The good news for Portland Trail Blazers fans after Game 2 of their series with the Memphis Grizzlies: Portland played better tonight. They had a lead after the first quarter and never got down by 20.
The bad news for Portland Trail Blazers fans: the outcome was pretty much the same, as the Blazers lost 82-97, giving Memphis a 6-0 record against them this season and a 2-0 lead in the series.
The Blazers started off the game fairly well. After allowing Mike Conley a nearly-inexcusable layup on the first possession, Portland played tough defense, hustled, rebounded, and held Memphis to 9 points in the opening 6 minutes of the game. The Grizzlies aided Portland's efforts, abandoning the strategies that worked so well for them in Game 1, force-feeding Marc Gasol in the extended post as if he were the second coming of LaMarcus Aldridge. He wasn't and it didn't work.
Meanwhile the Blazers used Actual LaMarcus Aldridge to great advantage. He hit 4 of 6 shots in the quarter, all but one from 17 feet or deeper. This pulled the Grizzlies defense far enough outside the lane that Aldridge's teammates had a legitimate chance to score. Three-pointers from Aldridge and Allen Crabbe added juice to the scoreboard. Turnovers provided the only real difficulty the Blazers faced in the period. Miscues were offset somewhat by offensive rebounds and it all worked out. The Blazers led 21-19 after one. It wasn't exactly classic Portland basketball but it was a darn sight better than they'd played on Sunday.
Unfortunately 21 points in a quarter would prove the apex for the Blazers tonight. They managed only 18 in the second, 21 again in the third, then broke through with a whopping 22 in the fourth. 25 points is the baseline for a decent offensive period. The Blazers didn't make it even once.
Technically Memphis only topped 25 once themselves. They scored 19 in the first, 23 in the third, and 24 in the fourth. Unfortunately that single, above-average quarter was a 31-point explosion. Right after playing their best basketball of the series, the Blazers got smashed by a demoralizing 31-18 margin in the second and took a dismal 50-39 deficit into halftime. They never recovered.
That second period instituted, then cemented, the trends that would spell Portland's doom.
Turnovers continued to plague the Blazers throughout the evening. The cost in points for the game (16) might not have been great but the Blazers couldn't afford to lose shot attempts against this defense. Every time the door opened, Portland would fumble it shut again. The Blazers only forced 5 turnovers from the Grizzlies against 13 given away, which didn't help.
After a slow start, Memphis started ripping rebounds away from Portland. The Blazers were excellent on the offensive glass in the first, a trend that carried over from Game 1. After that they got dominated. Memphis led 21-6 in second-chance points at the half and would finish the game with a 29-12 advantage. There's no way the Blazers could afford to give up such a huge margin when they were searching so hard for ways to win. Instead of gaining more advantages, they gave up one.
Ironically enough, Portland's relatively good defense (42.7% shooting allowed, a modest 44 points allowed in the paint) may have contributed to Memphis' rebounding numbers. Time and again a Portland player would make a good defensive stand and force the miss, but no teammate moved to secure the rebound. It was like the Blazers expected Memphis' shots to fall and were surprised when they didn't. We saw serious effort from LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez defending the lane, but nobody else followed up.
Portland's guards got used again tonight. "Dominated" isn't a good enough word for it. They were abominated.
Allen Crabbe started the game and probably played the best of all the guards, if only because his shot attempts totaled 2 in 23 minutes and he hit one of them. Not only was he the only Portland guard to sniff 50% shooting, he was the only guard topping 33%.
Damian Lillard shot 5-16 in 40 minutes, missing 4 of 5 three-point attempts.
If M. Night Shyamalan were to remake "Unbreakable" with NBA shooters, he could cast CJ McCollum alongside Steph Curry and replicate the story exactly. McCollum missed three-pointers, layups, and everything between on his way to a 3-13, 6-point performance in 29 minutes.
Shooting wasn't the only issue. Lillard, McCollum, Crabbe, and Steve Blake combined for 101 minutes tonight. Between them they totaled 2 assists.
Again, that's 2 assists in 101 combined minutes.
On the other end Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Beno Udrih, and Vince Carter had their way with Portland's guards. Check out the chart:
That is not pretty.
With those numbers on display, it won't surprise you that the Grizzlies outstripped the Blazers from the arc 8-16 (50%) versus 6-20 (30%). This is like Mr. Wizard strapping on a bikini, taking a selfie, and outdrawing Kendall Jenner on Instagram. Should...not...happen.
