Coming off a big 96-79 drubbing of the Houston Rockets Saturday, the Portland Trail Blazers kept things exciting Monday, when it completed a short two-game road trip visiting the surging Memphis Grizzlies at FedEx Forum.
It would be the final meeting between the two squads this season, the Blazers splitting the series evenly 2-2. Both sides saved its best for last, bidding adieu with a grind-it-out overtime thriller, spurred by an improbable tip-in by Allen Crabbe in the closing seconds of regulation to steal a hard-fought victory on the road.
The Blazers were led by Damian Lillard (33 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists), CJ McCollum (21 points, 6 assists, 3 steals) and Gerald Henderson (16 points, 3 rebounds). The Grizzlies were led by Mike Conley (27 points, 3 assists) and Zach Randolph (26 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists).
In typical Memphis fashion, the Grizzlies immediately made its presence known at the defensive end - the pesky backcourt combo of Conley and Tony Allen pressured Portland's guards just about everywhere, and Memphis solidified what seemed to be a wall preventing any penetration whatsoever beyond the three-point line.
With the the inner 2/3 of the half-court all but barricaded, the Blazers relied heavily on outside shooting to keep afloat, as Memphis burst out to a quick 18-12 lead out of the gates on Marc Gasol's jumper. Meyers Leonard drilled a straightaway bomb from distance to put Portland on the board, and Lillard joined the party adding two more of his own.
Withstanding Memphis' opening run, 11 points from Lillard kept Portland close. The Grizz perhaps lost a bit of its momentum towards the end of the period when Gasol, who's been battling a nagging foot injury, left to the locker room noticeably limping and would not return.
End of First: Portland 25, Memphis 27
Without its defensive anchor, the Grizzlies had a time and half trying to keep Portland's cutters out of the lane. Al-Farouq Aminu used a quick first-step to twice blow past 39-year-old Vince Carter straight to the bucket, finishing with a pretty finger roll.
While he didn't shoot particularly well, McCollum distributed the rock nicely, picking up five assists in the first half as the Blazers started to take control. He converted a pick-and-roll with the help of Ed Davis early in the second to tie the game, and then hit a jumper on the next trip to give Portland a 31-29 lead.
Conley had a bit of hop to his step and looked aggressive offensively in Gasol's absence, scoring 15 points in the half to help counter Lillard's 20. Both even managed to catch the other for four-point-plays just a minute apart from each other late in half.
Sticking with the earlier trend, Lillard, McCollum and Maurice Harkless all connected from range to hold on to a slight advantage heading into the locker room.
Halftime: Portland 51, Memphis 49
In what would be hardly any surprise to Blazer fans, Randolph came out for the second half swinging, assuming the role as focal point of the Grizzly offense. Memphis fed Z-Bo in the post just about every possession for the entire third quarter, scoring 14 points and grinding the pace to proverbial halt.
There's something to say about Randolph's game in that it looks just as, if not more effective now in 2016 than back in 2007, when he last donned a Blazer uni.
Lillard continued his own run, knocking down a couple more threes, the second of which gave Portland a five-point lead at 72-67. McCollum, Henderson and Crabbe started to find a rhythm themselves, but Matt Barnes and Mario Chalmers answered with two threes of their on in the final minute to close the gap almost instantly.
End of Third: Portland 78, Memphis 78
You get the feeling when playing the Grizzlies that crunch time begins just about when the fourth quarter starts, and Monday was no exception. After shooting greater than 50% for much of the evening, both teams struggled to put points on the board early during the final frame.
Henderson re-claimed the lead with a corner three early in the quarter, only to be returned to Memphis minutes later on JaMychel Green's jumper. The Grizz then pushed the lead to five after Lillard failed to draw a foul on his driving layup which led to the easy fast-break outlet to Chalmers.
Five more points from Henderson, including a sweet turnaround fadeaway along the right baseline over Barnes restored the tie before McCollum and Conley traded baskets as the advantage see-sawed back and forth.
Trailing by three during the final minute, McCollum buried a tough foul-line fader over Allen, and then Portland managed to force a Jeff Green miss at the other end to retain possession, down one, with 30 seconds to go. Following a controversial timeout (caused by an inadvertent whistle from official Bennie Adams) Lillard converted a layup to pull the Blazers ahead 101-100.
It looked as though Conley would have the last laugh, as he calmly drained a top-of-the-key jumper to give the Grizzlies the lead back with just seconds to go - Lillard got a decent look along the baseline, but the shot fell short - Allen secured the rebound and was fouled heading the other way.
However, Allen split the free throws, leaving the door open for Portland to have one final look - Lillard missed a potential game-winning three, and tips from Davis and McCollum fell just off before Crabbe's tap of destiny forced overtime in just the nick of time. Replay confirmed the final touch was just milliseconds before the buzzer.
End of Fourth: Portland 102, Memphis 102
The extra frame belonged entirely to McCollum - he scored the first six points of the period and never looked back. Conley and Randolph threatened to make it close in the final minute, but Lillard knocked down his free throws to ice the game.
Gutsy win for the road team.
Portland gets a day's rest and then returns to the Moda Center Wednesday for a national TV matchup against the Houston Rockets - tip is set for 7:30 pm. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Dave Deckard.
-- Ryan Rosback | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
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