After Oklahoma City suffocated the Blazers 89-77 at the Rose Garden Tuesday evening, coach McMillan half-joked that the cans of Red Bull his players were sucking down before the game weren’t doing the trick. Maybe they led to a second half “crash,” he said. But whatever the Blazers are taking, it’s not enough.
So, as the sports idiom goes, it’s time for someone to “step up.” And Don Roberts, the Blazer’s doctor, your team needs you. Everyone from the coaches on down, requires a prescription: Prozac—and if you’ve got anything stronger, capable of raising energy levels and washing away the blues, fill those as well.
Now, for a moment, forget the division. Forget that the Blazers are in an air-tight Western Conference playoff race. The rash of injuries would alone warrant treatment, but something worse has happened in these last two games:
First, the Blazers lost to the hated Lakers at the Rose Garden for the first time in ten games, then they got straight smoked by Kevin Durant, the one they passed over as their guy, Greg Oden, again watched from the couch, a cane no doubt nearby
Take away even the naked photos and this still stings.
People say they moved on. But they haven’t. Portland fans wouldn’t boo Durant if everything in the Rose Garden was fine. And when the Blazers brass say that, had they the chance to do it all again, they’d draft the same, well, that’s nothing but a political trick.
And if Portland had moved on, the talk radio airwaves wouldn’t be full of chatter, nor would fans on ESPN’s Daily Dime be asking how sweet it would be to see Roy and Durant together.
There’s only one person who can legitimately say they’ve moved on, and it’s Durant himself. After all, he just laid a 33 point, 11 rebound whooping on the team that could’ve drafted him and moved ahead of Oklahoma City in the playoff chase. It was the Thunder’s sixth straight victory.
I asked Durant if it’s special to have a big game in Portland. He said no, which rings true since he’s had his hands full turning around the Oklahoma City franchise. And now, selected for his first All-Star game—not to mention scoring 25-plus points for a staggering 25th consecutive game—Durant is finally experiencing the payoff. He is at peace:
Durant also talked about the Thunder covering specific Portland players, and how his team’s defensive intensity forced the Blazers into a whopping 24 turnovers, and a season low 77 points (16 of which came in the fourth quarter—-which ties a season low):
With the exception of Andre Miller, Portland’s lineup looked afraid to take shots down the stretch. No one wanted to be The Man. Miller tried, of course, but the veteran is more comfortable and effective in setting others up than finishing himself. Miller led the Blazers with 22 points. I asked Nate if he saw players some players who were unwilling to step-up.
Again, the Thunder—like the Lakers Saturday—must be credited for their defense. They denied the Blazers the ability to play inside out.
Nicolas Batum, who had swooping fast-break dunk that looked downright Durant-esque, scored 12 points after being inserted into the starting lineup before the game. All his scoring came in the first half, and tonight isn’t the first time his numbers have tapered off in the final quarters. Coach McMillan attributes this to opposing team’s defensive shifts on the players that Batum plays off, most notably LaMarcus Aldridge. And indeed the Thunder cranked down on the Blazers’ power forward in the second half—constant double teams on Aldridge basically shut down Portland’s entire offense.
As you can see from the many questions in the Coach’s post game conference, there is a feeling that the Blazers may have packed up a little early for the (much needed) All-Star break. McMillan tried hard to resist calling his team out, spending more time harping on Portland’s 24 turnovers and Oklahoma City’s 17 steals. But signs of the fold were there. Maybe the sense that the Blazers could win any game—at any time, no matter who was playing—has since dried up. If that’s true, Roy’s return couldn’t come soon enough.
Again, like in Saturday’s loss to Los Angeles, Martell Webster, Steve Blake and Rudy Fernandez contributed next to nothing. On Tuesday they shot one for fifteen combined, for a total of three points. Over the last two games the trio is shooting four of 33, or 12% from the field. (In Webster’s defense, he took a ridiculously hard fall after being undercut by Nenad Krstic, though he did return.)
The Blazers were dismal from the three point line, making just three of their 20 tries (15%).
Tonight’s loss kept the Blazers in the eighth place slot in the Western Conference playoff race.
Perhaps the one hurting most from these two defeats was Brandon Roy, who was watching from the bench. Not because of what could’ve been, but because Roy is close—but not too close—to returning, and he seems to be the only one capable of captaining this forlorn ship.
Before Tuesday’s game Nate McMillan was asked where he stood in the coach’s dilemma of wanting to win now versus management’s plan to build for the future. The Oregonian’s Jason Quick inquired how long could the coach convince his undermanned squad to keep giving their all against healthy competition? McMillan was ponderous. But after a game like tonight, one must wonder if we have the answer.
If so, the question changes: On the back of these two very emotional losses, will the fire burning beneath Kevin Pritchard to make a deal heat up? Will he acquiesce, or suffer the flames in hope that Roy’s eventual return will sweep depression, anxiety and inadequacy from the Blazer consciousness?
His decision, come February 18th, should tell Blazer Nation a whole lot about two things: how far Pritchard believes Brandon Roy alone can really carry this team; and how bad the injuries to Roy and Portland’s two centers truly are.