At times this season the Blazers have lost games in which they lacked focus or effort. This was not one of those games. The Blazers got beat by a bigger, tougher, deeper, and ultimately better Memphis Grizzlies team tonight. You have to give the Blazers credit. They wanted to win it. They never gave up on the possibility. But the Grizzlies knew how to put the game away and they did.
Portland made hay with the pick and roll in the first quarter. J.J. Hickson scored diving to the bucket. Damian Lillard hit jumpers. The Blazers capitalized on multiple Memphis turnovers and blocked shots like they were channeling the ghost of Theo Ratliff. All the energy and all the Memphis blunders only led to a 21-all tie after one, though. This was the first sign it might be a tough night for Portland.
The trouble started early in the second quarter as Portland's reserve big men put plenty of energy into the game but ultimately got burned. Meyers Leonard played gamely but found himself out of position on multiple defensive possessions. The combination of Leonard and Joel Freeland was a disaster on offense. Even with Leonard hitting a couple of shots the halfcourt sets just stalled as the Grizzlies guarded everyone else but the two big guys. Now the Blazers were making turnovers that the Grizzlies took advantage of. As the quarter progressed the Blazers found it harder to score in the lane while the Grizzlies found it ever easier. Memphis built an 8-point lead at the half and barely looked back the rest of the game.
The bigger Grizzlies went crazy on the boards in the second half as the Memphis lead stretched to double digits. Every time the Blazers would make a run the Grizz would just shut them down and score again in the lane. Damian Lillard led a fierce run as the fourth quarter closed, hitting shots and dishing the rock with aplomb. But the Blazers needed everything to go right in order to complete a comeback against the Memphis defense. They bobbled a couple possessions which should have led to scores and Memphis hit a couple tough shots to seal the deal. Portland loses 102-97 in a game that maybe shouldn't have been that close.
The big numbers of the night almost all belong to Memphis bigs. Marc Gasol scored 20. The returning Zach Randolph put up 19 and 10. Ed Davis had 14 and 9 off the bench. Those three combined for 22-35 shooting. They were the difference-makers.
Mike Conley had 15 assists and steals to go with his 14 points. He liked the matchup no matter who guarded him.
The Blazers actually managed more offensive rebounds than the Grizzlies did, 14-9, but Portland couldn't put them back in for points. The Blazers allowed 17 fast break points and scored only 6 themselves. Memphis won the paint battle 52-40. Memphis shot 51% while the Blazers shot 40.5%. With those kinds of numbers in play you know the Blazers had to hit a boatload of threes or force plenty of turnovers to shift the balance. Portland shot 5-16, 31%, from the arc and Memphis committed but 11 turnovers, 5 of those coming in the first period. It wasn't near enough. Portland did hit 28 of 29 free throws but Memphis scored 21 from the foul line themselves.
LaMarcus Aldridge was one of two big scorers for the Blazers tonight, notching 28 on 10-19 shooting with 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, 4 assists, and 4 turnovers. It wasn't an easy night for him. Memphis made him earn it. But his energy was high. Both offense and defense suffered when he was out of the game. Some of those blocks were spec...tac...u...lar.
Damian Lillard was the other producer for the stat-starved Blazers. He shot 8-17 overall, 3-5 from distance, 8-8 from the line for 27 points and 7 assists. Defense was a question mark when the issue came up but the Grizzlies were more invested in beating up Portland's bigs than in making Lillard pay for his sins on that end. It was a great game from Damian.
Not so J.J. Hickson. After that first period he was dead in the water. He did grab 9 boards but he was rendered all but powerless by the bigger Memphis defenders. They were able to keep between him and the rim on the drive and still put a hand in his face on jumpers. That stymied him. 8 points on 3-10 shooting. Not too many people have done that to J.J. lately. It tells you something about this Memphis team.
Wesley Matthews also shot 3-10 and except for a couple pretty threes he never found any rhythm offensively. His dribble drive attack reverted to its old, bad form tonight. He even looked a little confused on defense. It wasn't a sterling night.
But the player most in need of a Tarn-X bath after this game is Nicolas Batum. His game is covered with a lethargic patina that's just not coming out. Have you seen Portland's bench at all this year? Then you know that there's no way Portland's third-leading scorer can go 0-5 from the field in 41 minutes. The "0" is bad, but the "of 5" is just as egregious. Batum's only points tonight came on 4 free throws. He had 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals, 2 assists, 3 turnovers, and 4 fouls. He's relying too much on the blocked shot on defense and is getting out of position or getting called for fouls. Even with the 10 rebounds at no point did you feel like he was making a difference. Passing up shots remained en vogue. And it's not like the Memphis defense was designed to stop Batum or take the ball out of his hands. Those honors belonged to Aldridge and Lillard. They rose above it. Batum didn't even clear the curb.
Eric Maynor had 11 points but only 1 assist in 26 minutes. It was a good effort but without Lillard on the court beside him Maynor's play-making is taking a hit.
Meyers Leonard had a good night on the offensive end, scoring 6 on 3-6 shooting in 17 minutes. His teammates have recognized that he can dunk and are starting to set him up more for slams. He also had 7 rebounds. The big "but" here is the usual defensive problems, magnified a hundredfold by the prowess of tonight's opponent. The Grizzlies basically picked whomever Leonard was guarding and said, "Your turn!" He collected 4 fouls and plenty of points against.
Will Barton had 3 points, a rebound, and an assist in 11 minutes. Joel Freeland had a bucket, a foul, and nothing else in 6 minutes. Neither looked that impressive.
So basically 6 Memphis players beat 2 Portland players on a night when Memphis played great team ball and Portland relied on individual heroics. To their credit, had the Blazers found a third player or even rattled a couple shots in instead of out it might have been enough. Then again, Memphis is a middle seed in the conference because they know how to win when the other team is searching for "might have been enough". C'est la vie.
Grizzly Bear Blues will appreciate clearing this speed bump on the way to the Clippers showdown.