Ask an old-time geezer (or Blazer’s Edge editor/lead moderator Timmay) about an effort that came close but was ultimately futile and they might describe it as “a day late and a dollar short”.
The Portland Trail Blazers got the “day late” part right as they faced off against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday evening. Winter storm conditions hammered the Rose City Saturday, forcing a one-day postponement of the contest. Nobody will ever accuse a team with a $113 million payroll of coming up a dollar short, though. If their current winning pace holds out, Neil Olshey’s finest will earn around $3.3 million per victory this season. The Blazers did manage to increase that per-victory payroll projection by coming up a point short, however...losing to the persistent Pistons 125-124 in a double-overtime thriller in which they lived and died by dominant guard play.
The first quarter of this game played out pretty much like you’d expect from the lineup cards. Andre Drummond was an out-of-control steamrolling dump truck on ice; the Blazers made like nuns carrying a plate glass window at the bottom of the hill. As he barreled towards them, they screamed, scattered, and watched the defense crash into shards. Drummond would score 11 in the first period off an assortment of short shots and offensive rebounds.
When Detroit’s height and bulk advantage wasn’t telling, Portland’s propensity for turnovers was. The Blazers spend the first quarter holding onto the ball like it was buttered Jell-o.
Between bad defense and worse ball-handling, the Blazers ended up ceding 31 points to the 100 ppg Pistons in the opening period alone. It looked like this would be a long night.
But just when all seemed lost...
“Excuse me sir, who is that masked man riding over the hill to save us?”
Why, m’am, that’s the Mid Ranger!
And ride he did. CJ McCollum matched Drummond’s first-quarter production blow-for-blow, scoring 11 via blistering marksmanship from beyond 15 feet. The masked marksman led Portland to 30 points in the period, escaping with a single-point deficit despite Detroit’s gonzo scoring spree.
The Blazers decided to be gracious hosts in the second quarter, serving the Pistons a gigantic, all-you-can-eat Crabbe roll. Portland’s reserve guard put Drummond AND McCollum to shame by scoring 17 in the period. Crabbe hit 3 triples en route to 7 made field goals, championing a 65% shooting, 26-point quarter for the Blazers. If Detroit had an answer, the halftime buzzer rang before they could write it down. Portland walked into the locker room up 56-53.
The third period played out more or less like the first. Drummond and McCollum remained relatively silent but Detroit still butchered the Blazers in the lane while Portland filleted them from distance. 14 points in the paint for the Pistons gave them 27 in the quarter. 15 points from beyond the arc gave Portland 31. The Blazers took a fairly comfortable 87-80 lead into the fourth.
The final quarter became a mash-up of all the earlier trends. McCollum scored 6, Crabbe 10, but Portland’s perimeter game started to fade as legs grew tired. Early-game turnovers took a brief encore bow, opening the door for the Pistons to come back. Reggie Jackson, an intermittent scorer up to that point, began to assert himself, scoring 9 points. Marcus Morris and Drummond shot over smaller defenders, often off switches that left Portland wings overmatched. The action was wild and the game began to slip the way of the Pistons.
Detroit pulled ahead by 4 with 2:30 remaining before a Crabbe three-pointer with 48 seconds left brought the Blazers within 1, 104-103. But Damian Lillard couldn’t stop Jackson at the other end and Portland held the ball down three, 106-103, with 24 seconds left. They fed Mason Plumlee in the middle. He tossed it to CJ McCollum on the edge. CJ’s three-pointer flew true and the game was tied at 106. Jackson’s final shot was blunted by Evan Turner’s defense and the game headed into overtime.
The overtime period started with Jackson trying to go one-on-everybody to little effect. Portland passed the ball for easy looks, building up a 3 point lead on the back of Plumlee’s renewed passing, rebounding, and pick-setting. Then Morris and Drummond spoke again and the Pistons crawled back within one. When Jackson finally caught fire and hit a couple, Detroit took the lead 114-111 with 24 seconds remaining. Deja vu. Deja vu. Just as happened at the end of regulation, Plumlee flicked a pass to McCollum who drained another three to knot the score. Turner once more defended Jackson into a miss at the buzzer. A second overtime was on the way.
Plumlee stepped from supporting player to full-fledged star in the final OT. He defended brilliantly, rebounded rabidly, and assisted on 4 of Portland’s 5 made buckets. McCollum canned a trio of shots and Al-Farouq Aminu an opportunistic 2, leaving the Blazers with a healthy 124 points. It looked like that would be enough, too, as Aminu’s second shot put the Blazers up by 5 with 1:40 to play. But in the cruelest of cruel jokes, the team that had stayed alive via hot long-range shooting died by same. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope took advantage of the attention paid to Jackson, splashing a pair of three-pointers. Despite some fine hustle, Portland’s final possessions ended in a turnover and missed jumpers from McCollum and Lillard. 125-124 was a bitter pill to swallow as the Blazers fell to 16-23 on the season after one of their more balanced efforts.
Portland’s guards were brilliant tonight. McCollum took the scoring crown, hitting 16 of 28 shots for 35 points. Crabbe scored a career-high 30 on 12-15 shooting. That’s 65 points from backcourt players not named Lillard. And speaking of Dame, he looked winded in the second half, perhaps showing effects of his recent injury. But gee, an off night for him amounted to 20 points. Let’s say that again: the guard who scored 20 all but disappeared. That’s the kind of night it was.
