The Portland Trail Blazers found themselves inching toward the playoffs as they approached tonight's game with the Miami Heat. But without the injured Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the tired Heat were no match for the rested Blazers, who blew Miami out of the building after a tight first quarter.
With the win, the Blazers closed to within one-half game of the idle Memphis Grizzlies for the 5th seed in the Western Conference. It also guaranteed the Blazers a minimum of a .500 season, after preseason analyst predictions of 25-30 wins.
The Blazers were led by CJ McCollum with 24 points, Damian Lillard with 18, Gerald Henderson and Mason Plumlee with 17, and Moe Harkless with 14. The Blazers spread the scoring around the team, and finished the game with the deep bench on the court.
Both teams came out slow to open the game. In fact, ninety seconds in, the score was still 1-0. The Blazers spread the minimal scoring around, with McCollum, Harkless, Plumlee and Lillard all getting on the board, and Portland maintained a slim lead through most of the quarter. However, the Heat jumped into the lead when former Blazer Josh McRoberts hit a three-pointer. Both teams found a way to score one more time, leaving the Heat holding a minimal lead after the first.
Miami 22, Portland 20
Miami scored the first three points of the second quarter to take a five point lead. That was when the good times ended for the Heat. Portland's bench took control, scoring 13 straight points to turn a 20-25 deficit into a 33-25 lead, capped by a McCollum three-pointer. Miami bounced back, with help from a Josh Richardson three-pointer, to pull within three again. Then the Blazer onslaught arrived. Henderson. Harkless. More Harkless. Then Lillard returns and joins in. When the Heat finally catch their breath, the Blazers led 57-39 late in the quarter. Miami had to hope their luck turned around in the second half.
Portland 59, Miami 42
The third quarter was basically a check box of everything the Heat could possibly do wrong, and they willingly checked every box as they tediously gave the game away.
Stop playing great, aggressive defense. They did this in spades. In the first quarter the Heat played over the top of pick and rolls, anticipated plays and jumped on turnovers at every opportunity. They looked liked there was semblance of team defense being played by Miami’s bigs while the Heat guards pestered out on the perimeter. All of that went out the window in a hurry.
Dragic picked up an early (ridiculously dumb) foul on Lillard to get him pulled from the game nearly instantly. Amare Stoudamire looked like Amare Stoudamire in his 14th NBA season. Hassan Whiteside, glorious blocks and all made Meyers Leonard’s pick and roll coverage look Rodman-esque by comparison.
Meanwhile Portland kicked it up to 88 MPH and 1.21 Gigawatts- went back in time and remembered they’re a much better team when they play defense. Forcing turnovers and getting into the open court proved fruitful as Portland opened up a 20 point lead in a hurry.
It wasn’t like the Blazers were doing anything out of this world. Miami just wasn’t interested in stopping anyone in the half-court or open court. Heck, they wouldn’t have used the effort to pick up a free dessert at a food court. Damian Lillard got to the free throw line at will. CJ McCollum knocked it down from all over. Mason Plumlee scampered to the rim at will. Portland got whatever they wanted and they didn’t even really have to take it. Miami mostly rolled over and showed their belly for much of the 3rd quarter.
Pack up any semblance of a recognizable half court offense. In the first half the Heat showed a little bit of organization, forcing Portland to play more than one pass per possession. After that though it was semi-isolation/quasi-pick and roll. The fact that I can’t accurately describe what was going on should tell you all you need to know. It was a dumpster fire.
Early on Miami was able to score inside off initial post ups and drives, and if those weren’t there then Whiteside was there to rebound the ball and put it back in. That well went awful dry in the second half. The Blazers kept a body or two on Whiteside, the guards and forwards helped with the rebounding and no one on Miami really offered any help to Whiteside. Miami had no answers through the third quarter.
Portland 86, Miami 67.
The 4th quarter was more of the same. Portland got whatever they wanted offensively, Miami waived the white flag defensively and both teams played to the status quo that had been established.
Miami never really threatened and only attempted to push the pace for the first minute or so of the 4th quarter before packing it up and moving on to their next game. The reserves got to check in with almost five minutes of game time and Chris Kaman went inside pivot-spin on the post for two late to put a nice bow on the game.
Portland travels to Oakland tonight, for a tough game against the Warriors tomorrow night. Then they get one night off, and straight into another back-to-back, in Sacramento and at home against Oklahoma City. But stay here, Eric Griffith will have more analysis of tonight's game later.
[Thanks to the unflappable Dan Marang for covering the second half of tonight's recap]