Jan 19

Another Rally Falls Short

By mikebarrett Posted in: Bucks
There is so much that happened at the end of this game, in crunch time, that spelled Portland's doom against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night at the Rose Garden.  They once again mounted a huge charge, fell victim to a bad missed call by the officials, couldn't get Milwaukee to miss enough free throws.  But, it's pretty clear when this game was lost, and it wasn't at the end.  It was in the first quarter.  If that sounds pretty familiar, it's because it is.  That's exactly what happened Wednesday night against Cleveland.

In fact, it wasn't even the entire first quarter that decided this game.  It was a crippling 2:37 stretch during the opening 12 minutes that put Portland in a hole they'd spend the rest of the game trying to get over.

Let's first give Milwaukee a little credit.  Like Cleveland, they came in with a solid game plan, and brought a ton of energy defensively early in the game.  They wanted to pressure Portland's point guard, bang the boards, and execute their offense.  They did all three.  

But, even with that short mission accomplished, it was just 15-12 Bucks when Damian Lillard went to the bench to take his first break.  When he came back into the game, just 2:37 later, the score was 29-12 and the damage was done.  

The Bucks put up 30 points in the first quarter, and 32 in the second.  They took a 15-point lead to the locker room at halftime, and that lead quickly swelled to 22 early in the third.  But, knowing this Portland team, we knew a rally was coming.  The Blazers turned up the defense with 5 minutes left in the third.  Down 77-55, the Blazers started their run.  By the end of the quarter Milwaukee's lead was down to 8, at 84-76.

The Bucks, like the Cavs did Wednesday, did continue to do just enough to answer Portland's push in the fourth quarter.  But, thanks to a Wesley Matthews three pointer with just 44.7 second left, the Blazers had cut it to 104-100.

Then, came the call.  Or, more accurately, the non-call.  The Blazers had an inbounds play set where LaMarcus Aldridge would get the ball on the left block and go for a quick two.  Instead, his foot was clearly stepped on, and down he went.  The ball sailed out of bounds and was given to the Bucks.  It doesn't sound like much, but this was a foul that should have resulted in Aldridge shooting two free throws and Portland with an opportunity to make it a two-point game.  

But, as I said earlier, when you put yourself in a position to depend on a late call to get back in a game, it's a tough way to live.  They just had no margin for error at that point, and that's been the case lately for this team.

It turned into a free-throw shooting contest from there, and the Bucks won it by a final of 110-104.  It's Portland's fifth-straight loss.  All five have been decided by 6 points or less.  In fact, the Blazers have now played 9-straight games decided by 6 or less.  That's never happened in franchise history.

Just over a week ago, we were marveling about Portland's record in games decided by 6 or less. Now, it's become a painful stat, and an unsettling trend.  Dropping close games does just as much damage to the confidence as winning close games benefits it.  

Aldridge took just 14 shots on Wednesday, and attempted only 12 in this game.  To his credit, he still ended with 20 points and 14 rebounds.  JJ Hickson also had a double-double, his 23rd of the season, with 15 points and 12 rebounds.  Lillard, who kept Portland from really getting blown out in the first half, had 26 points and 10 assists, also recording a double-double.

So, adjustments will be attempted again, and the Blazers will be back at it on Monday night against the surging Washington Wizards.  They're playing very solid basketball right now, and nearly pulled the upset over the Clippers in L.A. on Saturday night.  

They usually say the only time you need to watch an NBA game is in the final minutes.  Monday, I think it's clear the most important stretch of that game will be in the opening minutes.

That's where the last two have been lost.


  1. Hey Mike, thanks for the speedy blog.

    We are not going to win games or keep up with both LMA and Batum not scoring. That is the reason for the opening of the games. Now, of course, I have not idea why or how to fix it. I do believe you in saying that Batum and LMA having so wrist, if that is the case then we will get it back. Maybe it is the game plan of keeping pressure on our shooters, but if that is the case we will learn in time.

    That was a bad foul and a bad no call on LMA. watching your re-runs on it, I would say it was very well intended to trip or foul LMA, because he has been noted for missing crunch time free throw.