By the way, Evan Turner also had 5 assists and played good defense down the stretch.
So how the heck did the Blazers end up losing a game in which nearly everybody played gloriously?
- Andre Drummond was limited only by his own energy level. He scored 28 points with 14 rebounds, 4 steals, and 2 blocks as he made hash of the Blazers inside.
- Detroit scored 66 points in the paint.
- 19 Portland turnovers led to 28 Pistons points.
- Detroit couldn’t stop Portland’s primary options but they did a good job containing other players, meaning the Blazers’ guards hit or their team was sunk. Portland couldn’t contain Detroit’s big scorers either, but the Blazers also blinked first when defending secondary options Morris and Caldwell-Pope. Size disparity accounted for some of that, but half of it was the simple fact that Portland’s best defenders couldn’t be everywhere at once. Defensive cracks allowed Detroit just enough room to wriggle through for the victory.
The Blazers showed a mix of defensive approaches tonight. Early on they sent big men to attack screen plays aggressively. As the game progressed they retreated into their more standard coverage, salting in the attacking defense upon occasion. With the game on the line and Reggie Jackson in isolation they depended on Evan Turner to save the day all by himself. Results were just as mixed. Turner was great, the aggressive defense was good enough, but the standard defense was saved more by Detroit’s bench being outclassed than by any particular quality of Portland.
Despite flashes of adequacy, the Blazers’ defense didn’t hold up in aggregate. The Pistons average 45% from the field this year; the Blazers allowed them 51%. Detroit scores 100 points per game; the Blazers allowed them 106 in regulation and 125 overall. The Pistons aren’t exactly dominant inside, generating 42 paint points per game. Portland allowed them 58 in regulation, 66 by the time it was all over.
This game featured the best offense Portland could muster bolstered by timely and sensible contributions from multiple role players. They still lost because they could not defend. That should be a wake-up call to everyone involved. The excuses are running dry. If the Blazers cannot stop the Pistons from scoring 125 on them at home when they desperately need to string a few wins together, who will they be able to stop, and when?
This was a pretty loss, but it was still a loss. At some point the “L” drowns out all the descriptors that modify it. 39 games into the season, the Blazers are rapidly approaching that point.
CJ McCollum was like a 64-ounce butterscotch milkshake tonight: so good it makes you sick. We already mentioned his 35 points on 16-28 shooting. We should also talk about his 6 assists and the fact that he did not look bad on defense for most of the game. If there was a right spot to be found on the floor tonight, CJ was in it. If there’s any doubt that he’s arrived, it’s gone.
Allen Crabbe made up for a host of 30-minute, 6-point efforts by pouring in a career-high 30 on 80% shooting (Shaq doesn’t do that, y’all) including 5-5 from the arc. Every time the Pistons thought they dodged McCollum’s razor-sharp attack, they heard a breathy “Gee...gee...gee Haw...haw...haw” coming from Crabbe as they cowered under the stairs.
Portland’s one-two punch was FANTASTIC...everything you’ve ever dreamed from either of these players. Best of all, none of it seemed forced. The ball moved; Portland totaled 32 assists on 51 made shots. 30+ assists is easy with Crabbe and McCollum making every pass look smart.
Mason Plumlee is going to get grief for not being able to match up with Andre Drummond. Few people do and Plumlee is not equipped for that challenge physically. Instead he should get wheelbarrows full of credit for becoming the hub of Portland’s attack as the game wound down. His passing, rebounding, and point-to-point defense were impeccable. He finished the game with 8 points on 4-12 shooting, but also 6 offensive rebounds (Drummond had but 2), 3 blocks, and A DOZEN ASSISTS. This will not register as a dominant performance but for a basketball connoisseur, Plumlee’s showing was as good as it gets for a spotlight-free center.
Al-Farouq Aminu shot 7-10 for 16 points with 8 rebounds and we’ve barely mentioned him. This was one of his best outings of the season; he was just overshadowed by his fellow starters.
Damian Lillard should be praised for stepping out of the center of the offense when McCollum and Crabbe went radioactive. He could have demanded his touches and shots. He didn’t. As we said in the analysis, 20 points plus 9 rebounds and 5 assists is not a bad “off night”. Two trends marred Lillard’s evening: 5 turnovers hurt and lack of defense hurt worse. Again, Lillard looked markedly slower as the game progressed. Injury may be playing into his shortcomings.
Evan Turner had 5 assists and 2 steals in 25 minutes. Despite his modest 4-point scoring total, he did his job...particularly on last-possession defense.
Maurice Harkless was the only starter whose impact was blunted tonight. He scored 5 on 1-4 shooting and Crabbe ate his minutes.
Meyers Leonard hit a pair of threes in 18 minutes of play but couldn’t connect with anything else, shooting 2-8 from the field overall.
Noah Vonleh played 13 minutes, didn’t attempt a shot, and tallied 2 rebounds and 2 assists.
Links and Such
Detroit Bad Boys will love that ending.
The Trail Blazers fly to L.A. to take on the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night.
Blazer’s Edge Night 2017
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