The Portland Trail Blazers and Brooklyn Nets came into the Moda Center tonight with their guns locked and loaded. Trading their skinny jeans for leather chaps, the two teams from the hipster capitals of the world got in a good ol’ fashion Western shootout. Both teams shot over 50% from the field and over 45% from the arc but the Blazers proved to be the better marksman. A hot fourth quarter propelled Portland to a 130-116 victory.
For the first time in too long, a gimme game against a bad team started out according to script for the Blazers. The Nets came out of the gate poorly, struggling to even move or dribble the ball without coughing it up. By the end of the first quarter, Brooklyn had tallied eight turnovers.
At the same time, the Blazers new “Big Three” (I know, way to soon, but just go with me here) were playing brilliantly. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum scored from everywhere while Jusuf Nurkic rumbled to the rim. The good guys were up 37-27 after one.
Why were the Blazers only up ten in such a lopsided game you ask? Good question. For all their brilliance, Portland lacked discipline. They missed free throws, gave up offensive rebounds, and had too many defensive breakdowns to count.
The first quarter also featured an injury scare and a moment of history. Lillard hit a three-pointer in his 41st straight game to tie a franchise record for consecutive games with a three. Then Allen Crabbe went to the locker room after colliding with Meyers Leonard. He would return in the second quarter.
The second period paralleled the first, except the teams traded roles. The turnover bug hopped from Brooklyn to the Blazers while the shooting touch went the other way. Dame and CJ went cold while NBA journey men Sean Kilpatrick and Spencer Dinwiddie couldn’t miss off Brooklyn’s bench. By the end of the half, the teams were just about even in turnovers and shooting percentage alike. Portland clung to a one point lead.
Both teams put their best foots forward in the third. With little defense in evidence everyone got hot. Portland’s perimeter talent showed but no matter what they did, the Blazers couldn’t pull away. A Portland player would hit a big, momentum shifting three only for Brooklyn to respond on the next possession. The too-close game felt insecure, especially since the Nets are one of the worst teams in the league. Playing with fire, Portland went into the fourth quarter with an uncomfortable 90-82 advantage.
The difference maker in the final quarter turned out to be Al-farouq Aminu. The Nets surged as Brook Lopez got loose. His stellar play, combined with more hot shooting from Brooklyn guards, help the road team put up 34 in the period. That might have been enough except for Chief. A pair of threes, a pair of chip shots, and it was all over. With Aminu clicking, the talent gap turned out to be too much for Brooklyn to handle and Portland cruised to a 130-116 victory.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 50 points yet again tonight. Brooklyn got their typical production from Brook Lopez (26 points, 5 rebounds) and an unexpected outburst from Sean Kilpatrick (20 points, 6/7 3PT). That might have proved dangerous had it not been for Al-Farouq Aminu. He buried the Nets with 23 points on 5/6 shooting from deep.
I suppose a win is a win but this one was pretty unsatisfying. Portland was granted an engraved invitation to put this one away early. Not only is Brooklyn the worst team in the league, they started the game unforgivably careless with the ball. Portland should have taken that offering and ran with it.
Instead, many of the Blazers’ bad habits were on display. Breakdowns and undisciplined transition defense plagued them all night. The Nets got hot but most of those looks were wide open. Brooklyn has the third worst offense in the league but Portland made them look like Houston. You kept expecting the Blazers to pick up their defensive intensity but it just never happened.
This game also illustrated Jusuf Nurkić’s skills and limitations. Lopez is an exceptionally difficult matchup. Nurkić defended him well in the post but struggled to contain Lopez in pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops. He was solid individually but couldn’t transform the team defense like some of the best rim protectors in the league. Nurkić is certainly exciting but tonight belies any notion that he’ll lead a defensive transformation.
The game ball has to go to Al-Farouq Aminu. It’s been a tough year for the Chief but it’s nice when he reminds us how good the Blazers offense can be when he’s making shots. Perhaps Zach Lowe’s comment about his jumper lit a fire. Aminu tallied 23 points on 9-13 shooting to go along with 6 rebounds.
Not to be completely outdone by his fellow forward, Moe Harkless chipped in 18 points of his own. He hit from outside and abused mismatches down low.
Jusuf Nurkić had one of the best sequences you’ll see from a big man. With 4:45 left in the first quarter, he caught the ball on the roll and rose up for a monster dunk. On the very next play, he stole the ball and dribbled coast to coast for an and-one layup. Throw in his massive frame, efficient scoring in the post, and slick passing and he’s done nothing but build on his solid first impression. 17 points with 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
Damian Lillard, who had a fine game with 19 points and 11 assists, passed the hero torch to CJ McCollum tonight. 3J lived up to his name dropping a sizzling 5/6 from behind the line and scoring in every way fathomable. He’s almost impossible to stop once he gets going. 31 points with 5 rebounds and 5 assists.
On a night like this, seemingly everybody scored. Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe shot a combined 6/7 for 17 points. The only exceptions were Shabazz Napier (3 points, 1/5 shooting) and Noah Vonleh (2 points, 1/5 shooting). Coach Terry Stotts ran numerous post-ups for Vonleh and I’m not sure why. He had a mismatch but few of his post-ups ended well. Give both players credit for staying active on defense end; they collected three steals each.
Pat Connaughton got six token minutes while Crabbe went to the locker room with the injury.
Links and Such
As far as losses go, Nets Daily probably enjoyed that one more than most.
Grab your coat! The Blazers head to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves Monday at 5pm.