The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, 101-99, at the Moda Center on Saturday, dropping Portland's record to 26-8.
Portland's rims took Slimfast and the court shrunk like Danny DeVito and that was all she wrote. This was a most unusual and eventually fatal brick-fest for the Blazers, who shot a season-low 36.4 percent overall and a season-low 13.6 percent from deep, just two days after a torrid shooting performance against the Charlotte Bobcats. I liked the idea of "lunch meat," you liked the idea of "lunch meat," but the mean didn't find any humor in it, dragging the Blazers back to reality one clank at a time.
"It was one night I think our offense let us down," Blazers coach Terry Stotts concluded, the first time he's said anything like that at home this season. "We didn't shoot the ball as well as we would like. We had turnovers."
The turnovers -- 18 in all -- started on the first possession, when Nicolas Batum threaded the needle to his imaginary friend and the Sixers took it the other way for an easy two. Damian Lillard followed that up with a pair of head-slappers and then Wesley Matthews had a basket waved off for a charge; nearly six minutes into the game, Portland had as many turnovers as points (4).
It never got worse than the Sixers' 20-4 lead, but it never got all that much better, either. Portland's smoothest stretch came late in the first quarter and into the second, powered by 14 first-half points from Mo Williams, but Philadelphia's defensive energy -- in a Phoenix East type of way -- consistently exceeded Portland's offensive rhythm.
They succeeded in making LaMarcus Aldridge work: he finished with 29 points and 14 rebounds, but he took 30 shots, shot just three free throws, and didn't record an offensive rebound. The Sixers did well bracketing him, timing the arrival of the second defender in such a way that threw him off when he turned towards the hoop on multiple occasions. That squeeze got worse as his kickout passes kept paying off with dirt instead of three-point gold, and when the fourth quarter rolled around the Blazers were doing the most un-Blazers-like thing imaginable: passing up open shots from beyond the arc.
"One of those nights where we can't miss a shot like two nights ago, and then a night when we can't make a shot like tonight," Batum said, after tallying four points (on 1-for-9 shooting), 10 rebounds, 10 assists and four turnovers. "We got the same shots tonight that we got two nights ago."
That Portland hung a season-high 139 points -- including 21 three-pointers -- on Philadelphia during their first meeting back in December wasn't lost on anyone.
Sixers coach Brett Brown praised his team for "[dumping] so much of our heart and soul" into guarding the three-point line Saturday, and you could understand how this would be a signature-type win for a young team. On the offensive end, Brown's guards attacked the paint with consistency, regularly blowing past Portland's defenders at the point of attack. Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten combined for 28 points without making a shot from outside the paint; forward Thaddeus Young scored a game-high 30 points, and 13 of his 14 field goals came inside the paint too. Back-to-back Young buckets in the game's final 1:09 encapsulated the extra effort Philadelphia displayed from start to finish.
"They've got guys on that end that are hungry, they're playing well," Matthews mused, after finishing with 13 points (on 4-for-12 shooting) and four assists. "This is now four straight they've won on their road trip. They came in with some confidence, with a chip from the first meeting. Any time you give a team a little bit of life, it's going to be a game. ... [We] gave them confidence to make some plays they probably wouldn't ordinarily make down the stretch."
There were plays -- and mistakes -- made down the stretch by both teams in one of the more unpredictable endgames in recent memory. After Matthews and Carter-Williams each split a pair of late free throws, Portland was set to take possession down 97-95 with a little more than 20 seconds remaining. Instead, a video review overturned the call on the floor, as the referees concluded that the ball was knocked out by Robin Lopez, whose hand was on the inside during the rebound scramble.
"I didn't watch the replay on the scoreboard," Stotts said. "I was trying to decide what to do, whether it was their ball or our ball. Look, the rules are the rules. They reviewed it and overturned it, there's nothing you can do."
Aldridge also refused to make it an issue.
"You don't need me talking about it," he said. "It's over with."
On the ensuing inbounds play, Philadelphia sailed a pass to Spencer Hawes near midcourt. Hawes wasn't at risk of an over-and-back call, because the game was in the final two minutes, but he was awarded two free throws when the referees called Lillard for a foul in the scramble for the lofting pass.
"I didn't think so," Lillard told Blazersedge, when asked if he fouled Hawes. "We knew that we were going to have to foul because the shot clock was off. We wanted to try to get a jump ball or try for a steal first. I thought I hit the ball, but it was a foul."
