Dec 21

Road Review: Late-Game Learning In Utah

By sarahhecht Posted in: Blazers, geraldwallace, JamalCrawford, Jazz, KurtThomas, LaMarcusAldridge, NicolasBatum, NolanSmith
As the team heads out on the road I’ll share my thoughts on the highs and lows of each quarter and their importance to the game, team and season going forward. Let’s discuss!

First Quarter

Loved: Pace, defense, Kurt Thomas

How about that pace!?! The Trail Blazers ran the floor out of the gates and saw results with 13 fast break points. In the last matchup with the Jazz Portland only had eight fast break points in the entire game. Topping that in the first 12 minutes of play led to a total of 25 after four quarters.  Hammering the defensive boards to get plays in motion so consistently demonstrates the teams commitment to running. Funny how interconnected the offensive and defensive schemes are, huh?

Best play from the first quarter? Nicolas Batum getting the block, a quick pass down the floor to an open Gerald Wallace and a finish with a foul for the and one. So smooth.

Defense, defense, defense. When Nate McMillan said defense and rebounding were the keys the guys listened. They crashed the boards with guts and earned fast break glory.

The king of defense for the quarter? Veteran Kurt Thomas. He was on the receiving end of three offensive fouls in the first quarter. (He added one more later in the game to end with four.) Watching the savvy Thomas stand his ground was nothing less than impressive. He should teach a class on how to take a charge, his demonstrations are straight out of a textbook.

Loathed: Early fouls, jump passes

LaMarcus Aldridge and Raymond Felton picked up two very early fouls each. It’s a little easier to stomach due to the simple fact that it’s a preseason game, so it doesn’t count. The goal of tonight was to get the starters some run and let them gel. With this in mind McMillan let the two play on. A good choice because LaMarcus didn’t pick up another foul in the quarter.

One of my biggest pet peeves in a point guard is passing from the air. And not just passing from the air in general, but doing it when it’s completely unnecessary and limits your decision making time. Don't get me wrong, it's unpredictable and sometimes it works, but most of the time it doesn’t. If I had my druthers I’d put concrete in their sneakers. Stay on the ground please! It’ll give you time to observe and you won’t get caught turning over the ball or traveling.

Second Quarter

Loved: Aldridge’s midrange jumper, Crawford stirring up the offense

When Aldridge hit his first midrange jumper of the year I let out a huge sign of relief. (I bet I’m not alone!) He went 5/17 from the floor, but when he hit it was as smooth as ever. His hook shot on the pass from Jamal Crawford was a flash back to last season. He’ll settle into his zone soon enough and when he does we’re in for a treat. Aldridge is the Trail Blazers number one option for a reason and tonight we started to see why.

The unpredictability of Crawford makes me really excited. As does his uncanny ability to stir things up. When shots weren’t falling for his teammates he took it upon himself to create off the dribble. His versatility in the production department will prove to be a lethal weapon for Portland off the bench. You can count on it.

Loathed: Pace

The second quarter of play was like night and day from the first. Just as I loved the pace to start the game, I loathed it in the second. The team was clearly getting tired, and after such an up and down first quarter in only the second game of the year, its not a surprise. A running offense takes conditioning and these guys are still getting into shape. The problem here is having no structure to the offense at all if you’re not running. Some semblance of a half court offense, which hasn’t been practiced yet, will need to be installed for when the running game just isn’t happening.

Third Quarter

Loved: Batum’s shooting

A summer of playing in Europe has been fantastic for Nicolas Batum’s game. His stroke is in mid-season form and looked absolutely effortless. He shot 5/9 from the floor and 50 percent from behind the arc for his 12 points.

Loathed: Pace, shot selection

The slow pace from the second quarter carried over to the third. That’s all I’m going to say about that. With the lagging tempo came fewer passes. The lack of options led to a poorer shot selection and missed buckets. Not a fun quarter to say the least.

Fourth Quarter

Loved: Veterans stepping up, late-game experience, hustle

Watching veterans step up late in games is a great part of this game. Maintaining composure under pressure, coming up with clutch rebounds and following shots to finish buckets are just a few examples of what I’m getting at. The two who exemplified this for me were Wallace and Crawford. They didn’t stop pushing until the final buzzer.

The late-game experience garnered in this preseason—that didn’t feel like a preseason—game will benefit Portland going forward. Tying into veteran composure, the intensity of late-game situations is important experience for the team as the young players learn how to cope and the veterans reintroduce themselves to the pressure.

