26 January 2010
Nate McMillan had seen enough. He’d also heard enough.
Walking off the Rose Garden floor after a heartbreaking loss to the New Orleans Hornets, McMillan drew the ire of a fan who’d been relentlessly heckling the head coach to have Jerryd Bayless inserted into the game with about three minutes left.
This went on during timeouts. This went on during the game.
It went on after the game.
“You should have put Bayless in earlier Nate,” the fan screamed, causing McMillan to look back in disgust before mumbling some choice words under his breath as he walked towards the Blazers locker room.
It was a frustrating moment for everyone involved.
During the last three minutes of Portland’s 98-97 loss to New Orleans, the Hornets closed the game on a 10-1 run that included a Chris Paul wide-open jumper with 3.8 seconds left in the game. The Blazers drew up the final play for Bayless, who left his jumper short at the buzzer. But in a game that saw New Orleans mount a 16 point lead - only to have Portland come back and go up by 9 points - the game essentially came down to an old McMillan adage: “slippage”.
It was the fall of Paul.
“I think somebody fell or he fell,” McMillan said of how Paul got his open jumper. “There was a rotation and I think we lost him. It happened so fast, I don’t recall how he got open like that.”
The Hornets certainly remember. Leading up to that play and with New Orleans trailing 97-96, Paul pushed the ball up the court and passed it to David West on his left around the top of the key. When Paul lost his footing and slipped, he passed the ball to West and said he assumed the burly power forward shot it, only to have the ball end up back in Paul’s hands.
“I knew I had to shoot it. No one was guarding me,” Paul laughed afterwards.
Even on a busted play, an all-star was left wide-open leaving Paul to do what he does best: hit big shots late in games when they matter the most.
“(Andre) Miller got to me, but either way I was going to let the clock run down,” West began as he described the play. “But when (LaMarcus) Aldridge ran right past me, I hit him (Paul) back and he was open and that’s a shot he can make.”
With 3.8 seconds left in the game and the ball belonging to Portland, McMillan wanted to spread the floor for Bayless in hopes of getting something at the rim. At that point, Miller was having trouble beating one-on-one coverage so Bayless was the best option with little time on the clock.
Unfortunately, New Orleans knew the play was coming.
“We knew what play they were going to run once we saw Bayless set up down low,” said Paul, who finished with 24 points, 12 assists, and five steals.
“They change a lot. Obviously (Brandon) Roy is the guy. If he was playing he would have had the ball for that last shot.”
All Roy (and his sore hamstring) could do was watch on from the bench in street clothes as once again Portland struggled to finish strong in the fourth quarter without him. Right now – and aside from the recent road win in Detroit – that’s just who the Blazers are; a team searching for their late game identity minus their own all-star. Might as well embrace it.
New Orleans knows who they are.
“We are used to this. We do this night in and night out. We don’t do any blowouts,” Paul jokingly described his teams’ seesaw battles this season.
“We don’t believe it them. We don’t believe in blowing teams out. We like to play out games with five points or less. That’s how it’s been working. Every night is a close one. When we get in close games we don’t get rattled.”
Portland can’t say the same.
“It’s going to be this way for, I think, the rest of this season where it’s going to be close,” said McMillan.
“It’s going to come down to the stretch and we’re going to have to execute and be good in the fourth quarter. Of course it’s a frustrating loss.”