Seattle 79, Portland 89

On their first offensive possession the Blazers had 5 (five) offensive rebounds. Blake finally hit a jumper but a lot of tones were already set. First off, it was going to be a horrific shooting night all the way around. Second, Aldridge was going to struggle. Third...Portland was not going to be beat.

I kind of think the first issue was a given from the pre-game. They were not taking the shoot-around serious, were just goofing around and having fun. This can be interpreted several ways. One positive way would be they were loose and having fun. A less promising one would be they were not taking the Sonics seriously. I would argue the latter. There was one key sequence in the first possession that showed it. Aldridge grabbed a tough board...and then took the first shot I have ever seen him take that looked like he was goofing around. His effort on that one looked like one of those shots players take after a foul where they effortlessly flick the ball in the general direction of the basket to see what happens. And he missed it horribly.

That was the start of a long, rough night for Aldridge. Portland was not looking for him and he was not looking for his offense. The result was that when Portland finally did go to him he was out of the flow and not really ready. He ended up with the worst game I have seen him play, 1-10 shooting, 2 points, 5 boards, and some of the most indifferent defense I have seen him play. It was very un-Aldridge like.

But people stepped up all night. 4 different people had 4 first quarter points, everyone was scrapping, Przybilla was dominating the boards, and Seattle was struggling to score as well.

Probably the key stretch in the game started with 2:45 to go in the first period and a 22-16 Seattle lead. It would be their biggest lead of the night. Portland closed the quarter with an 8-2 run to tie the game and came out firing in the second quarter as well. When Jack closed out another 10-4 run to open the second quarter, the overall run was 18-6 and the lead for Portland was 34-28...the same 6 point lead Seattle had possessed.

However, Seattle stopped going to Sczerbiak after he dropped in a run-killing 3 for his 15th point of the first half and they never really got Durant involved. That sounds strange when you realized he had 9 in the first half and 23 for the game...but for great portions of the game he was simply hanging out in the corner while the other 4 Sonics played ball.

I really have mixed emotions about that. He shot a fairly typical 8-20...but they were struggling to score. What is the point of freezing out Sczerbiak and Durant, your 2 best scorers? Run some plays for the guy...too many of his shots came when he created his own fast break, created the offensive rebound, or broken plays. Carlesimo needs to do a better coaching job.

While on the subject, I should briefly address the Webster situation. I am a big Martell Webster fan. He has, I believe, the potential to be a 15 - 18 point scorer with a decent shooting percentage. He can, when he wishes, be a force on the boards and over a season could average 6 - 7 if he wanted...and Portland certainly needs him to. He is a rugged, tenacious defender with the potential to become a very good defender.

However, too often he allows himself to get lost in the shuffle. Portland likes to set him up down in one corner, then run their offense, often on the other side of the floor. As a result, far too many of Webster's shots are A) 3s, B) contested 3s, C) scramble shots with no time and a hand in his face. He could learn a lot from James Jones.

Jones also often gets stuck down in the corner while Portland runs their offense, often on the other side of the floor. However, he makes some subtle adjustments that make him, at least at this point, a more dangerous scorer than Webster. Instead of standing stock-still in the corner, he moves around a bit.

It is not much...one play in particular shows the difference. He was in the right corner. Roy had the ball at the top of the key and was forced towards Jones' side. Jones took about 2 steps to his left, enough to move his defender, then juked a cut into the lane. Instead he drifted back to the corner. His defender was frozen for a split second, long enough for Roy to give it to Jones for the wide open 3 look.

Another time he was in the far left corner and the play was on the right side of the key. His defender turned his head for a half-second, James flashed to the hoop, Rodriguez found him and he threw it down. 5 of his 9 points on plays Webster does not make.

Webster needs to free himself up a little bit, move around to give the guards angles to get him the ball. He needs to take a few shots from closer to the basket. Then he will step up his game and help provide that third scorer in the starting line-up the Blazers need.

The third quarter has been a problem for Portland all year. They started with a 2 point lead. Normally, this means they will trail by 2 - 6 points after the third. Not this time. They came out rolling, building a commanding 16 point lead before losing their touch. They had a brief scoring drought that let the Sonics close within 8 at the close of the quarter. However, all year the 4th quarter has belonged to Portland and this was no exception. The only question was whether we would get chalupas. We did not. But Portland won, so it was a good Christmas game. Besides, when is it NOT fun to beat Seattle? Yeah, I can't think of a time either.

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