Chauncey Billups rips apart Portland after 28-point rout by Celtics
The Portland Trail Blazers aren’t exactly responding well amid mounting injuries and organizational upheaval. Chauncey Billups’ team was never all that competitive in a 145-117 loss to the Boston Celtics on Saturday night at Moda Center, a second straight home defeat that was over long before the final buzzer.
Even Portland’s excuses for another ugly performance against a beatable opponent aren’t as legitimate as they seem on the surface. The Blazers were no doubt affected by the absence of Damian Lillard, Nassir Little and Anfernee Simons, and surely emotionally taxed—whether they admit or not—by the month-long investigation into Neil Olshey’s workplace misconduct culminating in his dismissal Friday morning.
A 28-point loss to the full-strength Celtics, of course, would’ve been extremely disappointing despite those unenviable circumstances. But Ime Udoka’s team was missing Jaylen Brown and Al Horford, too, both nursing nagging injuries. Boston was also playing on the second night of a tough back-to-back, falling to the Utah Jazz in a 137-130 thriller in Salt Lake City before landing at PDX in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
Making matters even worse? Portland native Payton Pritchard, son of the Blazers’ former GM, got hot in extended garbage time, hitting four threes and scoring 16 of the Celtics’ last 18 points in just three minutes of play. Boston’s bench got so overzealous while celebrating Pritchard’s late-game barrage that Robert Williams III, Enes Freedom (née Kanter) and Brown accidentally made their way toward halfcourt, netting the former, laughing, a technical foul.
Chauncey Billups, more angry and irritated than he’s ever been while speaking with the media this season, was asked specifically about that finish after the game. His reply, whether intended or not, might as well have spoken for the night’s entirety.
“There’s a way that I’m willing to lose,” Billups said, “and that’s not the way I’m willing to lose. It was embarrassing.”
Portland got out to another awful start, prompting a now-familiar early timeout from Billups. The defense was absolutely carved up from the opening tip, Boston’s pace in the open floor and halfcourt proving way too much for the slow-footed, slow-reacting Blazers. The visitors shot 14-of-19 overall and 6-of-8 from three in the first quarter, video-game-like efficiency they nearly managed again in the third.
Portland’s 19-point hole entering the fourth quarter was especially dispiriting because it was only six at intermission, the result of sudden spurts of energy and intensity just before halftime. Who provided that initial spark? The bench, a season-long trend that Billups addressed in real-time.
“We’ve been making a habit of that, playing really soft at the start of games, and we depend on our bench to get us back in it. A lot of times they do,” he said. “Even at halftime, I just said to them, ‘I don’t understand. I’ve never seen a team that we need our bench to inspire our starters,’ and that shit is crazy to me. It’s supposed to be the other way around.”
A second consecutive blowout loss at home moves the Blazers to 11-13, tenth in the Western Conference and one game ahead of the Sacramento Kings for the last spot in the play-in tournament. It’s a bit early to worry too much about the standings, especially given the volatility of a surprisingly weak West.
Still, it’s tough not to look at this team’s big picture and wonder when its lack of success on the floor will force the new front office to push for the big changes Olshey never wanted. Billups, at least, seems to realize Portland’s increasingly dire straits.
“For the first time all season I spoke tonight after the game,” he said. “And it wasn’t emotional. Obviously, I’ll keep that between the team and I. I wasn’t emotional. I’m not a yeller. I was speaking with this tone, but just speaking real.”
Someone needed to. We’ll see if that self-reflection pays off on Monday against the LA Clippers.