Missed Opportunities Cost Blazers
By mikebarrett Posted in: Nuggets
We've talked so much about close games this season. There have been so many. And, for so long, the Trail Blazers could do no wrong on tight contests. The big shots always fell, the rebounds bounced their way, and more than anything else, this over-achieving team seemed to always pounce on golden opportunities.
Wednesday night, was one of the few times this season they missed a big one.
Earlier in the evening Houston, Utah, and Dallas all had suffered losses. There's no doubt at this point that the Blazers need help to reach their unlikely goal of making it to the postseason. Help they got, on this night. The door was cracked open once again, but this time they were unable to step through it.
Denver has a much better record, is more seasoned, and honestly more talented. Not that little things like that have stopped the Trail Blazers this season. And, once again, as has been the case so often lately, the Blazers found themselves in a position to grab what would have been a huge victory. But, the late shots wouldn't fall, key rebounds went to the Nuggets, and gauging by the mood in the locker room after the game, the Portland players took this one very hard.
This was yet another nail-biter. There were 17 lead changes in this contest, 9 alone during one three-minute stretch in the fourth quarter. And, with the game sitting there to be had for either team, the Blazers were presented with multiple chances to take the win.
Now, Denver deserves a lot of credit for this hard-fought win. They shot 52 percent, outrebounded the Blazers by three, and scored 26 points off Portland turnovers. Yet, the Blazers had this win in their grasp.
Even after Denver looked to be in a position to slam the door, Andre Miller made just 1 of 2 free throws in the closing seconds, and the Blazers got yet another chance. They went to their all-star to tie the game at the horn. LaMarcus Aldridge got the kind of look he routinely knocks down. Only this time, it fell short, and the horn sounded with Denver winning 111-109.
Aldridge, who finished with 22 points, almost looked shocked that his turnaround jumper didn't go in. I think we all were. We've become used to late-game magic from this Blazer team. And, while I don't think the well has run dry yet, this will be a tough loss to get over, given all that happened around the NBA on this night.
JJ Hickson has been simply brilliant this season. He picked up his 31st double-double of the season against Denver, scoring 18 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. He's posted double-doubles in all three games against the Nuggets this season.
Damian Lillard held his own against one of the hottest point guards in the Western Conference in Ty Lawson. Lawson had 30 points. Lillard had 26, and kept Portland alive with a clutch three pointer in the closing seconds. Wesley Matthews, who carried Portland Sunday in the win over Boston, started slowly in this one, but ended with 16 points and fought foul trouble.
And, we saw a very solid performance by Meyers Leonard off the bench, against a team with a very physical and talented frontline. Leonard had a career-high 13 points, and also pulled down 5 rebounds, all on his 21st birthday. He made the comment after the game that he's beginning to understand this NBA game, and that things are starting to slow down for him on the court. We certainly saw signs of that.
For the Blazers, there are now 25 games to go this season, and there's still a chance. While some have called for Terry Stotts to raise the white flag on the season, that's not going to happen. Even with this loss, which was a blow to the midsection of this team, no one has shown that they're ready to concede anything.
I can't remember a season that's been packed with more exciting finishes. They're not nearly as fun when you come up short, and no one has ever been satisfied with moral victories. But, this team continues to battle, scrap, and claw. And, the margin for error is now razor thin.
The homestand continues on Saturday when the Blazers take on the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Rose Garden.
Talk to you then.