Say what you want about the mismatches created by the Houston Rockets and the superstar caliber of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Memphis Grizzlies proved again tonight that they are the toughest matchup for the Portland Trail Blazers this season. I haven't said this often this season--strike that, I haven't said this ever--the Blazers had zero chance of winning this game. None. At all. The Grizzlies came out running their offense well, hitting Portland where they weren't. They played a crushing defense, making the Blazers start their sets so far out on the court that they might as well have been on another continent, allowing field goals at the same rate Darth Vader allows second chances to Imperial Admirals. The Blazers have been down farther than the 15-point gap they experienced tonight. They've lost by more than the 109-99 margin the Grizzlies walked away with. But Portland has not looked as impotent for 48 minutes, struggling against a Memphis mudslide that let them on their feet for brief seconds, only to sweep them down again.
The Blazers actually took a lead out of the first period, a 23-22 margin. Damian Lillard scored at the cup and hit a couple jumpers for 7 points. LaMarcus Aldridge kicked in 6, Nicolas Batum 5. But the evening's trends were already in evidence and they weren't looking pretty.
The Blazers relied heavily on offensive rebounding to generate points. Open shots weren't falling. Forget the contested ones. The Blazers needed, and got, second chances. But even the best offensive rebounding teams can't grab more than 1 miss in 3. Memphis was ready for Portland's pet tactic. They relied on their frontcourt players to secure loose balls, streaking out with their wings. A board, a nifty pass or two, and the Grizzlies were proud owners of a fast-break layup or a wide-open secondary-break jumper. One of the slowest teams in the league began piling fastbreak points on the Blazers like they were the Phoenix Suns. They'd finish the game with 20, doubling their season average. That wasn't a good sign.
When they weren't laying the ball right in the cup (which they did a half-dozen times in the first period alone) the Grizzlies were moving the ball without resistance. A single screen was enough to get the dribbler or a cutter free. The Blazers didn't rotate under the basket, left huge gaps when they switched against picks, and often left the weak side wide open. Memphis mounded up 27 assists on their 47 made buckets. Meanwhile the Blazers managed only 3 steals all evening and forced 11 Memphis turnovers total. That wasn't a good sign.
Marc Gasol had to be tested for Repetitive Stress Disorder after this game from shooting foul-line jumpers. That wasn't a good sign.
The Grizzlies, normally mediocre 36% shooters from beyond the arc, ended up at 50% tonight. That wasn't a good sign.
The Memphis guards would shot 20-33, or 61%, on the evening. That wasn't a good sign.
The Grizzlies as a whole shot 56% compared to 41% for the Blazers. That wasn't a good sign.
Mo Williams left the game with a hip injury in the second quarter and Robin Lopez got in early foul trouble, limiting his minutes and forcing the Blazers to dig deep into the bench. That wasn't a good sign.
Oh, and you know that 23-22 lead the Blazers owned after the first? It was the only quarter they'd win and even so, 23-22 is far closer to a Memphis scoring pace than a Portland one. That...well...you know.
All these not-so-good signs cascaded in the second period when the Grizz ran Portland around with an inside-out attack and denied them access to the lane. Memphis led 54-47 at the half. They dished out more of the same in the second half, attacking the weaker members of Portland's backcourt, drawing bigs out on the floor with jump shooting, and never letting the Blazers get clean looks at the hoop without a ton of work. Eventually Portland's offense devolved into the Damian Lillard Show, with #0 fancy-dribbling his way to the rim or quick-shooting threes. He couldn't score enough to close the gap, especially with the defense leaking on the other end. If it weren't for free-throws and mid-range jumpers the Blazers wouldn't have scored at all in the fourth period. The offense wasn't as much ugly as helpless, dependent on whatever the Grizzlies chose to give. The final horn was a mercy. This game could have gone on for 10 quarters and the Blazers never would have closed the gap. Memphis won 109-99, the Blazers were probably lucky to score as much as they did, and that's all you need to know to understand the flavor of the evening.
