Though close and entertaining for the better part of two and a half quarters, this game was ultimately a disappointment as a fan. Memphis is on Portland's level in so many ways, and they put up a great fight until the end, but the Grizzlies just had no chance without Zach Randolph manning things down low.
Memphis' spacing was shot to hell. It's such an obvious thing to say in the wake of a game watched without the team's double-double stud, but several possessions saw Memphis players invading the space of their own teammates offensively, and the group just couldn't string successful offensive possessions together in the second half as Portland pulled away.
Memphis' offense wasn't terrible, the team put up 106 points per 100 possessions, but it was bad in enough situations that allowed Portland to leak out for effective transition turns. Even when things were even, during that first half, Portland was still whipping the ball around with abandon, making good decisions and putting up good shots. Even if Tony Allen and Randolph played, this would have been a tough out for Memphis.
As it was, the Blazers were red hot and rolling. Rudy Fernandez broke out of a shooting slump to score 18 points on just six shots. LaMarcus Aldridge managed 22 and 11. Portland made 10 more free throws, turned the ball over five fewer times, and basically looked like a Laker-killer.
I can't imagine what being around a 13-year old kid is like, in 2011. I was the oldest 13-year old the world had ever seen back in 1993, and I yet I was still an anxious, impatient brat that couldn't wait to get back to his Walkman, even on family vacations or during the most pastoral of settings. I yelled at the TV to hurry and finish with the light beer ads during Bulls playoff games in a way that anticipated my future viewing habits as a Tivo-fiend, and I couldn't be bothered to sit through anything without distraction.
Today? When kids not only have phones, but texting abilities I'll never possess and the chance to mess with 42,000 apps at a time when things get boring? I have to imagine they're impossible to deal with. And I can't blame the kids. I played Angry Birds for the first time over the weekend. I can tell why you're not listening.
The Lakers, to me, just come off the same way. Why pay attention to Gary Neal and Matt Bonner on April 12th, when you've had to pay attention to Tim Duncan on May 30th or Kevin Garnett on June 8th? The focus just clearly isn't there, and Los Angeles deserves all the scorn you can send its way. But the fact remains that this Phil Jackson led group has been in the thick of it for the better part of the last 11 years, and even with newbies dotting the team's roster, it's hard to get up even when you need to.
San Antonio spaced the floor expertly and nearly pulled out a win. With all the regulars resting save for Richard Jefferson, though, the team still fell victim to Los Angeles' size, making just over a third of their shots from inside the arc, and the Lakers were just too quick, big, and talented on too many second half possessions to be denied a win.
And, as it always is with Los Angeles, no sane person can tell you how this will affect late April, May, and possible June until someone either beats Los Angeles four times in seven tries, or until the team pours champagne over a bemused Phil Jackson.
All is not right with the Chicago Bulls. But so much is great with them, as they work their way to the best record in the NBA's 2010-11 season, that it has become increasingly harder and harder to find fault.
What's gone wrong of late? The bench unit, which has nearly matched the plus/minus of playing around eight points per 100 possessions better than opponents that the starting Derrick Rose-led outfit comes through with, has fallen off. Omer Asik hasn't had a good April, he's gotten a quick hook, and Kyle Korver is not helping on either end.
Worse, coach Tom Thibodeau continues to needlessly keep starters on the court way too long in the midst of a blowout. The Bulls starters were obviously dragging after blowing the game wide open midway through the third quarter in this win, but instead of substituting Thibs kept with his starters, and New York's fresher bench unit nearly closed the gap as the third quarter ended. Then, even with the game out of reach over the final three or four minutes in the win, Thibs kept with his dragging starters, even as they attempt to play deep into June following Wednesday night's regular season finale.
Beyond that? The same. Chicago works harder, they were deeper than the Knicks in this win, and the team's defense forced New York into a series of terrible shots that made sure that even the luckiest New York night wouldn't result in a win. The Bulls weren't perfect -- Bill Walker often had his way as he piled up 18 points off the bench, but New York just couldn't hang without Amar'e Stoudemire.
Carlos Boozer missed chippy after chippy on his way to a 5-19 night, but it was obvious that he had a nose for the ball on the defensive glass from the first quarter onward. 22 very-needed rebounds for Boozer on the night. Derrick Rose managed 26 points, and would have had more had the open three-pointers he took from his favorite spots gone down, but Luol Deng (23 and 10 in nearly 44 minutes, ouch) was Chicago's best player. DE-FENSE.