The Portland Trail Blazers have earned wins in a variety of ways during the 2017-18 season. They’ve come from behind against teams that had the game in hand but took their foot off the gas. They’ve taken advantage of opponent injuries. They’ve ridden torrid shooting nights, assists from referees, and plenty of overwhelming performances from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. When the Blazers faced the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night, they eschewed all of these. Both teams were near full strength. The Pacers played hard and well. Portland shot only 39% from the floor while Lillard and McCollum contributed a relatively muted (for them) 26 and 16. Instead of gimmickry, the Blazers won the game with old-fashioned work, mismatches, and percentage play. The 100-86 score won’t look remarkable and the evening will soon blend into the 82-game marathon, but this was one of the rare times that the Trail Blazers looked and played like a tough, veteran team, calmly executing however they needed to in order to get the “W”.
Go Big or Go Home
The Blazers came out of the gate announcing that this game would be nothing like their video game run amok against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night. Instead they went slow(-er) and steady(-er), pushing the ball inside to Jusuf Nurkic, who seemed keyed up to throw his weight around against Indiana’s Domantus Sabonis. Nurkic and Al-Farouq Aminu scored 13 of Portland’s first 15 points, mostly inside the lane. Portland had trouble controlling Victor Oladipo at the other end, but still ended the first up 29-28.
Broad Side of the Barn is Unscathed
The second quarter continued the theme in slightly different fashion. The Blazers didn’t go inside quite as persistently. They were forced back near the rim because they couldn’t hit any outside shots. Normally this would have cued a strong opponent run, and Indiana did edge ahead. But strong offensive rebounding and a 6-0 run to finish the half kept Portland in the lead 52-47 at break time.
Slipping but Not Falling
The third quarter was the only one that spun out of Portland’s control. Their interior defense was rotten at the outset; the Pacers made free with shots your grandma couldn’t miss. Then Darren Collison caught fire from the perimeter midway through the period. Nurkic and Lillard settled down their team during the final minutes, scoring inside and out to prevent Indiana from running away. The score was knotted at 74 heading into the final period.
The Way It’s Supposed to Be
If the Blazers could distill one quarter from the season so far, tonight’s fourth period might be a darkhorse contender. Portland still didn’t shoot that well, but most of their looks came from deep inside or deep outside...shots that move defenses and produce points despite the misses. Even better, they hounded the Pacers all over the floor on the other end and rebounded strong during first- and second-unit shifts. Lillard led the main charge, but most everybody got involved. When the smoked cleared, the Blazers had taken the quarter 26-12 to finish the game up 14 after starting the period tied.
No Fever, but There’s Sweat
For all the inconsistency and angst surrounding him this season, Jusuf Nurkic reminded Portland tonight that when he’s good, he’s really good. His size advantage provided a massive green light. If at any time it appeared to turn yellow, he just stepped on the accelerator. Nurkic’s 19-point tally looks nice, but it’s downright great when you consider he attempted only 14 shots with 3 free throw attempts. This wasn’t an All Nurk, All the Time performance. He finished third in shots taken, only edging out Aminu and Shabazz Napier by a hair. Smart big-man play resulted in a huge double-double (17 rebounds) in a legitimate win.
The Blazers...need more...of this.
Good All the Way Through
Though Collison and Oladipo each went for 23, they did it in different fashion. Collison ended up shooting 9-14, 5-6 from the arc. Oladipo shot only 9-25, 1-9 from distance. If the Blazers suffered anywhere tonight, it might have been defending the guards. Given the choice, though, they shut down the right one. If Collison was free to score, that’s a reasonable percentage move on Portland’s part. Oladipo had to work for his and Indiana’s well-defended frontcourt wasn’t going to kill the Blazers. Total dominance is great when you can get it, but short of that, smart play makes an acceptable substitute.
A low turnover count and quality rebounding for much of the evening gave this game drill-down consistency. No matter which strata you pull the core samples from, it was solid.
Nurkic gets the game ball, but Damian Lillard’s assurance and ability to get to the rim seemingly any time he wanted helped stem the tide when Indiana surged ahead in the second half.
Al-Farouq Aminu deserves credit for hard-nosed play and rebounding.
Ed Davis also had a whale of a game with 8 points and 8 rebounds in 16 minutes.
Zach Collins looked just as steady as the team around him. He’s becoming a bona fide bench player against teams that can’t (or forget to) push him around. He matched Davis with 8 boards in 16 minutes.
Indy Cornrows won’t like that fourth quarter much.
The Blazers draw the Dallas Mavericks at 7:00 Pacific on Saturday night.