The Portland Trail Blazers faced the Memphis Grizzlies tonight fresh off an up-and-down weekend, embarking on a five-game road trip during which they need to make some noise. Portland’s ride resembled a roller coaster. Flat stretches gave way to upward swoops and treacherous falls. Twists and turns abounded, including in the ankle of star point guard Damian Lillard. In the end, the Blazers emerged cheering, notching a 100-92 victory to start their week of travel right.
Portland’s offense struggled to start the game, missing 7 of their first 8 shots and added a couple turnovers besides. The shots Portland did get were good for the most part. Memphis didn't start much better, but three straight baskets by their franchise big man, Marc Gasol, followed by a three from Chandler Parsons, gave them an early 17-8 lead. The ball picked up speed on the offensive end for Portland and the good looks kept coming as the Blazers knocked down 4 of 6 three pointers. But that same speed and aggression also led to six first quarter turnovers. The Blazers trailed 23-24 after one.
Just like they did Saturday against Sacramento, Meyers Leonard, Ed Davis, and Shabazz Napier came up big off of the Blazer bench to give Portland an early cushion to start the second quarter. Leonard was feeling it as much as anyone not named CJ McCollum, starting the game 4-4 from the field. As the second quarter continued, ball movement led to player movement, which led to drawn fouls, offensive rebounds, and good shots. Memphis went cold as the Blazers heated up and Portland went on a 26-5 run.
A scary moment came as Lillard stepped awkwardly on the foot of Parsons, clearly turning his right ankle. He walked to the locker room shortly after. An ensuing Memphis run brought the Grizzlies within 5, but Portland still closed the half with a 55-46 lead.
An early Lillard three in the third kept hope strong for the Blazers. But Portland turned to alternating turnovers and post ups for Vonleh and Nurkic. That resulted in a 12-0 Memphis run to tie the game at 67. The struggling Portland offense led to Memphis baskets at the rim, a rarity earlier in the game. A couple Napier baskets at the end of the quarter allowed the Blazers to carry a slight 72-71 lead into the fourth.
The Blazers’ offensive struggles carried over into the early fourth quarter with turnovers on their first two possessions. Both teams raised the physicality defensively. The refs let them play. Portland possessions continually ended in players looking for a foul that wasn't coming. When Memphis needed a basket, Gasol was the guy; scoring 7 of the first 10 Memphis points to keep the game close. Portland finally found their groove, attacking the basket and getting shots at the rim. McCollum hit the only two shots outside of the key in the quarter including a 22-footer with 34 seconds left to give Portland a 6 point lead. After missing the game winner against Memphis in Portland just two weeks ago, CJ ended up with the clincher in this one as the Blazers came away with a 100-92 win.
The Grizzlies have been struggling, and were without point guard Mike Conley tonight. The Blazers may have gotten some calls, and the game was pretty ugly at times. But this was a good win for Portland. Every team has their ups and downs, but good teams are able to respond in moments of adversity. That is exactly what Portland did tonight.
The Blazers may be led by two offense-first talents in McCollum and Lillard, but their defense that been winning games for them. Memphis struggled to get any kind of easy shot at the rim and Portland dominated the boards on both ends of the floor. Portland taking away easy looks early kept the Grizzlies out of any kind of rhythm offensively. When Memphis got back into the game late in the third, it was because they were able to get good shots into the key. Paint control was a huge factor in this game.
Portland may not have played great, but they played hard. Winning the rebounding battle 60-35 and finishing with 15 turnovers to Memphis’ 8 were both indicative of this.
The Blazers got contributions from almost everyone that stepped out on the floor tonight, which can’t be said for most of the games they've played. It was a good way to start to 5 game road trip.
Noah Vonleh - Vonleh is notorious for his ‘under the radar’ contributions, but he was loud today. His monster 18-rebound performance was only part of it. He looked ready to score when he touched the ball and pulled off one of the most confident drives I have ever seen from him early in the fourth. He got pinned a few times on defense after losing focus, but when the game got physical and points were hard to come by, he stepped up on both sides of the floor. If Noah has a typical Noah Vonleh game, the Blazers do not win this one.
Damian Lillard - Lillard’s ankle did not look 100% after twisting it in the first half. The severity of the ankle is the biggest take away from Lillard’s game. He was able to play in the second half and even tried to dunk, both good signs for Portland. When Lillard faces the 76ers in Portland’s next game, he may not be 100%.
Meyers Leonard - We’ve now seen back-to-back good games for the Blazer that needed it most. Leonard scored all four of his first half buckets within 10 feet of the hoop. He moved without the ball and was active on the offensive boards, things that hardly describe typical Meyers. This was a nice night for him.
Shabazz Napier - If Lillard’s injury limits him, backup point guard in Napier is certainly capable of helping this offense. He had another big game tonight and was a pillar in building the first half lead. He also stopped the bleeding when Portland was struggling to find a basket at the end of the third. The smallest man on the team continues to find ways to get to the rim. He put constant pressure on the Grizzlies defense all night.
Dillon Brooks - Watching the former Oregon Duck play, it’s sometimes easy to forget that he is a second-round rookie. Brooks has started 7 games for the Grizzlies, playing a key role for them all season long. Today, he showed versatility, defending guards and big men successfully...a trait he demonstrated at Oregon. Offensively, he was pretty much a non-factor in 30 minutes.
In case you missed it, Ben Golliver penned an extensive article on Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic today.
Portland travels to Philadelphia to face the 76ers on Wednesday night at 4:00 PM on Wednesday.