Blazing Babbles: Live by the three…

The Trail Blazers started this game by playing one of their most efficient halves of basketball – no, really, the 61 points were just one off from tying a season-best mark for the first half. And the oddity was that, judging by the statistics, they should have launched more shots from beyond the arc as the Trail Blazers made 9 of 16 (56.3%) but just 12 of 29 (41.3%) from closer range.

But after such a hot start, there’s a reason why the Blazers lost this one to Dallas, 105-99.

They should’ve left the three alone.

Those triples that blessed the bucket through the first half were non-existent in the final 24 minutes. In fact, Wesley Matthews – who scored 14 in the first half and only seven the rest of the way – made the team’s lone second-half 3-pointer when only 17.9 seconds remained in the game.

Here’s a closer look at just how the offense failed the Blazers through crunch time.

Let’s pick up in the fourth quarter, the Blazers’ eight-point lead now gone, when backup Nolan Smith tosses in a close-range floater. At that 8:43 mark, Smith allows the Blazers to re-take the lead at 84-83 then what happens?

Portland goes through a stretch with Luke Babbitt misfiring from three and J.J. Hickson staying aggressive in the paint but showing no rewards on back-to-back misses. Remember, Aldridge had just sat down right before the Smith bucket, so the Blazers were briefly running with Batum, Matthews, Hickson, Babbitt and Smith.

Though the Nolan Smith Reclamation Project has recently kicked into full gear, he’s not the guy you’d want running your half-court sets in a close fourth-quarter game on the road, so Damian Lillard relieves Smith at the 7:57 mark. Still, with Lillard at the point, not much clicked on the offensive end.

Then, with the starters back in a curious thing happens – the Blazers keep the score close by scoring from close range.

3:51: Lillard misses a three, Hickson rebounds and puts it back in (only the SECOND field goal of the quarter). Blazers down 95-88

2:25: Lillard loses the ball on a spin move but luckily, Aldridge’s there at the right spot and scores the layup. Blazers down 97-92

1:32: Lillard penetrates again (although he was 0 for 3 in the quarter, he still had positive moments like this one…) and gets fouled while trying to chip one in at the rim. He makes both free throws. Blazers down 97-94.

After forcing a Maverick miss, when the Blazers had an opportunity to tie the game, Lillard completed one pass and Matthews cranked it up from beyond the right arc. The 11th 3-point attempt of the second half, and the 11th Blazer miss. But even more alarming, a one-pass possession and the Mavericks don’t have to work hard for a defensive stop and rebound.

Follow that up with Dallas’ response. Dirk Nowitzki sets three high screens for point guard Darren Collison, and though Dirk can’t get the rock this activity keeps Matthews, who was off the ball, dancing to the wing to watch Vince Carter and cheating in for a possible Collison penetration. Matthews can’t be everywhere at once and just for a second, Carter frees up to catch Collison’s pass just inside the arc and quickly fire the game-clinching jumper.

After this loss, Blazers (25-24) still sit ninth in the Western Conference playoff race. Just one game behind the Houston Rockets, who they will meet Friday.

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