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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Memphis Grizzlies: Defense Bottles Up Portland's Guards

LaMarcus Aldridge gives his all but his smaller teammates don't follow suit as the Blazers fall in Game 1 of their first-round series with the Grizzlies.

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Have you ever seen a cooking show on TV? Then you already know how Game 1 of the first-round series between the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies turned out.

Blazers = Potato

Grizzlies = Chef saying, "Smashed, mashed, baked, or fried? about smashed, then fried? Maybe I'll julienne them first! That sounds good."

The potato don't put up much of a fight and neither did the Blazers tonight. The final score of the game read 100-86, Memphis but the performance gap easily doubled the deficit. Portland never had a chance. It took a couple quarters for them to figure that out, but once they did...yuck.

Game Flow

You don't need to know too much about tonight's game flow other than it was circular and downward. The Blazers set the tone for the evening by missing 10 of their first 11 shots. Memphis didn't jump out to a huge lead, mostly because they kept trying to force the ball to Zach Randolph and LaMarcus Aldridge was tying him up like a cheese-stuffed pretzel. Despite Portland's offensive ineptitude the 3:00 mark of the first saw the Grizzlies ahead only 14-9. The low score ensured that Portland fans kept hope, Grizzlies fans remained on the edge of their seats, and everyone else across America switched over to Game of Thrones or infomercials or static...anything to avoid the gruesomeness on the court. Casual fans missed the Blazers getting humiliated by Beno Udrih, who scored 8 points in the final 2 minutes of the first to push the Grizz to a 25-15 lead after one.

And it just got uglier from there.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Chris Kaman drove the Blazers to 24 points in the second quarter...a veritable treasure trove compared to their first-quarter drought. But Jeff Green and Mike Conley spurred their team to 33. Memphis scored over 1/3 of their regular-season average in just 12 minutes of play They figured that if Aldridge wouldn't yield to Randolph, they'd just try Damian Lillard and friends. It worked. Portland trailed 58-39 at the half.

Throughout the season the third period has been LaMarcus Aldridge time. Up or down at intermission, Portland sets the tone for the second half by feeding their superstar. Aldridge obliged them with 11 points in the third tonight but nothing came easy. Every possession was hard-fought.

"Hard-fought" did not describe Portland's defensive possessions in the period. Whatever mojo Aldridge had against Randolph in the first half disappeared. Zach drifted to the outside and Aldridge failed to follow. Randolph scored 10 in the quarter. As is typical of the Grizzlies offense, Conley, Udrih, and Marc Gasol followed in his wake. When the smoke cleared Memphis had scored 28 with the Blazers managing only 23 despite Aldridge giving everything he had.

At that point the game was over. The Blazers had allowed a low-scoring offense nearly 30 points per quarter while barely managing 20 themselves. Meyers Leonard and Nicolas Batum would hit threes in the fourth, but that was like the castle guards diligently manning the gate after the fortress had been taken. The 100-86 final score might as well have been 1,000,000 to 0. The defeat was that resounding, the game that sobering.


Almost everything that could go wrong for the Blazers, did. Portland shot 34% from the field, 31% from the arc. Memphis outscored them 52-38 in the paint, 15-6 on the break. The Grizzlies committed only 8 turnovers. Portland ended up -5 at the foul line. The only thing Portland did well was double up the opponent in offensive rebounds, 16-8. But missing 63 shots will do that for you.

Saying anything other than, "This was an incredibly poor performance," would be putting a coat of paint on a pig.

(Hush. I can mix metaphors if I want.)

Here are some of the contributing factors and bright spots for Portland:

Zach Randolph and friends played physically against Aldridge. It worked. LaMarcus drew a first-quarter technical complaining about a non-call. After that Memphis surrounded and bumped him every time he got in the lane. He only scored clean (and many times only scored at all) on offensive rebounds. Aldridge hit a few shots from the perimeter but he missed even more. The product of Memphis' bullying: 13-34 shooting, 7-16 within 5 feet. 32 points usually indicate a good game, but not when they come like that.

The physical approach also appeared to wear down Aldridge's stamina. His first-half defense was Horatius-at-the-Bridge impressive. In the second half he couldn't close out effectively, reaching more than moving.Nobody else picked up the slack for him.

The Grizzlies put a big, fat bullseye on Damian Lillard tonight. His 5-21 shooting performance, 0-6 from the arc, speaks volumes. But his defensive deficiencies made just as big of a difference. Udrih may have gotten the Grizzlies rolling, but Conley cemented their dominance. Even on a bum ankle he showed a willingness to go at Lillard and succeeded as he did so.

The Grizzlies continued their regular-season trend of destroying Portland in the paint. Portland drivers found themselves met by 2 or more defenders any time they got within 5 feet of the cup. Lillard attempted so many circus shots that Ringling Bros. is contemplating a lawsuit. And if Lillard couldn't complete a layup, you know CJ McCollum and Steve Blake couldn't. And the bigs? We've already detailed Aldridge's difficulty scoring inside. Robin Lopez attempted only 2 shots and missed both. Chris Kaman scored, but only off of offensive rebounds. It was a nightmare in the paint all around.

