Heading into Saturday night’s game the Portland Trail Blazers were riding all the highs, as Jusuf Nurkić and the accompanying “Nurkić-Fever” had swept through the Portland metro area with the Blazers rattling off four straight wins for the first time this season. Meanwhile, the Washington Wizards limped into Portland after a nail-biting overtime victory on the road in Sacramento the night before. Surely the Wizards wouldn’t have the cure for #NurkFever, right?
Wait a minute...they’re WIZARDS. Of course they did.
Over the course of the evening the Blazers would seize control of the contest, building up as much as a 21-point lead. However, that wasn’t enough as John Wall (39 points, 9 assists) and Bradley Beal (26 points, 6 assists) out-dueled Damian Lillard (33 points, 7 assists) and CJ McCollum (34 points, 6 assists) down the stretch to eek out the last-chance gasp for the win.
Down one, Markieff Morris caught a pass in the left corner (stepping out of bounds*) before attacking and pulling up for the game-winning midrange jumper. Final score: 125-124, Wizards.
*Eschewing the normal format here, let’s first address the large animal in the room. Markieff Morris stepped out of bounds. Clearly. The NBA referees missed the call. Clearly. In the pantheon of how-on-Earth-do-you-miss-that-type calls, this one rates pretty high.
However, the tossing their 21-point lead out the window earlier in the game and a couple other terribly blown calls are the bigger case here; let’s break down how the Blazers got to this point.
The opening minutes of the first quarter were a slogfest of awfulness. The Wizards looked more like the team on a four-game winning streak while the Blazers dragged lifelessly up and down the floor. If not for the grace of Noah Vonleh bouncing around like the Energizer Bunny on steroids, Washington might’ve run Portland off the floor early.
Eventually the Blazers—specifically Lillard—woke up and got things going. With a knock-down three here, a bullet pass to the corner for three there, and a drive to the rim and a crazy in-traffic-flailing-how-is-this-possible layup there and, voila! Portland got itself back into the game.
Not only did the Blazers stop sucking at that point in the first, they played inspired basketball from there on. The ball swung around the perimeter not needlessly, but with the intention of going from good to great shots. Defensively, the Blazers weren’t quite there but they gave it the ol’ college try—which is better than the ol’ college Spring Break try by a sizable margin.
The trend continued for the second quarter offensively, and then Portland played better-than-average defense. Mix that in with Washington consistently playing Wile E. Coyote on nearly every offensive possession, and the Blazers ran away with the lead. The halftime horn blew and Portland was up 70-49, taking a 21-point lead into the locker room.
The city of Portland is nice. Congenial even. The population embraces the arts. Tonight the Blazers seemed to really embrace the great American poet Anthony Kiedes, because they definitely “gave it away” now.
The third quarter started the trend that would continue throughout the rest of the contest, as the Wizards ran at breakneck pace off of every single Blazers miss.
We all know John Wall is a one-man fast break—make a mistake and he’ll run it back down the throat of your non-existent defense, time after time. When you pair that with a red-hot Bradley Beal and the Blazers shooting 38 percent in the second half, you’re going to find yourself in trouble real quick.
Lo and behold, the Blazers were in trouble.
The same scenario repeated itself over and over: Blazers shoot early in the clock, miss, Wizards grab the ball and run out for early-clock opportunity and score. Rinse. Repeat. This tend continued until the final minutes of the fourth quarter when Lillard and Al-Farouq Aminu canned back-to-back clutch three-pointers.
With 4:22 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Blazers led 106-97. They did not score again until Damian Lillard hit a technical free throw with a minute to go on a defensive three-seconds call. Meanwhile, the Wizards rattled off a 15-0 run to lead 112-107. A three from Aminu and two Nurkic free throws later, followed by terrible execution from Wizards, and the teams headed to overtime, knotted at 112.
Overtime saw misses from both teams, then each side caught fire.
Aminu for three.
Otto Porter Jr. for three.
Wall step-back J.
Another Lillard three. And subsequent, wrist-tapping from all those in home whites.
Gortat ridiculous tip-in.
Lillard floater over three people.
Lillard ridiculous layup that has no business going in.
More wrist tapping.
At this point, the Blazers led 124-121 with 31 seconds to go.
Then, the unthinkable happened—Allen Crabbe fouled Bradley Beal on a jumpshot. From behind the line. For three.
Beal missed the first (insert balldontlie.gif) but hit the remaining two freebies, and the Blazers held a one-point lead.
The ensuing possession had Lillard off the high pick-and-roll with 30 seconds to go. He drove left, pulled up...and the ball fell roughly 20 feet short of the target. Whether you want to say Wall got a clean block or fouled the Ba-Jesus out of Lillard, the bottom line is the Wizards had the ball now with a chance to win.
The resulting play with 6.8 seconds remaining unfolded like this:
What are you gonna do?
(Start with not blowing a 21-point lead and work from there.)
Whew. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, and boy was this a fun game to step into. Apparently, I do have something in common with superstar athletes—we’re both quite capable of stepping into dog poop-like situations with both feet, at pretty much anytime.
The Blazers did what they’ve been doing all season: play pretty damn good for two-and-a-half or three quarters, and the rest of the time look like they just don’t care. There is no team is the league that swings between “OH MY GOD THIS TEAM IS ALLLLL THE THINGS?!?!! #RINGZZZ ARE COMING SOON!!” to a flaming dumpster fire in New York City on a 100-degree day...after someone rolled that dumpster over the top of a subway grate.
There are reasons and excuses aplenty. This is one of the youngest teams in the league, but that doesn’t justify their awful play as much as it doesn’t explain their torrid run through two quarters tonight. It’s amazing how much the perfume of Nurkić’s arrival in Portland has covered up the stench that has been the Blazers’ season.
Portland’s most recent addition had his first subpar game as a starter and the Blazers blew a 21-point lead? Those two things are not related in case you’re wondering. Portland built that lead with Nurkić on the bench with foul trouble. That shows the Blazers are more than capable of producing, even when Nurkić-Fever has subsided. But it also shows they can’t pin their hopes to a 22 year old who’s only played a handful of games in a Trail Blazer uniform.
Portland is still in the playoff hunt for the eighth and final seed with the Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks, and the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Nuggets currently control their own destiny as the Blazers are now behind them by a full game in the loss column. Portland will now leave for a five-game road trip that sees them cover the entire southern sea-board of the United States in seven days, including stops in Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio.
More than likely, this road trip will be the decider on whether or not the Blazers make the playoffs. Make a strong push here with three, maybe four wins, and you’re most certainly in the hunt. Come away with two or fewer victories and there’s a good chance they’ll be watching the playoffs from home come April. Performances like tonight won’t fly, whether you’re playing the Wizards or the Pelicans. If you continually give your opponent chances to get back into a game they have no business being in, you’re going to eventually get burned.
Links and Such
That was as fun as a bag of rabid cats, but I bet the folks at BulletsForever enjoyed it!
Next up, the Trail Blazers take on the Phoenix Suns Sunday at 6:00 p.m. PST, televised locally on KGW.