact that Portland could easily be up 2-0 on the Jazz in the season series. The first meeting between these two teams also ended with a freakish set of plays. That was the game when Nic Batum had a clear lane to the hoop, and would have given the Blazers the lead in Salt Lake City, but had his knee buckle as he was during to dash down the middle. He suffered the injury, and the Jazz grabbed the ball and scored at the other end. Crazy stuff. You couldn't make it up.
All of this is not to say that 46 of the 48 minutes of a game are meaningless. And, again, they should be given some credit that they're battling like they are during games and haven't begin to fold it in on the season. But, at the end of the day, this is another in a long line of Blazers losses this season that have been decided in crunch time.
They're not dead yet, and will come out swinging again on Wednesday, but things will have to go almost perfectly the rest of the way for the Blazers to get themselves back in a position to pounce at a playoff spot. They can do it, clearly.
The question is, when faced with this same situation the next time, will they have the confidence and composure to come up with the big play? The problem now is, your past actions often dictate your future execution. The Blazers simply can't rely on memory in these situations, and experience is such a valuable tool when building confidence. In late-game situations, it's an understatement to say that confidence is lacking.
They have shown us that they're capable to repeatedly getting themselves in a position to succeed. Now, it's about pushing themselves over the top. So far, their inability to do just that has them in this desperate situation with only 12 games to go.