The Portland Trail Blazers and the Memphis Grizzlies both entered this game with hopes of ending their respective losing streaks. Neither team was fully healthy. The Blazers were without Meyers Leonard, who suffered a dislocated shoulder on November 11, and the Grizzlies were without Jordan Adams (knee), Brandan Wright (knee), and Jarell Martin (foot). Although the Grizzlies were thinner in number, the onus of compensation fell to the Blazers. How could they stay competitive against the size of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol?
For better or worse, they bumped Mason Plumlee up to power forward and started Chris Kaman at center. It was not ideal, but it was creative patchwork to maintain a semblance of spacing.
The Blazers were able to jump out to an early lead with the scoring efforts of CJ McCollum, but were unable to hold it as the Grizzlies warmed up. Although the Blazers shot much more efficiently through the opening quarter, turnovers were a problem once again. Little by little, the Grizzlies chipped away at what could have been a respectable buffer until neither team was dominating the scoreboard. By halftime, the Blazers had given up 12 turnovers to the Grizzlies three, and trailed 52-53.
Unfortunately, Plumlee had struggled to seal off slashers in the first half and had accrued three personal fouls. Recognizing this, the Grizzlies went to Gasol early and often to start the third quarter. Kaman could not contain him and Plumlee could not get physical enough to be much help. The Grizzlies went on a 14-0 run. Gasol finished with 11 points on seven shots in the quarter, and the Grizzlies took a 70-79 lead into the fourth.
The Blazers hovered around a 7-point deficit until they could get the Grizzlies in foul trouble with 4:03 remaining. McCollum closed the gap to six. Allen Crabbe closed the gap to four. The Grizzlies battled back. Al-Farouq Aminu closed the gap to three. The Grizzlies battled back. McCollum closed the gap to two. Aminu tied the game at 97-97. The Grizzlies battled back. Then, finally, Aminu gave the Blazers’ their first lead of the half with a high-arcing three and 12.5 seconds on the game clock.
The Grizzlies went to Courtney Lee in the corner out of a timeout, and he missed. However, Randolph snagged the offensive rebound and put the ball back through with 0.6 seconds to play. Stifling defense prevented the Blazers from inbounding the ball on the other end and they used their last timeout. Their last ditch effort ended with a late shot from Aminu that fell short regardless. The Grizzlies held on to win 100-101.
Turnovers were far and away the Blazers’ biggest issue. Terry Stotts went with a deep, 10-player rotation and nine players coughed the ball up. McCollum (8 TOs) had a great deal of difficulty with Mario Chalmers, who was playing his first game in a Grizzlies jersey after being acquired from the Miami Heat on November 10. No passing lane was safe. Chalmers and Matt Barnes turned already errant Portland passes into completely unsalvageable ones, capitalizing on the Blazers’ sloppiness. The Blazers finished with 22 turnovers to the Grizzlies’ eight.
When Gasol got hot, Stotts tried a number of things to shut him down—none of which worked all that well. Once it became clear that Kaman wasn’t cutting it, he gave Ed Davis a whirl, but Davis’ lack of bulk was a huge disadvantage against an elite scorer that can play back-to-the-basket just as easily as face up. Plumlee was up next in an ultra small lineup that pinned Moe Harkless at power forward, but that was not sustainable as the Grizzlies adjusted. Gasol finished with 31 points, just two shy of his career-high.
On the positive side, the Blazers were able to carve the Grizzlies up when they pushed the tempo late. The Grizzlies made the mistake of forcing McCollum left almost every time he drove, and that paid off in spades for the most part. McCollum shot a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line. In fact, the Blazers shot 26-29 (89.7 percent) from the charity stripe as a team. Had they somehow gotten the Grizzlies in the penalty just a little bit earlier, this game appeared to be heading toward a different ending.
Damian Lillard had a quiet game. His heavily bandaged thumb (most of the nail torn off) was clearly bothering him. He tried to shake it out, but there is not much you can do in this circumstance. He will adjust to the bandages eventually. By game’s end, he was 0-5 from deep and had only tallied 11 points.
CJ McCollum took over when the Blazers needed him to. His 26-point performance marked his fifth 20+ outing of the young season. The turnovers were ugly, but due credit must be paid to Chalmers for harassing him into making mistakes. The perfect 10-10 from the line brings his free throw percentage to 90.6 percent on the season—a drastic improvement from his 69.9 percent mark last year.
Allen Crabbe was a perfect 5-5 from the field and 2-2 from the line for 12 important points off the bench. He seems to have nights where he can’t miss, and this was one of them.
Al-Farouq Aminu had a big night (16 points) and nearly iced the game for Portland with that bomb of a 3-pointer. His defense was on point, he cleaned the glass well, and he did a good job of getting to the line (6-6). It’s hard to call nights like this a waste, because it’s great to see continued growth despite the loss.
Ed Davis was ruthless on defense, if outmatched at times.
Harkless gets bonus points for scoring 10 points on 50 percent shooting and only committing one turnover.
Links and Notes
Memphis Grizzlies SBN Affiliate: Grizzly Bear Blues
The Blazers face the Charlotte Hornets next, 2:00 p.m. PST on Sunday the 15th.