The Portland Trail Blazers (4-6) began the first of a four-game road trip Friday when it arrived in Memphis (4-6) to face a struggling Grizzlies squad at the FedExForum. These teams met just over a week ago at the Moda Center and it was the home team which was able to use a strong second-half effort to cruise to a 19-point 115-96 win. Since that game, however, neither team has managed to pull out a win and entered Friday's contest riding three and four-game losing streaks, respectively.
The Blazers were led by CJ McCollum (26 points, 8 turnovers!), Al-Farouq Aminu (16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Damian Lillard (11 points, 7assists). The Grizzlies were led by Marc Gasol (31 points) and Mike Conley (11 points, 9 assists).
Unlike last week's matchup, Meyers Leonard was ruled out early as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury he sustained during the third quarter of Wednesday's loss to the San Antonio Spurs. As expected, Terry Stotts kept Leonard's replacement in the starting lineup close to the chest until tip-off, but ultimately opted for the veteran presence of Chris Kaman,
Despite only playing a total of four minutes prior to his start this season, Kaman came out vitalized - for better or worse - and instantly put his mark on the game. As Memphis focused its attention on the Portland backcourt, the 33-year-old was heavily involved in the offense early - a nice give-and-go pass to McCollum gave the Blazers a quick 8-4 lead and followed it up with a nice block on Tony Allen at the other end. Aminu corralled a rebound off a Gasol miss and went coast-to-coast for the slam-dunk to give Portland its largest lead of the quarter at 14-8. Lillard looked noticeably bothered by his torn thumbnail, missing a couple gimme shots inside and passing on several looks he'd usually let fly.
End of First: Portland 23, Memphis 23
The second quarter was clearly played at the Grizzlies' slow, diligent pace. Both teams traded free throws for about five minutes before Lillard returned and began challenging Memphis' bigs down low. The Blazers defense managed to force some stops, but sloppy execution on both sides prevented any large runs. Portland botched a 3-on-1 fast break when Gerald Henderson inexplicably leaned into an unguarded traveling violation, and the Grizz returned the favor by failing to convert on several high-percentage attempts near the rim of its own. Conley and newly acquired Mario Chalmers started to get hot towards the end of the period to put Memphis on top. Balanced scoring at this point for the Blazers, with McCollum its only double-digit scorer with 11 in the first half.
Halftime: Portland 52, Memphis 53
In last week's win, it was during the third quarter when Portland really went on its run to put the game away - it would not be a repeat on Friday. After McCollum buried a three to open the period, The Grizzlies answered with 14-straight over five minutes while the Blazers looked completely stifled. Lillard's thumb looked to be hindering him so much to the point where he deferred some of his ball-handling duties to McCollum, with so-so results. The second unit was a bit more successful, thanks to Allen Crabbe's seven points on 3-3 shooting. Maurice Harkless's dunk off a nice feed from Lillard and a tough jumper from McCollum kept Portland within single-digits.
End of Third: Portland 70, Memphis 79
The Blazers rode that momentum into the fourth quarter and slowly continued to chip into Memphis' lead. A commanding block by Aminu led to a transition layup for Harkless to cut the deficit to seven, but against the sluggish pace of the Grizz that number might as well be twice that. Lillard just wasn't able to find his range, missing all five of his three-point attempts, while Portland as a whole converted on only seven of its 21 attempts. Despite its scoring woes, the Blazers managed to stay within fighting distance into the final minutes; a steal leading to a Crabbe fast-break finger roll cut the lead down to four, but Gasol answered back with with free throws on consecutive possessions to keep Portland just out of reach. A rainbow three by Aminu brought it to three with 90 seconds remaining, and a bonehead foul by Tony Allen led to McCollum free throws to close the gap to just two. In the final minute, the Blazers forced another miss on Conley's driving layup and Aminu coolly knocked down two more free throws to tie the game for the first time since the second quarter. Jeff Green responded with a clutch jumper in traffic, while McCollum found an open Aminu yet again for a three which gave the Blazers a one point lead. In the final possession, Courtney Lee missed a corner three, but Zach Randolph was able to grab the offensive rebound and score the go-ahead bucket with only 0.6 seconds remaining. Portland couldn't muster up a final look.
The Blazers get a day off before they travel to Charlotte to take on Nicolas Batum and the Hornets Sunday at 5 p.m. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Dave Deckard.
-- Ryan Rosback | email@example.com | Twitter