The Portland Trail Blazers were able to snap their five-game losing streak by rallying past the Miami Heat to capture a 102-95 victory. After struggling early, Damian Lillard erased Miami’s lead with nine points in the fourth quarter. Setting up Lillard’s clutch play, CJ McCollum and Al-Farouq Aminu combined for 43 points to keep the Blazers within striking distance for the much-needed win.
After both teams exchanged a handful of empty possessions, Miami’s Josh Richardson began to exploit Portland’s perimeter defense by sinking two 3-pointers in the first five minutes of action. CJ McCollum did his best to mimic Richardson’s outburst, shrinking the Heat’s lead to five at the 6:48 mark—prompting an Eric Spoelstra timeout. Miami emerged from their timeout on fire, riding the hot hands of Richardson and Wayne Ellington. Their 26 combined points helped the Heat close the first quarter up 33-21.
Plagued by turnovers and contested shots, the Blazers continued to lose ground to start the second quarter. Shabazz Napier injected energy into the offense by generating easy looks out of two quick steals at the midpoint of the quarter. Al-Farouq Aminu got Portland within single digits in the final two minutes of the half by making a pair of 3-pointers, but James Johnson’s last-second drive re-established the Heat’s 10-point edge. Miami headed to the locker with a 60-to-50 lead.
Three-pointers from Kelly Olynyk and Dion Waiters expanded Miami’s lead to 16 points after four minutes of action in the third quarter. Down by double-digits, the Blazers turned to their defense. Thanks to strong contributions from Evan Turner and Ed Davis, Portland cut the lead to five with 3:05 remaining. Goran Dragic closed the final minute with four-straight points for Miami—keeping his squad ahead 79-70 after three.
The Heat continued to focus their defensive efforts on Lillard and McCollum in the fourth, forcing the Blazers to find points from unlikely contributors. Pat Connaughton, Napier, and Aminu filled the void admirably through the first two minutes. After seven points from that trio, Miami led by just four points at the 10:32 mark. Portland continued to find their rhythm as the quarter wore on, while Miami fell apart from both field and the foul line. Lillard’s layup with 3:15 remaining gave Portland a slim 95-94 lead. Then Miami stumbled through the final two minutes of action while Lillard accelerated. The Blazers pulled this one out courtesy of a 32-16 fourth quarter—finishing the contest up 7 after trailing the majority of the evening.
After shooting a blistering 8-for-13 from beyond the arc in the first quarter, the Heat finished the game 13-for-30. Wayne Ellington and Josh Richardson’s return to orbit played a factor, but Portland’s ability to apply perimeter pressure deserves plenty of credit. The Blazers effectively forced the Heat off the 3-point line and into contested shots after getting taken to school in the opening quarter. Great adjustment.
The Heat’s struggles at the free throw line let the Blazers back in this one. Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, and Bam Adebayo combined to miss eight free throws down the stretch. On the flip side, Portland would have been a perfect 20-for-20 from the charity stripe if not for three misses by Zach Collins.
Free-throw line struggles aside, Al-Farouq Aminu and Collins made the Heat pay for ignoring them. Aminu shot 5-for-8 from beyond the arc, most attempts completely uncontested. Operating out of the pick-and-roll, Collins was uncovered on multiple occasions as his man switched to the ball handler. After Collins ran into foul trouble, Ed Davis found similar success rolling to the basket.
Portland’s defense helped them win the turnover battle in this contest. More importantly, the Blazers’ defense helped them overcome a 10-to-5 offensive rebounding deficit. The Heat were unable to convert lead-maintaining second-chance points late in the game. That tipped the balance enough to get the Blazers through the door.
- When the rest of the offense was struggling, CJ McCollum kept the Blazers within range. Shooting 9-of-16, McCollum topped 50 percent from the field for the third straight game.
- Damian Lillard saved his best for last—scoring 9 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. Lillard overcame going 1-for-6 from beyond the arc by converting all 7 of his free throw attempts.
- Zach Collins showed some flashes with his footwork, but as has been evident all season, he has some serious maturing to do before he can hold his ground against full-grown NBA players. At his best, Collins was able to successfully stay in front of Goran Dragic on defense. The rookie also allowed Kelly Olynyk to collect three offensive rebounds.
- Al-Farouq Aminu bounced back from a rough shooting night against the Warriors to score 15 points. For the third time in four games, Aminu has hit five shots from beyond the arc. Along with his scoring, he vacuumed up 13 rebounds.
- Evan Turner and Ed Davis made tough shots in critical moments. Davis prospered from a few open looks, but he also converted heavily contested shots in the paint. Turner was dialed in from the midrange, converting four of his five shots from the field. Davis finished the night with 11 points, while Turner notched 10.
Our friends at Hot Hot Hoops are still daydreaming about a world where Wayne Ellington never misses from beyond the arc.
The Blazers will continue their road trip by visiting Orlando to face the Magic on Friday.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com