    I am not in the least bit worried about the Blazers, they play a exciting fun watching BB. and we are not that far removed from just winning 25 games all year; we have been stuck on 20 for a while.

    by Hg on 1/19/2013 11:41 PM
  2. This pattern of falling behind and coming on strong with a kick at the end may work for guys who run the mile, but it doesn't seem like an approach you can sustain on the basketball court. The team obviously has to learn how to handle a pressure defense better than they have been, and to work out a system of help to deal with the next in the long series of guards who have felt slighted by all this talk about Lilliard and come to town determined to take the rookie to school. Rook still needs to do a lot of work on his defense. Of course, if we had a real shot-blocking center these guys driving past him to the rim might not hurt so much.
    Truth is, we all got our hopes up, and it's going to be a tougher season than we thought five losses back. So it's back to waiting for the young guys to develop and that looks like it's going to be a wait. Barton and Leonard both look like they should be able to play, someday, maybe, but not until they have a whole lot more experience adjusting to the idea of playing as part of a team. Barton just seems to be improvising every time he has the ball, and he's not exactly a rising star of improv. Meyers works hard, but doesn't seem to have the foggiest notion what's going to happen next, and where he should be when it does. I guess we can always hope that something has clicked in his head after watching all these losses from the bench, but I really doubt that court sense arrives in that way. And tonight offered one more reminder that Nolan Smith really isn't a point guard.
    No real reason to feel upset about the bad non-call at the end either. Yes, it would have given us a much better chance to make another miracle come-back, but we had plenty of chances in the fourth when we could have made up for that kind of error is we could just make a normal shot. Not too many miracle comebacks start with missing your first seven shots in a quarter.

    by David Maclaine on 1/19/2013 11:45 PM
  3. That Nolan Smith run of 2:37 was brutal. It'll be a while before we see Nolan in a game. If only the Blazers had went after a free agent point guard like Aaron Brooks or Ramon Sessions in the off season, a lot would be different now.

    by Shem on 1/20/2013 12:30 AM
  4. @David Maclaine:
    It is true that pacing yourself in the NBA doesn't work, but if you have no gas left in the tank you can't win when you are at the side of the trail with exhaustion. it is true That you can't win many games missing your first five shots, but how many games would we win with Batum and LaMarcus both sitting on the side line with bad wrist that effect there shooting?
    It is true that if we had some vets coming off the bench that could at least keep up with what the starters has done or help out with LMA and Batum being not full strength would be lots better,
    It is true that Leonard and Barton hasn't learned to play in the NBA yet, but the last time I checked there is not formula for instant growth; some times we have top be patient with new help.
    it is true that we should have gotten an experience FA last summer, at least for a quick fix, but since we are rebuilding, how would that help us in the long run?
    Would the bench players growth speed up while sitting on the bench watching someone else working and not making mistakes?
    it is true that we would not have been in our prediction if we could make normal shots, but you can't miraculously make the ball go through the net. The shots don't fall because you have to work so hard on D to keep top PG from scoring more then a ton of points they are already making, and the team worked so hard the first qter that their legs are weak that affect their shooting. That is why I say, live by the 3 die by the three.

    I don't have the answer to all your concerns, except we are still young, still make many mistakes and we can still be taken to school by good and bad teams that want to win as badly as the Blazers. So it is still being patient until the bench can produce and, or the starters can play 48 minutes full speed without getting gassed or weak in the legs. If you can come up with those answers, you would be mighty popular.
    We all agree that if we had a solid bench we could really go places this year, but we don't have a solid bench yet, and running the lack of experience into the ground with criticism will not help. We traded O'Neil off for an experience big man, and we were crucified, so that is not the answer. They are playing competitive ball, they are still learning a new system, they are fun to watch, they have already won as many games that they were predicted to win, they are no longer able to fly under the radar because teams are learning to attack our weakness, so we are learning fast how to deal with that. We may never be good enough to actually achieve that, but the knowledge will help them in the future.

    This is just IMO, and a friendly debate


    by Hg on 1/20/2013 4:54 AM
  5. If the Blazers ever want to get any trade value or possibly a 99th round draft pick out of Nolan Smith, they should never put him on the floor again. Burn all the tape they have on him. Consider buying all the tape that exists on him and burning that too. Buy a few billboards along route 66 and put his face on it. Then take the very first offer, quickly.
    Channel 8 put you and your family on camera talking with Pryz. Well done Mike. You have a wide range of skills.
    Lets put this stretch behind us and play some ball.

    by Divotking on 1/20/2013 8:06 AM
  6. the slow start, but falling short at the end thing is really just a matter of the law of averages coming back to haunt us. we marvel, lament and boast when we complete a comeback and come away with a win but for some reason, there are many who are confused and asking the proverbial "why?" when it doesn't happen.

