Without LaMarcus Aldridge or Nicolas Batum, the Portland Trail Blazers never led tonight, falling to the Memphis Grizzlies in a game that was closer than it had any right to be. Memphis' defense held the Blazers in check, and when Portland attempted a last-ditch comeback with three-pointers, it was ugly.
The first quarter had all the makings of another blowout. Memphis had no problems against the Blazer defense, easily scoring the first six points. You know you're in trouble when Tony Allen is hitting jumpers. But, surprisingly, the scrappy Blazers kept Memphis close, as Damian Lillard ran the team efficiently. He scored, spread the ball around, and got everyone involved. The Blazers closed to within 2, but couldn't take the lead. And as the halfway point arrived, Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts made it interesting: He removed Wesley Matthews and JJ Hickson, replacing them with Freeland and Barton. The All-Rookie lineup! Freeland had a few nice moments, but Memphis tightened down the D and took over. They outscored the Blazers by 9 down the stretch to take an 11 point lead.
Into the second, more of the same. Memphis continued to score at a high percentage against easy defense, and the Blazers simply tried to keep scoring to stay close. The result was predictable: The Grizz lead reached 18. The Blazers found some bread and butter though: the Hickson pick and roll. Both Maynor and Lillard tried it, leading to easy points for JJ. Matthews added a few step-back three-pointers, which helped cut the Memphis lead down into single digits again. But only for about five seconds. Once Memphis felt threatened, they settled down and went back to their big guys, who scored or assisted on every bucket down the stretch. But Lillard score 4 points late to keep the Blazers within 11 at the half.
The third quarter got off to a shaky start. The Grizzlies double-down on Lillard, and it paid immediate dividends. Lillard coughed up the ball on the first three Blazer possessions (technically almost twice in one possession!). That led to a 15 point Memphis lead, and a Portland timeout. Memphis' lead reached 16, before a little Blazer defense turned the tables. The lead was down to 10 when the Grizz called timeout. It didn't help, as Meyers Leonard found the range, and the lead was down to 7. Stop me if this sounds familiar: Memphis clamped down the defense again. They played the passing lanes, and threw Lillard off his game. At the other end, it was the Zach Randolph show. The former Blazer used his natural advantages over the Portland big men to score repeatedly, or get to the line. Down the stretch, things got testy with Randolph: First he was tussling with Hickson, then Joel Freeland. It worked: Memphis slowed down, and the Blazers stayed within 13 after three.
In the fourth quarter, the prospect of a Blazer comeback was halted by three-pointers: The Blazers couldn't hit them. Luke Babbitt checked in and missed three, including an airball. "Missed three pointer" was the theme of the entire quarter, as Memphis comfortably played their game, never worrying about a serious Blazer comeback.
Damian Lillard's night felt familiar: Pounded by a defensive-minded point guard, but played decently. He had some unfortunate "rookie moments" tonight, as Memphis's penchant for clogging the passing lanes forced Damian into plenty of turnovers. He's starting to look like a guy who will appreciate nice Summer of reflection and practice. He finished with 17 points, 6 assists and 5 turnovers.
JJ Hickson also had a familiar night: Plenty of points at a good shooting percentage, and a team-high in rebounds. JJ's natural position may be power forward, but he would love to have Aldridge back; without him, teams can focus more on Hickson. And in that situation, Hickson struggles to create his own shot. His high shooting percentage is primarily due to his ability to roll off the pick, and the point guards' ability to find him. If Aldridge can work on the pick and roll this Summer, he could see some more of those high-percentage shots this fall. JJ just missed another double-double, with 17 points (8-12 shooting) and 9 rebounds.
Wesley Matthews tried to do more in Batum's absence, but ended up doing less in the process. Wesley assuredly misses LaMarcus too, as he increasingly needed to try to break down the defense himself, instead of waiting for the open shot. Unfortunately, that's not his specialty, and it showed. He scored 12 points on 5-16 from the field.
Meyers Leonard had his moments tonight, including a nice hook shot and a few jumpers. He also did work on the boards, on the rare possessions where Memphis missed a shot. Considering how Meyers has looked at times this season, this felt like a solid evening with 10 points and 7 rebounds.
Victor Claver started for Batum, and had a quiet night. So he replaced Batum pretty effectively. As the season winds down, he'll get plenty of minutes, though. He'll get time to learn about NBA defenses. Tonight, he had 7 points and 2 rebounds.
Eric Maynor's 10 assists were handy, helped by Memphis' defensive focus on Lillard. He kept the ship steady when the game could have spiraled out of control early.
Joel Freeland was surprisingly physical, and had a few nice moves on offense. His 7 points, 3 rebounds and 2 steals weren't a difference-maker (obviously), but he looks like a player who could benefit from increased minutes down the stretch. Things for him to work on this Summer: Cardio. He was pretty winded in 17 minutes.
Do not ask about Luke Babbitt, Nolan Smith, or Will Barton in the postgame comments. Not unless you want to hear the truth.
Blazers shooting percentage inside the arc: 57% (29-51)
Blazers shooting percentage outside the arc: 14% (4-29)
Despite the role of the Memphis big-men, the Blazers actually outscored Memphis in the paint, 44-38. This stat would look different if it included free throws from fouls in the paint.
Memphis hit one more field goal overall (off 13 less attempts), and the same number of three-pointers. So why was this a blowout? Free throws. Memphis shot 28 (making 22) to Portland's 10 (6 made). No referee chicanery here today! The free throws were deserved.
The biggest takeaway from this game? We don't have to see Memphis again this season. Finally.
Stay tuned for more analysis from Blazer’s Edge later tonight. In the meantime, check out the upcoming Blazers schedule. -- Tim