Smoke rises from Blazers’ ruins
Nate McMillan could not behave as if it were a normal blowout loss, because it wasn’t.
His team was lethargic and uninterested from the opening tip. In one sequence Friday, little-used Celtic Sasha Pavlovic stole the ball and streaked for a score and LaMarcus Aldridge pulled up and allowed an uncontested layup.
That was the first half, when the Blazers appeared to show McMillan their lack of urgency for a team nearing life support. The consensus at Blazers practice Thursday at Emerson College was that this six-game road trip that began Wednesday with a loss in Minnesota was critical to their season.
And less than 24 hours later, they played patsy all too well in a 104-86 loss to the Celtics.
Portland trailed by as many as 37 in the second quarter and 43 in the third. The motivated Celtics, still reeling from a 32-point loss Wednesday to the 76ers, executed to near perfection while the Blazers appeared overwhelmed and bewildered, committing 15 turnovers in the first 18 minutes.
“That’s an unprofessional approach. There was no basketball being played out there tonight,’’ McMillan said. “We didn’t play with enough effort to give ourselves a chance to win this ball game tonight. We knew that Boston would be very aggressive tonight after their loss and they were, they came out and that jumped on us. We were never in this game.’’
The Celtics began resting their starters after taking an 81-38 lead midway through the third quarter. Kevin Garnett played just 22 minutes but scored 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting with eight rebounds. By contrast, high-energy Blazers forward Gerald Wallace scored just 2 points on 1-for-7 shooting with five turnovers in 23:42.
“They responded like a team that had just gotten beat pretty badly and we knew they would, but it’s a team that still has the core of that championship team,’’ McMillan said.
“We expect them to respond that way, but I also expected us to respond with a little more aggressiveness and tried to be the aggressors in this game.’’
The Blazers (19-21) have dropped 11 of 16 games, including two losses to the Timberwolves in five days and a 15-point home drubbing by the Washington Wizards on Feb. 14. Portland stands in last place in the Northwest Division and major changes could be ahead with the trade deadline Thursday.
The Blazers players appeared confused and stunned about their performance.
Only a 32-16 surge in the fourth quarter made the final score respectable. But the starters, besides Aldridge, were a combined 8-for-27 shooting for 24 points. Three starters had five turnovers apiece and another, Nicolas Batum, had four.
The players and coaches met after the game to vent their frustration and then the coaching staff met separately before McMillan addressed the media.
“We’re past that point [of player meetings],’’ Aldridge said. “It’s not about talking. You can challenge guys. You can talk. We’re past that. We’re below .500. We’ve been blown out two or three times this year, twice on national television. Challenging guys isn’t going to do anything. It’s guys taking ownership, all of us taking ownership of our situation.’’
When asked if the Blazers had the players to recover and make a playoff push, he said. “We’ll find out. I can’t answer that. Why do I have to call a team meeting and talk, everything that’s needed to be said has been said. Calling a private meeting to say this all over again isn’t going to do anything.’’
The Blazers play Saturday night in Washington and their road trip concludes with Indiana, New York, Chicago, and Oklahoma City, a treacherous road that could mean missing the postseason for the first time in four years.
“Got to stop talking and just act like a man and show some pride because I don’t think I can accept that sometimes,’’ Batum said. “That’s been like two or three times this year that we did this, so we got to react, show some pride, and win some games.’’