Plenty of talk since Saturday about who didn't do what they were supposed to in Game 1, as if NBA basketball was simply a game of individual matchups. Steve Blake didn't play tough enough defense on Aaron Brooks. LaMarcus Aldridge should have looked to score more against Luis Scola. Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden should have fronted Yao. There are probably more examples.
The dangerous thing about this type of thinking is that it tends to get into the minds of the players as well. Rather than playing what Nate McMillan calls "the rules," guys get caught up in individual assignments and mind games. So and so scored on me, so now I need to go score on him. It happened in Game 1, but unless the Trail Blazers want to head to Houston down 0-2, it can't happen tonight.
Coach McMillan has been in this situation before as a player and a coach, so he knows the importance of not getting caught up in the one-on-one.
"For our young guys -- and I would say young in a sense that they haven’t experienced this -- what we want them to understand is that it’s not you and Scola," said McMillan. "It’s not Joel and Yao. It’s not Blake and Brooks. It’s not a matchup of Artest and Brandon. It’s Houston against Portland.
"And when you get into those individual matchups and you think you have to outplay this guy as opposed to focusing on what the team needs to do, that’s when you get in trouble because you’re taking it personal. You’re going out and playing that guy as opposed to playing the Rockets."
You'd hope the players would be aware of when they're falling into that trap, but it's hard not to get caught up in individual matchups when that's all anyone is asking you about.
It's a pride thing, too. No one wants to be the guy who gets dunked on, or the guy who gives up the game-winner. But as the saying goes, pride comes before the fall.