Holy hustle! It was exciting and invigorating to watch guys diving after loose balls, contorting their bodies for rebounds and powering through fatigue. The extra second advantage gained from hustling and putting bodies on the line changed the feel of the game in the fourth. The shift in momentum allowed the Trail Blazers to close the gap and put themselves in position to make a run for a win.

Loathed: Early fouls

Four team fouls in 56 seconds!? Are you kidding?! The Trail Blazers were in the penalty with ten minutes left in the quarter, which as it turns out could have been their downfall. I’d be willing to bet the late game push would have had different results had the Trail Blazers not been caught up so early in the quarter.

Overall Impressions

For a first go on the road I’m satisfied with the performance. I expected the pace to be like a roller coaster, up and down, so I won’t let myself get frustrated by that. The positives in Utah far outweighed the negatives. The most important lesson garnered from this short road trip is the late-game experience. I’m happy with just that, though the outcome wasn’t in our favor.

Share your thoughts, you know I want to hear them!


  1. I think it was good for them to be tested and forced to grind it out a bit. I also think getting a loss out of the way in the preseason has it's advantage. Great stuff Sarah.

    by Wayne M Kehler on 12/22/2011 12:08 AM
  2. Hey Miss Sarah Hecht:
    I had to work last night, I have the game recorded to watch, but haven't watched it yet, but couldn't resist a peek before hand.

    MB, told me a couple of years ago that regardless of fast tempo, you need a structured half court offense to go with it. Most of the BB gurus say the same thing; you learn motion offense in play ground, most high schools and many colleges. But in the NBA what separates the ones that makes it to the ones that don't is remembering the set offense and playing good D. I am not bitching about the fast pace, it is exciting, but I will debate that as the only offensive weapon. I had countless debates on BE this summer defending BRoy's style of play, although most loathed the slow pace. I keep saying at times it is important. Good defenses can minimize your up-tempo by taking care of the ball and getting rebounds, and keeping up on defense. When we were bogged down last year Nate would insert BRoy and LMA for half court performances. That too me is what the young-uns, you included LOL, must learn. The excitement of fast tempo is great, but you need the boring precise sets of the half court.

    I do understand that we haven’t had that kind of time with all the new players aboard, and that is why the play of those that can create their own shot is important. I also realize that LMA hasn’t been in any of the practices and as of this moment he is the key to our half court offense. Half court offense is essential in hostile places like Utah where fouls happen and don’t happen, So I can use this opportunity to use MB’s words and my preaching all summer to say I told you so.

    The hint of playing away from the comfortable confines of the Rose Garden, isn’t the big lessen to learn on the road, the big lessen is learning that you, lets just say, don’t get the benefits of the calls on the road, lest I open up the can of worms that blames the referring. I haven’t watched the game at all yet but can almost guarantee that the change in the way the game was called changed the outcome of the game.

    Sorry this is so long, but you just excite my BB love, young-un LOL.

    by Hg on 12/22/2011 3:32 AM
  3. Hey Hg, how's it going? Nice to see you still around here. All in all the game was pretty good. The pace was a little out of control. The shooting was mediocre at best. It is not enough to just move the ball up and down the floor fast. Have to have a plan to it. I realize that it was a pre season game. There just needs to be a plan. Nate needs to use the players where they are the best. Play to their talents. Using Wallace as an outside shooter is not using his talent to it's fullest. Just saying he is called crash for a reason. Just running down the floor and throwing up shots fast is not going to get us in the playoffs. Ball movement and shot selection and using individual players talents to the fullest, Will! You can't make a dog meow. Not convincingly anyhow. I think it will come, because Nate is smart like that, but it sure isn't there yet. I love the new guys. Craig Smith was taking no prisoners in the paint. Jamal should be running the point a little more. He is probably the best ball handler on the team. He makes a much better distributor and breakdown player than a shooter. He can be a really effective player drawing other players to him and then kicking the ball out to a shooter. Just like Broy used to do. Our 2 biggest offensive threats are LA and Nick. Then is Wes. Not to worry, it will all come together. I figure that in February, we will be playing real team ball with most of the kinks worked out by then. It is early with really no camp or pre season to speak of. We will have to learn a lot in games and from tapes. This may be a rough start to the real season because of the new style of play. We need a pure shooter to develop fast. Every-time that LA gets the ball, he will be doubled. He needs a couple of options on people to get the ball to in those instances. Not there yet. LA changes how the team plays, just as Broy did. Tough to watch all those missed shots and the poor shot selection. On a different note. I don't like getting on the officials usually. It is a tough job. You know that last call to give the ball to the Jazz was a totally bad call. Even after the review. I have to think that either the refs wanted to go home because they are out of shape too, or that they were told before hand who was going to win the game. I am no ref, but it was so obvious that Ray Ray did not touch that ball. I really hate bad calls. Especially ones that change the outcome of a game. Not that it would have for sure, but most likely. Always a fan though. Go Blazers

    by mfre111 on 12/22/2011 5:47 AM
  4. On another note. Sarah, I got here from twitter. I haven't read your blog before. You can bet I will from now on. Good stuff. I have been a fan since day one of the Blazers and am no kid, like Hg. I like the objectiveness. Have a great holiday season Rip City!