As a result, Portland's three-point shooting took on an air of desperation rather than deadly confidence. They were all, "My name is Inigo Montoya and you killed my father! So I'm going to...uhhhh...close my eyes and stick my sword out, hoping you'll run yourself onto it...maybe?" The Grizzlies didn't.

Lopez's futility was troubling. There's nothing wrong with him, he's just not equipped to deal with Gasol or Randolph while providing the help his smaller teammates need in order to protect the rim. Already we're hearing echoes of last year's San Antonio Spurs series where Tim Duncan and mid-range-shooting big men canned jumper after jumper over Lopez's lunging reach.

Also disappointing for Portland: the performance of CJ McCollum. The Blazers didn't lay too much on his shoulders, nor should they. But McCollum had been on a hot streak heading into the playoffs and was one of the few bright storylines for Portland after Wesley Matthews went down. CJ was one of the potential X-factors heading into the game.

In this case, though, the "X" came Family Feud style, as in, "Survey Says....BZZZZZZT!" Whether open from the outside or crowded on the inside, McCollum failed to hit, shooting 1-8 for 2 points in 37 minutes. For the last couple weeks we said the only thing that could go wrong with McCollum would be having his confidence obliterated by horrific showings in Games 1 and 2. We also said that if McCollum flopped the Blazers would be in serious trouble. We're halfway there.

On the bright side, Nicolas Batum had one of his better games against Memphis all year, scoring 15 on 5-12 shooting, including 3-6 from the arc. Plus Jeff Green went 3-11 instead of his usual 12-11 against the Blazers. If that trend keeps up, it's one less thing for Portland to fix.

What Do the Blazers Need to Fix?

Well...everything. But here are the 3 things that killed them tonight:

1. Memphis had Portland's plays scouted, knew who to let score and who to guard, met all penetration with multiple shut-down players, and held Portland to 12-32 shooting in the paint (37.5%), 32-95 shooting overall (33.7%).

2. Portland managed to contain the Grizzlies' big duo of Gasol and Randolph for most of the game, giving themselves a chance. But Memphis' top 3 guards shot 17-30, 3-5 from the arc, and scored 45 points. Their Portland counterparts provided 9-32 shooting, 1-9 from distance, and 23 points. (7 of those points came off the 3-3 shooting performance of Allen Crabbe too, which makes the remainder look even worse.) If the Blazers don't show basic competence, this series is over.

3. Portland's saving grace, the three-pointer, failed them. Even though Memphis sacrificed defense at the arc to defend inside, the Blazers shot 8-26, 30.8%, at the arc. Can't have that.

Individual Notes

LaMarcus Aldridge gave all he could in this game but he was carrying the entire starting lineup by himself. It wasn't enough. Not yet noted in the Aldridge file: 4 blocks, only 2 turnovers despite an increased number of touches and shots, plus 2-5 three-point shooting.

Nicolas Batum was the second-best starter, and full marks to him. 15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3-6 triples hit.

Robin Lopez was a non-factor in 19 minutes. The Blazers don't prosper when Robin Lopez is a non-factor.

The less said about Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combining for 6-29 shooting, 16 points, and 3 assists in 76 minutes, the better. They did rebound (Lillard 8, McCollum 5) and they only turned over the ball once between them.

Chris Kaman, Allen Crabbe, and Meyers Leonard were the main guys off the bench and they all did well.

Kaman threatened to turn around Portland's miserable first half all by himself with adept rebounding and passing. He scored 7 with 6 rebounds and 2 assists in 14 minutes.

Crabbe went 3-3 for 7 in 15 minutes. He was one of the only players out there with proper body language.

Leonard hit 2-3 three-pointers for 7 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks in 16 minutes. Some folks speculated that Meyers might accomplish this against the Grizzlies due to his unorthodox style and their defensive preferences. The caveat was, Memphis probably wouldn't care. He did, and they didn't.

Looking Forward

Game 2 tips on Wednesday night at 5:00 Pacific. There are two ways to look at that long delay. The Blazers have 72 hours to wallow in their misery and futility, as they've lost all 5 games they've played against Memphis this year. The Blazers also have 72 hours to remember that they were manhandled, that the Grizzlies strutted and postured through the latter stages of this game, and that Memphis has zero reason to change their approach. This break provides a nice, long opportunity to conjure up heart, fury, and (just maybe) a better game plan.

The bad news for Portland fans: everything points to the Blazers losing Game 2 and heading home with a near-fatal 0-2 deficit in the series.

The good news for Portland fans: the Blazers only have to win 1 in Memphis to steal momentum and they've been pretty good at delivering surprises over the last 2 seasons. If hope is taken from you, fine, but you never give it up. That holds true for the team and its fans.


Instant Recap with reactions from around the web

Grizzly Bear Blues ain't singing them tonight.

Over the next couple days we're going to clue you in on the best chances for the Blazers to turn around Game 2. Plus you can bet we're going to have a doozy of a Blazer's Edge Podcast. Stay tuned!

--Dave / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge