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Memphis Grizzlies' Stout Defense Ices The Portland Trail Blazers

A rusty Damian Lillard returned to the court for the Portland Trail Blazers, but the Memphis Grizzlies used their trademark defense to pull away in the second half for a 91-78 victory.

It was that kind of night.
It was that kind of night.
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Short Version

The Portland Trail Blazers must be tired of seeing the Memphis Grizzlies. After three contests in the first two months of the season, the Blazers have had their fill of skilled big men, slow pace and harsh defense. Portland stuck around for the first half, but Memphis used some stingy second-half defense to stomp the turnover-prone Blazers, 91-78.

The Long Version

Both teams limped out to a slow first quarter, with missed shots and turnovers leading to a 3-2 score after three minutes. As Lillard tried to find his footing, Portland clanked their first seven shots, but Memphis responded by missing 9 of their first 11 as well. The Blazers slowly took the lead by a 6-5 score after the first six excruciating minutes. Portland came out of the timeout with different personnel but the same problems: Missed shots and turnovers. They scored zero points in the next three minutes, and if you give Memphis enough time, they'll take control. And behind their big men, they did, but only barely. With 9 minutes gone in the first, the Grizz led 11-6. Gerald Henderson saved the quarter, with a late dunk and three-point play to minimize the damage. Considering the start, it felt like a miracle that the Blazers were only behind 17-15 at the end of the first.

CJ McCollum used his mid-range floater to tie the score with the first possession of the second quarter, but Memphis finally found some hot shooting, scoring nine straight to temporarily regain their cushion. Lillard re-entered the game, but much like his first quarter stint, he had trouble finding his groove at both ends. He finally got on the board by using a desperation heave while being bumped on the perimeter. He was rewarded with three free throws. The Blazers increased their physical defense, leading to some missed shots from Memphis, and seemingly-accidentally found ways to score at the other end.  The Grizzlies stuck to their big-man bread-and-butter as the half wound down, but they found mixed results against Portland's defense. Despite Lillard and McCollum struggling, despite stumbling out of the gate to six points in the first nine minutes, despite having more turnovers than a bakery... Portland found themselves down 38-34 heading into the locker room. This game was available for the taking.

Lillard finally found the net early in the second half, swishing a three. Two possessions later, McCollum pulled up at the same spot, and swished a three of his own. Portland had the game tied, forcing a Memphis timeout. That was the end of the Blazers' hopes for victory. The Grizzlies picked up their defense afterward, frustrating the Blazers into tougher shots and passing turnovers. When Mario Chalmers sank a three-pointer, Memphis completed a 12-2 run to restore their 10 point lead. Tony Allen hit his second jumper of the game, leaving the Blazers frustrated and down 12. When Allen deflected a ball out of bounds, but the referee gave the ball to Memphis, Henderson had enough, giving the referee a mouthful. The ref responded by giving him the late-Christmas gift of a technical. Lillard had his pocket picked in the open court by Mario Chalmers, then ran down court and fouled Chalmers while he laid it in. One possession later, he made a lazy cross-court pass into the hands of Allen, leading to a one man fast break layup. By the end of the horrific quarter, the Blazers went from a 40-40 tie to a 70-52 deficit.

To open the fourth quarter, McCollum was called for consecutive offensive fouls, to the dismay (and boos) of the faithful in the Moda Center. But the Blazers would give them something to cheer for. With the Grizzlies' defense getting lighter, the Blazer bench cut the deficit to 13. The Blazers hit three consecutive three-pointers, finally cutting the Grizz lead into single digits at the halfway point of the fourth quarter. They had a chance to cut it further, but Al-Farouq Aminu missed a three, and Conley hit a layup at the other end. Meyers Leonard's three cut the deficit to eight, but Memphis kept hitting their shots to stem the tide. Portland responded with a Leonard turnover, a missed three from Lillard, and a missed layup by McCollum. The clock quickly became the enemy, and the Grizzlies calmly ran down the shot clock, then gave the ball to the previously-quiet Marc Gasol. Swish. From there, both teams played out the last few minutes to the inevitable conclusion.

The Game-Changer

At first glance, the game looks pretty close in the box score. Both teams shot nearly 39% from the field. Portland actually shot a higher three-point percentage, 25% to Memphis' 20%. Sometimes it's tough to find the problem, other times it screams at you: In a fairly slow-paced game, Memphis attempted 91 field goals (!) compared to Portland's 72. Why the discrepancy? Easy.