Hawes hit both free throws to make it a two-possession game with 19 seconds left, but the fireworks were just beginning. Portland took timeout and scored instantaneously, using the same inbounds lob play to Aldridge on the weakside that nearly provided the game-winning points in the game's final second against the Miami Heat one week ago.
The two sides then exchanged points one final time: Evan Turner knocked down a pair of free throws and Damian Lillard came right back with a driving lay-up. Then, with just six seconds remaining in a game Portland had no business winning, Lopez cleanly picked off Philadelphia's inbounds pass, giving the Blazers a brief glimpse of hope. With their seven-footer trapped in the corner and the game in the balance, Stotts wisely called timeout to set up the final play.
On a night in which the Blazers had hit just three three-pointers total, and only one from the team's starting unit, the game was turned over to Lillard, who elected, at home, to go for the tie rather than the win. Receiving the baseline inbounds pass near the right angle, Lillard drove to his left while being shadowed by Carter-Williams, weaving back towards the right to loft a scoop shot from just outside the protected circle. The lay-up kissed off the glass and hit the near-side rim, falling off as Lillard fell to the court.
"We got the look that we wanted to get," said Lillard, who finished with 17 points (on 6-for-20 shooting), two rebounds, one assist and six turnovers. "I was able to get to the rim. I've got to make that. I missed a shot I've got to make. That's just the type of night it was. ... [Carter-Williams] rode me and I was kind of pushing my weight back against his. When I got past him, I was off-balance, I still should have made the shot. I got it up off the glass. I had a good look, off-balance or not, that's a shot I've got to make."
As with the inbounds call and the foul near halfcourt, Stotts refused to take issue with the officiating on the game's final play.
"I don't know if [Lillard] got fouled or not," he said. "We got the ball in Damian's hands, he was at the rim, so yeah, we can't get a better look. I was happy with that."
Lillard is one of the rare players where you would almost prefer he pull up for three with one foot on the outskirts of the center court logo rather than taking a runner in traffic, and his 38.5 percent shooting in the basket area is one of the weakest zones on his shot chart. But quibbling with the shot selection on a final play (which never should have happened had Philadelphia succeeded in inbounding the ball) is missing the point: Portland lost because it missed 63 shots, not because the 63rd shot happened to be played off the backboard at the wrong angle.
Those shooting numbers hung over everything, including the Blazers' uniform refusal to offer excuses or assign any blame to the referees.
"No moral victories," Aldridge said, when prompted about Portland's ability to dig out from the early 16-point hole. "We don't want to be in the game, we want to win."
Random Game Notes
- The crowd was announced as a sellout (20,004). Section 314 did well to make itself known in the first half, offering pick-me-ups when the Blazers were lagging. Otherwise, the anger at some of the late calls kind of carried the night overall. Not a particularly electric atmosphere.
- NBA.com video highlights are here.
- Nicolas Batum suffered an avulsion fracture in his left middle finger during the game's final minute. Full details and quotes are here.
- Batum threw yet another sidelines lob to Wesley Matthews for a dunk during the third quarter. Coincidentally, the Idaho Stampede also threw a sidelines lob that forced overtime just seconds before the Matthews lob. Stampede coach Michael Peck said in an interview recently that all of his team's systems and plays mirror Portland's. Guess he wasn't exaggerating.
- Speaking of the Stampede, Blazers rookie guard CJ McCollum finished with 24 points (on 11-for-23 shooting and 1-for-5 from deep), one rebound, one assist and three turnovers in 24 minutes in a 138-131 victory over the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on Saturday night. Box score is here. Full details from McCollum's debut on Friday night are here.
- The lobs from the out of bounds were flashy but Robin Lopez also earned himself a pair of free throws by totally sealing Lavoy Allen on a late inbounds play, forcing a foul when LaMarcus Aldridge sent in a pass to him from the high post.
- Seattle native Tony Wroten (12 points on 4-for-10 shooting, three assists, two turnovers) had a few dazzling moments, much to the delight of a cheering section that apparently made its way down from Washington. He is lightning fast in the open court and loves testing bigs on their "verticality" technique with hard-charging drives. He had one look-away pass for a transition hoop that was top-notch.
- Dorell Wright matched that no-look pass with one of his one, feeding Meyers Leonard for a dunk on a second-chance play.
