This Blazers’ rally was off the mark

Greg Jayne: Commentary

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

PORTLAND — I would like to write about ... CLANK! ... how the Trail Blazers used their grit and guile to force a Game 7 in their playoff series against Dallas.

About how they ... DOINK! ... gave themselves a puncher’s chance to reach the second round.

About how they ... D’OH! ... kept their season alive with a stirring victory Thursday in the Rose Garden.

Except that none of those things happened ... BRICK!

So as the Blazers ponder how their season ended ignominiously with a 103-96 Game 6 loss, as they consider their 4-2 series defeat, as they dwell on the fact that the franchise hasn’t won a playoff series in 11 years ... they can curse Dr. Naismith for not making the basket bigger.

Facing elimination and the prospect of wasting their glorious Game 4 comeback victory, the Blazers spent Thursday sending miss after miss toward the hoop.

Oh, it’s not that the percentages were that bad. For the game, Portland shot 44 percent from the field — not good, but not insurmountable, despite a 5-for-21 performance from 3-point range. The problem was the type of misses.

They came on plays when somebody would penetrate and kick the ball back out. On plays when the Blazers would corral a long rebound. On plays when somebody would have a wide-open 3-pointer and the fans would start to inch out of their seats, only to slump back down.

And whenever Portland would have an opportunity for a momentum-shifting jump shot, you could feel the building deflate as the ball clanged off the rim.

The most telling stat? The one that defined Portland’s inability to get out of the first round? It’s this: LaMarcus Aldridge took 19 shots from the field before he attempted a free throw. He finished with 25 field-goal attempts and four free throws.

Blazer Honks might attribute that to the officiating. A more sophisticated view might attribute it to Aldridge’s unwillingness to force the issue, to drive to the basket, to impose his will upon the opposing team.

When the stakes were highest, Aldridge was content to take shots that didn’t get him to the free-throw line, didn’t put him in rebounding position, and didn’t force defensive reactions that would leave teammates open for shots or rebounds.

It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s the kind that makes all the difference in the playoffs.

And so, the Blazers once again are relegated to the good-but-not-good-enough file. Good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to win a series — for the third year in a row.

They were valiant, make no mistake. They took a 73-56 deficit and whittled it to one point, making you think that lightning could strike in the same place twice.

But the differences between the Blazers and a second-round playoff team in the Western Conference come down to this: When Portland trailed by six with 35 seconds to play Thursday, it set up a 3-pointer for ... Gerald Wallace. Now, Wallace is a fine player, and he had 32 points and 12 rebounds in 32 minutes in Game 6. But he’s not anybody’s idea of a 3-point threat.

Which leaves us with this assessment: Changes have to be made. No longer are the Blazers a young-and-growing team; they’re a veteran club with a 37-year-old, a 35-year-old, and a 28-year-old in the starting lineup. No longer are they a deep team; they got 14 points from the bench in Game 6. No longer can they build the franchise around Brandon Roy; despite his Game 4 heroics, he is a role player at best.

Despite that, the Blazers had a shot to extend the series Thursday. They missed.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by email atgreg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go tocolumbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne