Trail Mix: Grizzlies 115, Blazers 109
The Portland Trail Blazers lost on Saturday to the Memphis Grizzlies, 115-109, to fall to a devastating 3-0 deficit in their best-of-seven series.
But let’s talk about Vince Carter.
Carter, in some ways, has embodied everything the Blazers have not had in this series.
Carter has been in the league for 17 years. People in Memphis have bemoaned that he has spent a year stealing money, not delivering on what Memphis thought they were getting after a renaissance in Dallas. But this series, he’s come up with little plays and all those little things on the margins build up into what Portland has not had.
Carter, in all of his flaws and his age, still knows what needs to be done. An offensive rebound here. A defensive stop there. A vintage finger roll in the lane.
But it wasn’t just Carter. The Grizzlies, from top-to-bottom, have always had that little something that Portland hasn’t had.
A timely cut from Tony Allen. 0 turnovers, 13 points in 26 minutes from third-string guard Nick Calathes. A ridiculous touch pass from Jeff Green. The Grizzlies have always had that little extra something that’s had the Blazers seemingly down by 12 for the entire series.
With Mike Conley out for the game from the 4:03 mark in the third quarter on and the Blazers-eater Beno Udrih out for the game, the Grizzlies leaned on Carter, Allen and Calathes, to get a pivotal Game 3 win.
In the fourth quarter, Memphis had three offensive rebounds, half their full game total. Carter had one. Jeff Green another. Marc Gasol had one, too.
What do plays like that do?
“It’s tough,” McCollum said. “It’s deflating when you see offensive rebounds and they run more clock. You’ve got to defend that much longer. That’s one of the things that hurt us tonight. Giving up offensive rebounds and those types of things.”
It’s not just the total of those plays, but when they happen, that seem to have put Portland away in this series. From Game 1 on, Memphis has always stopped any Portland momentum with an extra-effort play or just one time where the bounce goes their way.
Portland’s veterans on the other hand, were not, or could not, be as resourceful as the likely future Hall of Famer Carter.
Arron Afflalo hit a big three down the stretch and was active. But he also picked up three silly fouls in the first half and was a team-low minus-13 while he was on the floor. Chris Kaman, whose ankle may as well be the shape of an apple, could barely move on defense, but worked his butt off. Steve Blake was unable to even get the ball at times.
Carter, older than all of them, showed how far the Blazers the gap that exists between them and the Grizzlies.
From top-to-bottom, every Grizzlies player who has played has answered the call. The Grizzlies have outplayed the Blazers and it doesn’t matter who is out there. Even Vince Carter.
So tonight when Conley didn’t return, maybe it shouldn’t have been as much of a shock that the Blazers threw away a golden opportunity to get into a real series.
“You got to give them their credit,” Lillard said. “I think they’re, around the league, a lot of guys respect him for them. They play really together offensively. Every time we seemed we were going to get it going, they were going to slow it down and drop it in the post. We would be locked in and they would kick it out and they hit a shot.”
On Saturday, Memphis hit just as many shots as Portland. But it was those demoralizing ones that got Portland.
Memphis outscored the Blazers 11-0 on second chance points despite having just one more offensive rebound.
Conversion rates are once again sending Portland’s series up in flames.
When Portland has an opening, as has been the case in this series, they’ve yet to walk through it.
Memphis? When they have one, they break through it. And goes for their starters, Calathes and all the way down the line to Carter.
So what’s left for the Blazers?
A frustrated Terry Stotts has already put achieving a Gentlemen’s Sweep on the list of goals–while simultaneously throwing shade to the idea of a “Gentlemen’s Sweep.”
“The one thing about NBA players, they play with a lot of pride,” Stotts said “One thing that bothered me last year was we got down 0-3 to San Antonio, we showed a lot of guts and heart to win Game 4. And people kind of belittled it as being a ‘Gentlemen’s Sweep,’ which I thought was a disservice to the players. It takes a lot of energy and a lot of heart to get on a plane and go. We did the last year and we’re going to do it this year.”