Statistically LaMarcus Aldridge had a bad night, shooting 8-23 for 19 points with 10 rebounds and 2 blocks easing the pain. But not all 8-23 nights are built the same. I was more encouraged by Aldridge's outing tonight than by any of his performances since returning from the groin injury. Aldridge mixed in spins and drives into the lane tonight, not relying so heavily on the jumper or turn-around. The results weren't better but some of the blame there belongs to Memphis. If Aldridge feels good enough to continue those lane forays he's going to fare well against older, slower, and less-defensively-apt teams...which includes almost everyone else in the league. This is the first night I've felt that Aldridge was truly back.
Damian Lillard scored a game-high 32 points. But Memphis was kind of OK with that. I'm sure they would have preferred fewer but one guy wasn't going to beat them, particularly when that guy was available to exploit on the other end....something the Grizz guards did well. Lillard took 21 shots, hitting 8. He made his bones at the arc (4-8) and at the foul line (12-13). 6 of those FTA's came from fouls in the act of shooting a three. Lillard also had 7 assists and only 2 turnovers. The latter number is nice to see after the last few games in which he scored less and coughed it up more. His time of possession was huge tonight. Taking care of the ball was a good sign.
Nicolas Batum's offense put in an appearance during the first half of this game! He hit 5-13 shots on the night but canned 3-5 from the arc for 15 points total. 8 rebounds rounded out his evening. Batum didn't do much to affect Portland's defensive fortunes, though to be fair those were so bad that an octopus couldn't have plugged all the holes in the dike. At a certain point it looked like Nic threw his hands in the air and bailed out. He didn't touch the ball much late and registered only a single assist for the game.
Wesley Matthews is on a teeter-totter with Lillard nowadays. One goes up, the other goes down. After pushing the offense in Houston and Dallas, Matthews attempted only 7 shots tonight, hitting 1. His three-point shot may not have abandoned him exactly, but it seems like the two are having a trial separation. His open looks aren't falling. That's bad news for Portland's offense.
If the opposing center is hitting jumpers and the other opposing big man is Zach Randolph, you know this game isn't going to be a fit for Robin Lopez. And it wasn't. He grabbed 4 offensive rebounds but managed only 6 total, spent much of the game in what amounts to no-man's-land for him, and never got the chance to make an impact.
We'll hope Mo Williams gets better soon. Love him or hate him, the Blazers can't live without the threat of him scoring. That said, neither the scoring nor the defense improved with him tonight. Mo went 2-5 in 11 minutes tonight for 4 points and 3 assists.
C.J. McCollum stepped in for Williams, playing 20 minutes and probably disappointing Memphis alum Will Barton. But Barton will need to take a number to register his complaint as McCollum missed 2 shots, scored 0 points, and committed 2 turnovers in 20 minutes.
A wee bit of good news: the more mobile big men in Portland's lineup fared slightly better than their older, starting counterparts tonight. Meyers Leonard found himself wide open for courtesy jumpers and hit 4-6, scoring 8 points in 14 minutes with 6 rebounds besides. Thomas Robinson also shot 4-6 for 8 points in 17 minutes. He added 4 rebounds, 4 personal fouls, and 2 turnovers...a somewhat less impressive effort. He had a couple New T-Rob moments mixed in with a lot of old problems.
It's probably best to bury this game down the memory hole and try to get better against the Spurs tomorrow night. If Memphis has Portland's number maybe Portland has San Antonio's. We'll see.
Your Jersey Contest scores and the form for tomorrow are HERE. Tonight's answers: Marc Gasol committed more personal fouls and turnovers than Robin Lopez, Marc Gasol got more rebounds than Robin Lopez, Marc Gasol blocked more shots than Robin Lopez, but Robin Lopez has cooler hair.
Rsommer111 registered the highest score in tonight's contest with 89 out of a possible 100. MavetheGreat leads the monthly battle.