    we cannot rely on other teams to miss foul shots and fall to their miscues, and we know in this league -- with our market size -- we cannot count on the officials to make the right or even an unbiased call (David Stern has seen to that). we have to be accountable for our own actions on the court if we are to win games.

    these slow starts come down to one thing and one thing only: lack of preparation. i think you all know where i'm going here. we had a great stretch there, going 11-3 at one point, and beat some good teams. i had predicted toward the end of that, telling only my brother and sister-in-law, that we would go through a down stretch. here we are in the middle of it. mind you, i didn't want to see this happen, but it was my prediction.

    we simply are not prepared for these games, or at least the beginning of them. that falls on the head coach; pure and simple. like Hg above, i don't have all the answers. i'm not sure if it comes down to lack of preparation, lack of motivation, inadequate game planning or just simple miscommunication. the fact is, Stotts just does not have the team ready and on the right page at tipoff.

    you know my position on Stotts from previous comments so to avoid being redundant i will save you from repeating them here. i had actually backed off a little bit from it while it looked like he was, indeed, turning the team in the right direction. however, that was apparently a mirage, a pond in the sand and fool's gold.

    has this team overachieved at times this season? of course it has. but at times it has underachieved. there seems to be no middle ground there.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 1/20/2013 8:07 AM
  7. hey MB, i just want to echo what Divotking said above me; was great to see the Thrilla. great guy who's tough work and teamsmanship was always second to none.one of my favorite Blazers of all time, if not THE favorite.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 1/20/2013 8:26 AM
  8. I give this game one clothes pin. The Bucks thought they were still running their pregame shoot around and layup drills through the first quarter. At the beginning of games the Blazers appear listless and disinterested. Kassandra I think this is simply the mental and physical fatigue of the long minutes that the starters play.

    We are a rebuilding team. Cut the starters minutes to a reasonable amount and put the bench to work. Some of these guys can make it in the NBA and others can't. It's time to winnow the chaff from the wheat. Yes we'll lose some games like Nolan Smith falling flat on his face last night. However, a rested starting group may maximize their time on the floor and more than make up for it. If we keep pushing this starting group we're going to start to see major injuries. Should we risk careers for a rebuilding year?

    Sorry Hg for the long epistle, made myself hungry.

    by Ancientone on 1/20/2013 10:35 AM
  9. Hi MB and all,

    Please see my latest blog post for my reaction to this game and other developments, as it will be a long one that will likely start a separate debate. Thanks.

    Max Milander '14

    by linfieldrunner on 1/20/2013 11:10 AM
  10. @ Ancientone:
    At first I gave this game a solid double clothes pin. Only after I fixed the tv, picked up the broken glass, apologized to the cat, made amends for the profanity I used during that 3 minute stretch did I decide it was a one clothes pin game.
    If NBA games were 45 minutes long it wouldn't smell bad at all. But they are not. The overpowering aroma of the above mentioned 3 minutes lingered until now, the following morning. I'm still wearing one clothes pin.
    Looking ahead, at least a valuable lesson was learned. At the cost of two games.

    by Divotking on 1/20/2013 11:13 AM
  11. @Divotking: At the end of the 1st quarter it would have taken Pinochio to support the # of clothes pins I was giving it.

    by Ancientone on 1/20/2013 1:13 PM
  12. I know how we can fix these issues...either;
    a) Change the score board to play Two Third and Fourth Quarters; or
    b) Only go to the Trail Blazers end of the court, it seems to be the only one that teams can score at...

    by AussieBlazerFan on 1/20/2013 1:28 PM
  13. @Ancientone: i'm not buying fatigue as an excuse or explanation for last night's loss. the guys had thursday and friday off. they should have been as fresh as possible. as for starters playing long minutes this season ... well, that's what conditioning is for. we're half way through the season; if these guys can't handle the full season, then we need to clean house and search for players on only the basis of endurance.

    when it comes to the mental part of the game, that falls on the coach. he has to pick up a lot of that. i know, no one else wants to put the onus on Stotts, but someone has to be realistic and flat out say it; he's simply not getting the job done.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 1/20/2013 3:23 PM
  14. First, my feeling is the Blazers simply dribble the ball too much. And so much of the time, while one guy is dribbling (and often being double-teamed), the other four are standing in their appointed spots waiting for something to happen.