When a reporter asked about why Meyers Leonard played only five minutes in Game 3, Stotts answered with a Rick Carlisle-esque answer.
“It was a Coach’s Decision,” he said, channeling his old coaching friend from their Dallas days.
While his coach was guaranteeing at least sending the series to a fifth game, LaMarcus Aldridge just seemed to run out of platitudes.
“Just take it game by game,” Aldridge said. “Everything’s on Monday. Come out here and try to come out and get a win. Try to leave it all on the court or whatever.”
Wesley Matthews won’t be making anymore dramatic entrances.
The Blazers are now fighting against the inevitability of being eliminated as no team has ever come back form a 3-0 deficit.
Mike Conley’s face is still being evaluated. But the Grizzlies won’t lose now. They’re fighting against a battered opponent that has been resigned to taking one for honor, like a soccer team that’s looking for just one goal in a blowout just to show that they, too, were there. Or whatever.
- What does my man Meyers Leonard have to do to get some minutes? Offense wasn’t an issue tonight, so it’s less about that and more about Chris Kaman’s inability to really move. He grabbed six rebounds and put out a gutsy effort. Portland was also outscored during his first stint. I also get that Kaman is a veteran and likely will be hurting tomorrow because of his effort tonight. But it seemed like he too often could not slide over on a pick and roll or move the way he needed to. Kaman was a warrior tonight, but it would seem that Leonard had earned more of a look after a good first two games, especially when Robin Lopez was in foul trouble. Points weren’t at a premium tonight and that’s been the biggest reason why I’ve wanted to see more Leonard. But Kaman’s injury really limited him and Leonard is athletic and could move. And it’s not as if Kaman was shutting down what Memphis was doing. Stotts stuck with Kaman, as he has all season. While I disagree, I get it. Even though being down 0-2 would have been a time to throw caution to the wind. But I guess that’s what being down 0-3 is for.
- Stotts did change the rotation of his big men to get Leonard more time alongside Aldridge in the 2nd quarter. But those units did not play very well on either end. They also ran a lot of post-up looks for Afflalo during the stretch and at least during the game, it didn’t seem like Portland looked to spread the court as much with that unit. It didn’t help that Leonard got called for a few cheap fouls that killed defensive possessions and eventually gave the Grizzlies points.
- Portland still almost won this game. Nicolas Batum cashed a 3-pointer to cut Memphis’ lead to three points with just over two minutes to go. The crowd was into it. Stotts felt like it could be one of those nights.
- “We had the momentum, we hit the shot and the crowd was behind us,” Stotts said. “I thought it was going to be one of those games where we found a way to pull it out. We’ve done it many times this year and I thought this was going to be another one of them.”
- Lillard felt they had the fire power to make a run. But Memphis was just there, answering every time. “I mean the first two games we just didn’t play well offensively to make a run of anything,” Lillard said. “Tonight would have been a night where we were playing well enough to make a run but we didn’t play well enough defensively. Not consistently enough. That’s probably why it’s a series is 3-0.”
- After Game 3, Aldridge is now 26-for-72 from the field (36 percent) in the series. “They just been in my lap the whole series,” he said about the Memphis defense. “Just clogging, not letting them get to the middle. Things like that. I was just trying to find it in the first half and I didn’t find it. I played better in the 2nd half but in the first half I was not that good.” Aldridge has gone 3-of-8 from long range, the most 3-pointers he’s made during a playoff run in his career.
- Echoing the sentiments that I’ve heard from many all series long, Portland could have used the toughness and brawn of Wesley Matthews. The Boss Micah Rice wrote a great column about what Portland has been missing.
- I made a joke that tonight would be “The Nick Calathes Game” but I had no idea how true it would be. After Conley went out, Calathes was at the controls for the rest of the night. He had 13 points, three assists and four rebounds.
- My gamer in Sunday’s Columbian from Saturday’s loss.