Some guy named Ernest Hemmingway once said courage is grace under pressure. If that’s true, then the 2012 version of the Trail Blazers have about as much courage as a certain Italian cruise ship captain.
Since Portland’s opening night win over Philadelphia, the Blazers have gone 0-9 in games decided by 5 points or less, including 0-3 in overtime games.
The lack of crunch time execution presented itself throughout January: a 3-point loss to Orlando at home, an overtime loss to Houston, a 3-point loss to Detroit and a 4-point loss to Utah.
And then just when you thought that a 44-point spanking of Charlotte to start the month of February would turn things around, restore the team’s gravitas and break the close game futility streak, the Blazers go on the road against a 6-15 Sacramento team and gift wrap a 3-point win for the bottom feeders of the Pacific.
The pull-your-hair-out games have only continued from there. A remarkable 39-point effort from Lamarcus Allstardrige was thrown into the trash heap in an overtime loss to Oklahoma City at home. Most recently another 30-plus point performance from Aldridge entered all-for-naught territory following a double overtime loss to the Mavericks.
The good news for all of you Blazer fans feeling like Eeyore on downers is that despite the consistent inconsistency of this season, the Blazers are still only 2 and a half games out of the fourth spot in the West.
If the Blazers truly want to start winning pressure packed games, the answer is staring them right in the face in the form of a 6-11 recently anointed All-Star.
For whatever reason, Nate McMillian has not put the same level of trust and confidence in Aldridge that he reserved for his other former All-Star, Brandon Roy.
In the last four games in which the Blazers had a chance to win in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, someone other than Aldridge has been called upon to give Portland that clutch basket.
First it was Batum collapsing to the floor and losing the ball in the final seconds against Utah. Then it was back-to-back missed jumpers from Matthews and Felton against Sacramento in the final 90 seconds of the game. Two games later, McMillan again called on Batum to win the game in regulation after an egregious goaltending call in favor of the Thunder and his shot was blocked. Finally, in the game against Dallas, a wild 3-point play was called for Jamal Crawford in a tie game with 2-seconds left in overtime and the shot wasn’t even close.
No one on this team has demonstrated that they have ice water in their veins thus far, including Aldridge. But the constant experimentation and pressure time roulette that McMillan is exhibiting with his players is slowly destroying the psyche and role recognition of this team.
When Roy was in his prime, there was never a question of who to go to with the game on the line. Why this question exists now makes little sense.
McMillian’s Aldridge apprehension appears to stem from becoming too predictable down the stretch. He does not want to post up Aldridge on the block in the closing minutes of the game because he fears the double team destroying any chance of Lamarcus getting a good look at the basket.
But these were all the same concerns that swirled around when #7 was still in a Blazers uniform and most of the time, Roy made McMillian look like a genius for his predictable play calling.
At some point you have to trust that the player who was the Robin to Roy’s Batman for all those years just might be ready for the weight, pressure and expectations that come with being an All-Star. Let’s just hope he’s given the chance.