Turnovers: Memphis 11, Portland 21
Offensive Rebounds: Memphis 17, Portland 7

That's the game.

The Players

Damian Lillard garnered all the attention tonight, from both the fans and the Grizzlies. And he looked exactly like a player who'd just missed seven games due to Plantar Fasciitis. A little tentative at both ends, and with his timing just a little off, he tried to manufacture points to mixed success. He even slumped his shoulders a bit after multiple errors led to turnovers. Meanwhile, Memphis took advantage of Lillard's defense by using Randolph on the pick and roll. Lillard would lose his man, and both defenders followed the slasher. Randolph waited outside, received the pass on the perimeter, and both Blazer defenders were suddenly in no-man's land. Swish.

Lillard finished with 17 points on 4-14 shooting (a brutal 2-10 from deep), with 7 assists and 1 steal in 36 minutes. His seven turnovers were often of the "D'oh!" variety.

In the first half, CJ McCollum couldn't have found his shot if it was gift-wrapped and sitting in front of him, In fact, he might have tripped on it instead. He found one three-pointer in the opening minutes of the second half, but was otherwise stymied by Memphis' defense. He shot 6-17 (1-7 from downtown) with 4 assists and 3 turnovers.

With the Blazer guards combining to shoot 10-31 (3-17 from three) and give up 10 turnovers, they needed the rest of the team to cover. That wasn't in the cards tonight.

Al-Farouq Aminu did everything he could. He stood in the middle against the Memphis big men, scoring 15 points and collecting 14 rebounds in 34 minutes. This was his kind of game, and he seemed to be energized by the inside battle.

Speaking of energized, Mason Plumlee seems to truly enjoy the physical play of the Grizzlies. That gave him an excuse to lay down the lumber on everyone in sight. He's that tall guy at the Y who isn't the best player on the court, but is giving it 95-100% on every possession, much to the annoyance of the opposing team. If he wasn't wearing a Blazer jersey, I probably wouldn't enjoy seeing him come to town. He shot 1-6 for 3 points and 3 rebounds in 23 minutes.

Allen Crabbe's night was a reminder that he's still a pretty young player. Memphis comfortably handled him at both ends, but it felt like a game he can learn from. In 32 minutes he shot a solid 4-7 for 9 points with 6 rebounds.

Now let's talk about the players who seemed to discover temporary invisibility potions.

Ed Davis had limited minutes tonight. He put in a nice working man's defense on Zach Randolph, and battled in the lane. But he only pulled down one rebound, and missed both free throws taken. Stotts decided to go in a different direction.

About that different direction. It wasn't Meyers Leonard. He was so invisible, I literally forgot he was on the team when he subbed in during the fourth quarter. He was immediately involved in a sequence where he was out-worked by the Grizzlies for multiple offensive rebounds. He hit a three-pointer as part of the late-game Blazer run, but he was otherwise out-matched by the Grizz big men. Unlike last year's playoffs, when he caught the team off-guard, they looked well-prepared for Leonard tonight. He was a non-factor with 5 points and 5 boards.

Noah Vonleh did what he usually does: Grabs some rebounds, scores a few garbage points, and seems to fade into the background for random stretches, waiting for another shining moment, then back into the background. He had 2 points and 6 rebounds in 13 minutes.

Gerald Henderson, coming off a very nice game in Denver, had a quick hot stretch where he looked ready to take on the Grizzlies. Then we didn't see him much again. He contributed 7 points to the cause.

Moe Harkless somehow played 20 minutes. It's hard to remember more than two of them. He had a few nice passes, and one nifty bucket, but didn't seem to know how to handle the Grizzlies defense otherwise. His 2 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal in 20 minutes was at best a middle-of-the-road performance.

In his tradition of burning his former team whenever possible, Zach Randolph stole the night in his old arena. He scored 26 points off the bench, to go along with 18 rebounds (6 offensive). He was the usual force that Blazer fans expect when he's visiting town.

What's Next

This is the start of a nice long home stand for Portland, but it's not getting any easier. With Memphis in the books, the Blazers face the Clippers (Wednesday), Golden State (Friday), Oklahoma City (Sunday) and Utah (Next Wednesday). Oh boy.

Tomorrow, Chris Paul will arrive in Portland and stop by Alder Elementary to provide a nice financial assist. Kudos to the opposition when they're due.

Tonight's Box Score

Ryan's Instant Recap

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