Blazers fall flat in second half, but back into playoffs

Golden State buries Portland after halftime

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

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PORTLAND — It became official late in the first half — Sacramento had beaten Houston, which meant the Trail Blazers had clinched a playoff berth for the third consecutive year.

Then, they went out in the second half and performed like a team that had little to play for.

Paying a 24-minute tribute to the Butler Bulldogs, Portland used the final two quarters Tuesday to graze every possible millimeter of the rim with the basketball. The shots never would fall, but the Blazers sure did, losing to the Warriors, 108-87.

“Tonight was bad,” Portland coach Nate McMillan said. “This is one of those games where you burn the tape and move on.”

Any elation that may have come from securing a spot in the postseason was dwarfed by Tuesday’s lopsided result. Trailing by 26 points late in the fourth quarter, the Blazers suffered their worst defeat since falling to the Lakers 121-96 in early November.

McMillan and his players insist that nobody was aware of the Houston result until the end of their own game, but it’s entirely possible that Portland gave this one away because it was the first contest in a couple weeks that it actually was supposed to win.

The Blazers just finished up a six-game stretch against San Antonio, Dallas, Oklahoma City and New Orleans, in which they went 4-2.

So to welcome a Golden State team that entered the game 11 games below .500?

“Maybe we relaxed a bit. We should have beaten those guys,” Blazers forward Nicolas Batum said. “They (the Warriors) have no pressure. They get to have a vacation in 10 days.”

The Blazers (45-33) looked like they were taking one Tuesday, although the Warriors probably deserve some credit.

Monta Ellis had 17 of his 30 points in the first half and finished the game 11 of 19 from the field and 4 of 6 from 3-point distance. David Lee added 29 points on 13-of-17 shooting, while Stephen Curry had 28 and hit 3 of his 5 long balls. But Portland didn’t seem particularly fazed initially. Through the first two periods, the score was tied at 47.

Then the Blazers started playing with some very uncooperative Spaldings.

While Golden state (34-44) connected on 12 of its 15 attempts in the third quarter, Portland was 6 of 21.

Relief would prove elusive, as the Blazers shot 32.6 percent in the second half and finished the game 3 of 21 from 3-point distance.

“I think tonight was one of our worst nights shooting. We had a lot of open looks. Guys had open shots. We just didn’t make them tonight,” said Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who took no solace in the postseason berth. “The loss just hurts because we played so bad.”

Marcus Camby might be hurting worse. The Portland center grabbed eight rebounds in the first 10 minutes of the game, but then strained his neck after gruesomely banging his head on the floor following a missed shot. He did not return, but McMillan doesn’t think it’s serious.

Given Portland’s trying start to the season — in which it was announced that Greg Oden would be out for the year, and later that Brandon Roy would be out indefinitely — the fact that the team even made the playoffs may be considered a grand surpassing of expectations. But joy was scarce, if even existent, in the locker room post-game.

Asked if he felt any relief his team’s season would extend beyond 82 games, Blazers point guard Andre Miller responded: “Relief? Why? I thought we were supposed to make the playoffs anyway. At this point, it’s about positioning.”

And as it stands, the Blazers hold a half-game lead on New Orleans for the sixth seed in the West, and a one-game lead over eighth-place Memphis.

Aldridge and Wesley Matthews led the Blazers with 17 points apiece, Aldridge adding 12 rebounds. Batum had 15 points.

Portland will play the Jazz in Utah on Thursday before hosting the Lakers on Friday.

Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or matt.calkins@columbian.com