- Daniel Orton unfortunately received a DNP-CD so we were deprived of a rematch of his takedown showdown with Leonard.
- Lots of signs: "Mania in the Moda," "Rippin' it up in Rip City," "Aldridge 4 MVP," "We Get Buckets," "Let's Get Greedy," "Mo $$$$$."
- The best sign of the night: "Lunch Meat?" Good job getting in on the trend early!
- The worst sign of the night: "Today I'm legal, Lillard," by a young woman who was apparently celebrating her birthday. That probably sets a new low.
- Here's 2013 Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard on 2014 Rookie of the Year hopeful Michael Carter-Williams (16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, nine rebounds, four assists): "He's a good point guard. He has great length, great size. He passed the ball really well. His team is a lot better when he's on the floor."
- Lillard disputed the idea that this game was a "let up" after Tuesday's big win over Oklahoma City and Thursday's blowout defeat of Charlotte. To Blazersedge: "I don't think it was a let up. They played well, we played a good defensive game. We got a lot of the same looks we've been getting, the ball didn't go in. We still had a chance to force overtime and go out and win the game. I had a look that I should have made, it didn't fall. You can't take credit away from them."
- The Blazers failed to hit 100 points so there was no Cha-Lu-Pa chant watch update. It was the first time since Nov. 22 against Chicago that Portland failed to deliver McMuffins at home.
- Sixers coach Brett Brown sounded elated after this one. His full quote, that was excerpted above: "I give the guys so much credit for fixing the thing that we were so poor at when we played them the last time. It starts and ends with our defense and then you get a little bit more specific and you look at the three-point line, which we dumped so much of our heart and soul into trying to guard. We did that. To come up here and beat this team on their homecourt -- this is a hard venue. I've come up here many, many times and gone home a loser many, many times. It's just one of those venues like Golden State, where it's intimidating, it's loud and they're well-coached and they have an excellent team. You weigh it all up, it's a real satisfying win."
- Carter-Williams took an elbow/arm to the face on the game's final play and remained down on the court for some time. He was able to leave the court under his own power.
- A quiet "get in and get out" vibe in the locker room after this one. Lots of "we just missed shots" and the like.
Terry Stotts' Post-Game Comments
Well we had a chance to win it. Didn't quite make enough plays in the fourth quarter. It was a tough loss. We competed well defensively, on the whole. Obviously we got off to a poor start defensively. For the game, it was a good defensive game, we just couldn't quite get over the hump offensively, especially in the fourth quarter.
The slow start
I don't know. They pushed it, they made shots, they hit a trail three, they got to the rim, but we responded pretty well to it.
It's not over and back. In the last two minutes, it's not over and back. I didn't see the replay, I couldn't see if it was a foul or not.
Overall thoughts on game
After getting down early, I thought we really competed. I thought we had a lot of good looks offensively. We had our threes, we had shots in the paint, we had offensive rebounds, we had transitions. It was one night I think our offense let us down. We didn't shoot the ball as well as we would like. We had turnovers. I thought we kept competing. The shots in the paint were there. We just couldn't quite come up with the finishes.
I think it's easy to look at the start, getting down whatever we got down, but we recovered from that and they're a good team. They're a scrambling team. They play hard, they have a lot of energy, they push the ball. It was probably our highest possession game of the season and they keep coming at you. I give them credit. They scrambled and chased us off the line. In the end, I don't think we made enough shots.
Damian going to the rim, I don't know if he got fouled or not. We got the ball in Damian's hands, he was at the rim, so yeah, we can't get a better look. I was happy with that.
No timeout on second-to-last possession
Quick score, and you're able to save that last timeout, if you do get a stop to advance it. I didn't know if we score and foul again, and they miss a free throw, we can advance it. I think you need to have one in your pocket in case you need to advance it after a free throw.
Batum's finger dislocated?
It looked like it, yeah.
Review, overturn the possession call, but they can't call a foul
I didn't watch the replay on the scoreboard. I was trying to decide what to do whether it was their ball or our ball. Look, the rules are the rules. They reviewed it and overturned it, there's nothing you can do.
Bad shooting, happy with three-point shots you got
It's not like we took a lot -- 22 is a moderate number. I don't know if any of them were end of quarters or whatever. I thought we had good looks at threes. I thought we missed some shots on the perimeter, we missed some shots in the paint.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter