As the Blazers were running out to a 32-16 first quarter lead, the Rose Garden was rocking. As every time-out was greeted with a standing ovation by the ecstatic fans, I turned to my wife and said, "They are going to lose this one."
The 32 point explosion was fools gold...as was the paltry 16 points the Celtics were in the process of scoring.
Even though they were seemingly scoring at will, there were signs that the Blazers' offense was in deep trouble. Every possession scored with 1 - 2 seconds left was a bail-out, long range jumper against a tough defense. Even worse, that seemed to be by design.
The Blazers seldom hurry to get the ball upcourt. By contrast, the Suns want to shoot in 6 seconds or less. 6 seconds is less time that it takes for Portland to get the ball across the mid-court stripe. Once they do, they are still in no hurry to get on offense. Typically, Brandon Roy, Jarrett Jack, or Steve Blake will dribble outside the 3-point line until 10 seconds left, with little to no ball motion during this time.
Then, they initiate their offense. Too often, that means throwing the ball in to LaMarcus Aldridge, too far out on the floor for his post up game to work, and with plenty of Boston help to force him to kick it back out. That meant whoever got the ball had 1 or at most 2 dribbles and then had to force up a shot.
Fortunately for Portland, they were hitting those shots, but good results do not mean good execution. They were setting themselves up for a scoring collapse.
Meanwhile, Boston, despite having but 16 points after a quarter, had everything in place for a high scoring evening.
As a long-distance observer of the Celtics, the guys who are scary are pretty obvious: Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. By the end of the night, those three combined for 59 of the 112 points put up by the Celtics. As good as they are, the key to that night's Celtic offense was two-fold.
First, they got into the offense early. As soon as the ball crossed mid-court, there was near constant movement. They were making solid fundamental basketball plays such as setting back screens to free up shooters for wide open looks.
Second, the Celtics had Rajon Rondo and Portland had Steve Blake.
Blake has been a solid player for Portland this year. He shoots a high percentage and plays pretty solid defense. He generally does a good job of getting Portland into the offense, excepting the last few games.
There is a huge hole, however, in Blake's game and Rondo was exploiting it all night.
Rondo is, plain and simple, too fast for Blake. Again and again, he exploded past Blake as Portland scrambled to cover for him. This created easy opportunities for all the Celtics, not just their big three.
The paltry 8 assists Rondo was credited with on the night do not show how dominating he actually was. A better example is the 58% the Celtics shot from the field. That was due in no small part to Rondo breaking down Blake repeatedly, Boston making the extra pass, and taking shot after shot after shot after shot with no Blazer within 5 feet. By getting into the offense early, Boston had plenty of time to move the ball after Rondo got into the lane.
Interestingly enough, one Blazer did the same thing to Rondo.
Sergio Rodriguez was making Rondo look slow. Rodriguez has games where he comes in, is explosive, creates offense, defends brilliantly, and changes the game around. Then, there are games where he just...disappears.
And often enough it is not his fault. At one key point in the second quarter he was being guarded by Eddie House. He hit a 3 and then, on the next possession, broke down House, got to the rim, and scored a quick bucket to give Portland a 39-23 lead. There was a television time-out and, for whatever reason, he was pulled.
Now, normally when Brandon Roy comes into the game it is a good thing. Portland, obviously, has nobody with his talent level. In this case, however, it was the right substitution at the wrong time. Portland would watch their lead shrink to 7 at the half. By then, despite their lead, it was obvious they were going to lose.
And so much of it came back to the offense.
Portland had two players capable of creating offense: Rodriguez and Travis Outlaw. Outlaw was having a stellar game, however, so much of it was coming against the shot clock that it was pretty much unsustainable. On the bright side, Portland identified who was scoring for them and started riding Outlaw.
Unfortunately, instead of getting him the ball in the center of the court, they started getting him the ball in the corner. Outlaw's superior speed and agility was neutralized as Boston used the baseline as an extra defender. Players such as Grant Hill are excellent at playing the baseline offense while Outlaw is much stronger in the center of the court.
There were some bright spots for the Blazers.
Aldridge clearly has an agenda when it comes to Garnett. He was calling for the ball. When he finally got it with both time on the clock and the ability to avoid the double-team, he was very effective.
At one point, instead of posting up, he got the ball foul line extended right. He drove left, Garnett backed off, Aldridge pulled up, and hit a 15 foot jumper. Then, he made sure Garnett knew he had made the move on him. That is a brave strategy for a second year player and, at least in this game, it would not come back to haunt him as Garnett had a very sub-par game.
The bright spots for the Blazers were few and far between, as Boston simply had too much offense, and Portland had too little. A lot of it was by Pierce after a pile-up on the floor, which got him interested in the game.
It seems strange to score 102 points and talk about struggling on offense, yet that is exactly what happened.
In the end, Portland got beat by a better team.
There are lessons to be learned that will help the Blazers become a threat in the playoffs in a year or two, but for now, Blazer fans will have to be content with watching Roy develop. Assuming, of course, that the re-injury of his groin that limited him to 26 ineffective minutes is not serious...
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