With McCollum in a serious funk and Chris Kaman out with an ankle injury, Portland's bench managed only 16 points tonight against 32 for Memphis. Then again, Memphis had the luxury of playing their bench longer, as they led comfortably through every period but the first.
And that's the chilling point for Blazers fans. Coach Stotts played Aldridge and Nicolas Batum 42 minutes tonight, Lillard 40, Lopez 31. This was the best the Blazers had to offer in terms of talent and lineup. Plus the Blazers did a great job containing Gasol (4-15 for 15 points) and Zach Randolph (5-16 for 10 points), forcing them into as bad of an outing as can be imagined. Portland's bigs could hardly have played better, their starters could not have played longer. And still, the game wasn't really close.
The Blazers did not win a single statistical category convincingly tonight. They edged Memphis 42-41 in total rebounds, 8-7 in blocks, and shot 16-18 versus 13-14 for the Grizzlies at the foul line. That's it as far as "advantages". Meanwhile they lost big-time in field goals made, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, assist, steals, turnovers, points in the paint, and second-chance points.
The Blazers have to hope that home cooking is really good for them and food-poisoning-level bad for the Grizzlies. Otherwise this series is going to be short, brutish, and nasty.
It looked like the team started to figure that out tonight too. Even when they pulled within single digits during a 4th-quarter mini-run there was more panic and bumble in their game than swagger. When they couldn't claw back, resignation took hold. Lack of focus typified the evening Lack of response to the Grizzlies' challenge also haunted their play.
Like Dorothy, the Blazers will spend the next 72 hours clicking their heels and saying, "There's no place like home." If the Good Witch of the North waves her wand over the three-point shooting, maybe the Blazers have a chance. 100 points would have tied Game 1 and won this one. But the Blazers are ending up way closer to 80 than 100. The Moda Center is good for a few points, but 15-18? We'll have to see.
LaMarcus Aldridge continues to play impressive individual defense. He's the one Trail Blazer in the trenches and working hard. 14 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 2 steals on the evening testify to his effort. He looked comfortable in the offense in the first quarter but as the second half unfolded he reverted to emergency-exit shots that bounced astray. As the team struggles you can see pressure mounting on his shoulders and watch his moves quicken in response. It's not a good thing. We haven't seen it all year. If Portland's guards don't help carry the offensive load we can probably expect more performances like tonight's 7-20, 24 points. That won't be enough.
Damian Lillard: 5-16 for 18 points, 1-5 from distance, 7-8 from the foul line, 1 assist, 2 rebounds. His counterpart shot 6-11 and scored 18. This was not Lillard's finest hour.
Nicolas Batum had 7 rebounds and 7 assists in 42 minutes. But he also committed 4 turnovers. Aldridge matched that turnover number but he was pressured far more than Nic, who just looked sloppy. He shot 5-15 and scored 11...not enough for that long of a stretch.
Like Aldridge, Robin Lopez came to play. He set really nice screens, remained active on defense, tried his best hopping out to guard shooters then hopping back to protect the rim. He hit 5-6 shots, scored 10, added 2 blocks and 6 rebounds in 31 minutes.
Allen Crabbe started and didn't make a fool of himself. But he scored only 3 points in 23 minutes. CJ McCollum played 29 minutes and scored 6 points. That's a combined 52 minutes of off-guard play and 9 points to show for it.
Arron Afflalo will be back for Game 3 but there's no guarantee he'll be 100%, able to shoot much, or ready for long minutes. Question: if you're getting minimal scoring from your shooting guard position anyway, don't you have to consider playing Alonzo Gee, getting the same number of points but adding good defense to the package? Plus Gee might have hit some of the threes McCollum missed tonight. He was wide open.
Meyers Leonard was the only non-ironic, non-futile bright spot for the Blazers tonight. He hit 4-5 shots, 2-2 three-pointers, grabbed 7 rebounds, and didn't play worse defense than anybody else in 18 minutes of duty. It's no good calling for more Leonard, as he's not going to bend this series on his own. As we've said before, he will probably do well against Memphis and Memphis probably won't care. But it's nice to see one guy excelling without reservation.
Joel Freeland played 4 minutes, Steve Blake 9. Freeland got a rebound. Blake registered the dreaded 9 trillion on the boxscore, zeroing out everything but his minutes.
The Blazers and Grizzlies face off again in the Moda Center on Saturday night. Between now and then we'll get into deeper analysis of the series, show you more about what went right and wrong in Game 2, and let you know what the Blazers really, really need to change this time for Game 3.
Grizzly Bear Blues has got to be riding high right now. If you go over there remember...don't taunt them and if they come at you, don't run away. Just stand still and try not to look like prey.