    Second, our decision making is often too slow. if you've got an open shot, take it. If there's an opening, drive the paint and either shoot or kick it out to an open man. Otherwise, pass the damn ball! Of course, this requires the other guys to be moving without the ball.

    Third, in the first few minutes, the Blazers seem to come out like a heavyweight boxer, feeling out the other guy. This is fine if the opponents are doing the same. But when the opps come out swinging for a KO from the opening bell -- well, it doesn't work so well for the home team.

    Fourth, we haven't got a strong enough game in the paint (nether on offense nor defense) to be a playoff team.

    Fifth, we're still a young team, but this excuse is growing old...

    by dgpdx on 1/20/2013 4:14 PM
  15. don;
    Dlill has stated that he uses the first half of the game to get a feel for the opposition and the flow of the game. He is in the first half of his first year. I'll give him that. He'll grow out of it. His aggressiveness early will come.
    Our vets, LMA, Nic and Wes need to be aggressive early. They need to force their will and show, we are here to beat you down. Do not let the other team feel good.
    The Blazers will be alright. Playoffs ? Probably not. Next year ? Yes. After that skies the limit.

    by Divotking on 1/20/2013 7:42 PM
  16. We lack aggressive defense in the first half of games and don't pass the ball well. This is how teams are beating us. We can't keep teams from 30+ qtrs with 2 guys playing well. I don't buy the tired excuse either. Our bench players aren't tired. No excuse there. I like Stotts. He is searching for the spark bench players and they are just not showing up. For what he has to work with I think he's done a great job so far. The defense is not good. That's on Kaleb Canales and Kim Hughes.

    by riverman on 1/21/2013 3:13 PM
  17. riverman- Agreed

    by Divotking on 1/21/2013 5:35 PM
  18. @riverman; how much emphasis the team puts on defense is the issue there, and that doesn't fall on assistant coaches whom we lack the information of whether they're having a chance to make an impact or not. the bottom line is that it comes down to a new coach in pretty much last chance to be a head coach in the league.

    is he a micro-manager, because the only people who think that works are micro-managers. is he so busy trying to install his offense that the defense is not getting enough time to be taught? is he so busy trying to find a bench rotation that defense falls through the cracks or is de-emphasizzed? how many other, similar questions are out there.

    honestly, i don't know the answers to those any more than you do. i know what i've seen on the court which, at times has been atrocious. his substitution pattern is ridiculous. at forty games into the season, how many other coaches with relatively healthy rosters are actually still looking at their bench rotation and trying to seriously figure it out? the other night, he even sat our 6th/7th man (Luke) in the name of second unit experimentation.

    the rotation is just one of many Stotts shortcomings. how about motivating and preparing players? That's his job, not the assistants' (though, i would agree to some extent that they are apart of how Stotts goes about accomplishing that).

    the point is, Stotts is still looking for things as a head coach that the successful head coaches have already found 20 games ago. in the end, it all falls on his shoulders. if you choose to boast Stotts and bash a couple assistants who don't have the final say, that's fine. just know you'll be assigning blame to the wrong person.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 1/21/2013 5:57 PM
  19. Most of those "successful coaches" have pretty much returning rosters and few are first year coaches. A big man coach is supposed to clean up paint problems, we're getting killed in the paint. A defensive coordinator is supposed to get players running shooters off the 3pt line and sticking with their assignment. Our defensive stats are some of the worst in the nba, our offensive stats are much better. I think that needs addressed. I like Stotts. He has a tough job with our bench. Stotts is a successful coach in my opinion. A successful coach with an unsuccessful bench.

    by riverman on 1/21/2013 6:32 PM
  20. riverman- nailed it

    by Divotking on 1/21/2013 7:03 PM
  21. @riverman: how can Stotts be a "successful" head coach with a career winning percentage in the. 420s. that's sub-.500, pretty much the definition of unsuccessful. our offensive stats being better only proves my point that not enough emphasis is given on defense by the head coach. sure, Stotts said he "might" make Kaleb his defensive coordinator, but did he actually do it. you've never addressed that. you also did not address Stotts' inability to prepare & motivate players nor his inconsistent and inadequate rotations. sorry dude, your argument just plan doesn't fly.

    @Divotking: how could he have "nailed it" when he only responded to 1 of about 6 points? hmm, that's a strange statement to make given that.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 1/23/2013 1:01 PM
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