Portland Trail Blazers fans rejoice! Not only did the Trail Blazers complete one of the most treacherous road trips of the season today against the Boston Celtics, they did it in style. The game wasn’t pretty, the margin never safe, but the Blazers ended up executing just a wee bit better than the Celtics in the midst of a frantic overtime period, taking the game 127-123 to assuage bitter memories and rekindle hope.
Almost nothing that happened in the first 47 minutes of this contest endured through the game-deciding crossroads, so we’ll summarize.
- Evan Turner and Noah Vonleh started in Portland’s frontcourt.
- The first period belonged to CJ McCollum. His dozen points accounted for almost half of Portland’s 26.
- The Blazers couldn’t stop Jae Crowder at the three-point arc so McCollum’s fireworks went for naught. Boston led after one and went up by 9 at the half.
- Portland collected fouls in the first half like they were playing Pokemon Go with whistle pitches. By halftime McCollum, Vonleh, Damian Lillard, and Mason Plumlee were either in foul trouble or flirting with it like it winked at them over a beer.
- Portland’ fortunes turned right after intermission as they manhandled the Celtics on the glass, using rebounds to bully their way back into a tie before the clock read 8:00.
- Meyers Leonard went kind of crazy, throwing down dunks and three-pointers with aplomb. His final three of the third period left the Blazers up 88-86 heading into the fourth.
- The second unit defended admirably on the inside during both their shifts tonight, most notably in the fourth quarter. Nobody, anywhere dealt with perimeter screens or closed on perimeter shooters. As a result, no matter how strenuously the Blazers strove for an offensive landslide win, Boston stayed right with them.
- Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas bothered Portland all game but he came down like a sledgehammer in the fourth, scoring approximately a billion? Maybe two.
- Throughout the second half and overtime the Blazers caught up in the free-throw shooting department, which helped them blunt Thomas’ impact.
This brings us down to the last 10 seconds of regulation. After Thomas missed a shot, leaving Portland up 111-110, Lillard got pinned under the bucket, ball in hand. Celtics guard Marcus Smart looked to be taking the intentional foul for possession but instead got a really good swipe on the ball. He made contact with Lillard’s fingers; to the extent the hand is part of the ball, that strip was clean. Smart turned and laid in the go-ahead bucket unopposed but a whistle was already ringing through the air: no bucket, foul. Lillard sank the ensuing free throws and Portland led 113-110. Boston got redemption immediately as they ran Thomas as a decoy and screened for Terry Rozier at the arc. His triple went through and the game headed to overtime.
The extra period was a mish-mash of broken beauty for both sides. Fresh off their success with long-range shooting, the Celtics decided to do nothing but. They missed. A lot. Portland edged ahead on a McCollum free throw and a Lillard step-back. Then Boston went inside, riding Al Horford in the post and swarming for offensive rebounds. Portland’s lack of size and bulk hurt them. When Thomas splashed a three with 1:23 remaining, the Celtics led 118-117.
That’s approximately the time Boston’s defense ran out. The final 90 seconds of play was punctuated by the Celtics blowing coverage, failing to foul bad free throw shooters in timely fashion, and not rebounding. Portland kept the pressure on by going to the hoop and drawing foul shots, which they hit.
The Blazers still couldn’t contain Thomas, however. He earned two free throws off a layup attempt that could easily have been an and-one. He added another three-pointer for good measure. That gave the Celtics 123 points. Portland finished with 127. In the battle of “who’s gonna screw this up least”, the Blazers ended up with the much-welcome edge.
If the praise in the recap sounds muted, it is somewhat. Play the final minute of regulation and/or the five minutes of overtime repeatedly under the same conditions and each team would probably come away with 5 wins out of 10. It wasn’t a convincing victory; anybody who utters the phrase “turned the corner” should have their mouth washed out with OxiClean and dried with a Shamwow.
That said, this was a win. The Blazers have been finding ways to lose games like this lately and deserve full credit for coming out with the “W”. They ended up with MARVELOUS performances from McCollum and Leonard, most everybody else who saw the floor contributed positively, and they held up through a barrage of shooting and intimidation by the Celtics. They were tested tonight—not completely and not perfectly, but tested nonetheless—and they passed.
If problems showed up for the Blazers tonight beyond the usual defensive bugaboos (screens, close-outs, occasionally dribble penetration), they came in the form of size. When we say the Blazers are great athletes, we mean they’re springy, tricky, and quick. But being quick isn’t everything. It isn’t anything when someone with as much talent as you, plus ripped arms and legs, plus core strength, plus 20 extra pounds shoves you out of the way for a rebound or impedes your way to the hoop.
Fortunately the Celtics only had one guard as talented as Portland’s. Their frontcourt advantage showed up in rebounding but didn’t hurt the Blazers too badly anywhere else. That, along with forcing 21 Boston turnovers, is your ballgame.
Can we talk about how good CJ McCollum is? He’s as good as a Niagara Falls of caramel foaming into a pond of soft serve next to a field of spoon bushes. He carried his team tonight. Every time they needed settling down or perking up, CJ was the guy. 11-21 shooting is pretty normal for him, but check out 10-13 from the foul line, superstar. 3-6 from the arc didn’t hurt. 35 points, 3 steals, and the game ball.
Hello, Meyers Leonard! Allen Crabbe and Al-Farouq Aminu scored 17 points combined tonight, accounting for half of Portland’s bench total. Leonard matched them for the other half. 17 points in 25 minutes off of threes and smash dunks is a FINE THING.
Mason Plumlee soldiered on through 11 rebounds and 8 assists the way Mason Plumlee does. He makes life easier for the guards. If he could just score reliably... ahhh... nevermind. (sigh)
Damian Lillard scored 28 on 9-21 shooting with 7 assists. Anybody in the league would take 28-7; the Blazers needed it tonight too. I will say this. Right now he looks more like Early Damian in the way he’s pressing his offense than Confident Damian that we saw late in the LaMarcus Aldridge Era.
Evan Turner scored 12 in the start. The Blazers relied on him for guard defense and he did well, except when he didn’t. Fair enough; Isaiah Thomas and those Boston guards are a nightmare for anyone. Turner got a little more into the rhythm of handling the ball and initiating offense but it appeared that the option was him OR the starting guards, not AND. 12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, 5 fouls.
Noah Vonleh collected 6 fouls in 17 minutes but added 4 offensive rebounds, 3 steals, and 4-8 shooting. Aside from those steals, he was overmatched when playing defense. Boston’s game plan included copious doses of leaving everyone open but Lillard and McCollum. Vonleh knew what to do when he was open,
Neither Aminu nor Crabbe could hit a shot, open or otherwise. (Mostly open.) Moe Harkless looked like he was in a funk, all but zeroing out the stat line.
Links and Such
STAY TUNED for a report from Eric Griffith, who was on-site and credentialed for this game in TD Garden.
Celticsblog will give you the other side of this one.
The road-weary Blazers return home to face the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night. That will begin a 5-game home stand.
Blazer’s Edge Night 2017
Want to assist us in sending 2,000+ underprivileged Portland-area kids to a Trail Blazers game this spring? Check out Blazer’s Edge Night 2017 for information on how to get involved, and help spread the word!