    by mfre111 on 12/22/2011 5:56 AM
  5. Great Blog Sarah. Couldn't agree more with your observations. A couple of other things I noticed last night worth mentioning:
    1. Crawford in the PG/Initiator role. Didn't see that one coming.
    2. Outstanding D in the end to come up with the steals and make it close.
    3. Offense still needs quite a bit of adjustment. I agree that we will still need some set plays especially if they involve big to big passing. Last night the bigs really had no idea how to create scoring opportunities for each other.
    4. Batum looks like the No. 2 option now. His length, speed and shooting create tremendous match-up advantages for the Blazers.
    5. There will be some bumps along the road but this team appears to be well stocked for a good playoff run.

    by Tim Walter on 12/22/2011 9:45 AM
  6. @Hg, I completely agree that you have to have a half court offense to complement a running game. In my opinion up tempo ball isn’t just about excitement and running, it’s also about decision making, fast passes and movement in general. Increasing the pace in multiple of the game is what makes a running offense successful. I’d go as far as to say you can play up tempo ball within the precise sets of a half court offense.

    I also agree that defenses can, and will, slow the pace of a running team. Utah did just that by heading down the floor to defend without even attempting to rebound on the offensive glass and it worked.

    My goal for this season is to not blame the refs. Some calls will go our way and some won’t. It’s up to our guys to maintain composure and adjust their games to accommodate any officiating thrown their way.

    Love your opinions Hg, keep them coming.

    @mfre111, Glad you’re here, welcome! I’m right there with you in the shot selection department. As Jamal Crawford says, we need to give up good shots for great shots. Last night we were doing the opposite and taking bad shots instead of waiting for good ones.

    @Tim, Your additions are great. I was thinking last night about who our number two option was and I couldn’t decide. Nic was solid last night, if felt like he hit most of the shots we needed him to. But I’m not ready to decide who our second option is yet, I’ll hold onto that one until I see some more development from the team.

    by sarahhecht on 12/22/2011 10:11 AM
  7. Nate seemed like he didn't want to win last night. If he did, why was Wallace on the bench while the team fell apart. Notice how the game changed when Nate put him in late in the fourth quarter. Wallace is a beast and the Blazers play harder when he's in the game.

    by Greg Oden fan on 12/22/2011 10:43 AM
  8. Great stuff, again. Clever format for a game recap.

    by Mike Hustad on 12/22/2011 1:33 PM
  9. Personally I thought the defense was on point. Can't wait for the regular season to start.

    by mbmurr1 on 12/22/2011 9:55 PM
  10. Miss Sarah:
    I want to thank you for your feedback that was great.
    If I still have your attention I need some more feedback.

    In a structured offense, if we just feed the rock to LMA time after time the opponents will pound him to pieces and we would become more predictable then we already are.
    My question is, Is Craig or Batum good enough to post up low and let LMA play high post? They would have to come out on LMA and that would give our low post better chance of scoring. That is what I had in mind with LMA and Greg.

    Another question, If Camby is in the game and post up high, and can make his shots with LMA down low, I know that will work alley-opps. So my question is since Camby is hurt a lot, can Thomas do the same as Camby?

    The best solution is making our outside shots, but of course that doesn't happen on a consistent basis yet, so my brain has been trying to think of different ways to stop defenses from packing it in and letting the outside shot beat them.

    Oh!! don't go yet, I know Felton with Wesley will work and I am sure Felton and Crawford together would work, but in the second unit, do you think we will play Crawford at the point and Smith at the 2 with Batum The 3, Craig the four and Chris the five or do you think Thomas could play the four and Craig the five. With this fast pace offense and all out trapping defense, I am thinking that on btbtb, that Nate may use a 10 man rotation.

    OK, if you can give me the feed back I probably won't bug you the rest of the day since I have to go to work at noon and miss you and Adam again boo hoo. The bright side is that I can get most of our work done today and will have Christmas and the day after clear for BB.

    by Hg on 12/23/2011 8:23 AM
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