The Portland Trail Blazers dropped their second consecutive road game on Sunday after Al Horford’s heroic last-second shot gave the Boston Celtics a 97-96 lead as time expired. Portland squandered a double-digit halftime lead against a Boston team missing Kyrie Irving. Maurice Harkless made a surprise impact with 19 points, but it wasn’t enough to put the Blazers ahead when the final buzzer sounded. Before everyone gets into their Super Bowl routine, let’s take a second look at the victory that got away.
Offense From Unlikely Places
The Blazers started the game groggy, committing a turnover on their opening possession and allowing an offensive rebound on the other end. Then Jusuf Nurkic put Portland on the right track by assaulting the paint. The Celtics’ defensive pressure did a solid job limiting Damian Lillard’s scoring, but it opened up the lane for Nurkic to run away with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting. Though Boston’s offense sputtered for the majority of the opening quarter, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum kept the Celtics close by combining for 4 three-pointers on only 5 attempts. The Blazers finished the first with a 26-19 lead.
The second period saw CJ McCollum continue his usual scoring. The Blazers also found offense from less likely places. Maurice Harkless made the most of his minutes by sinking every three-point opportunity that came his way. A barrage of bench points brought Boston within five points at the 6:41 mark, but Portland’s wings countered their counter. Thanks to opportune offense and tough defense, the Blazers closed the second quarter with a 12-0 run. Portland finished the half with a healthy 54-38 advantage.
Boston’s Bigs Turn The Tables
The Celtics’ offensive struggles continued into the third quarter, but their tenacious rebounding paved the way for a lead-reducing rally. With 5:03 remaining in the period, Terry Rozier capped off a 18-4 Boston run that cut Portland’s lead to just a single point. Lillard did his best to stymie Boston’s comeback hopes with points of his own, but his efforts were only enough to salvage the quarter, not save it. Portland escaped the third quarter clinging to a slim 73-69 lead.
McCollum opened the fourth quarter by scoring 6 of the Blazers first 8 points, which gave Portland a 81-to-75 lead with 7:18 remaining. Thanks to hot shooting from outside, the Celtics went on a 11-0 run at the midpoint of the quarter, giving them a 5-point lead with two minutes remaining. Lillard scored 8 consecutive point in turn to give Portland a 96-95 lead with 7 seconds left. On the last possession, Al Horford wasn’t going to be denied. Despite being smothered by Al-Farouq Aminu, Horford found nothing but the bottom of the net on a turnaround jumper as time expired. Thanks to Horford’s seven points and three assists in the fourth quarter, the Celtics pulled off an amazing come-from-behind victory at home.
Take What The Defense Gives You
Boston’s defense is superb at taking the ball out of the hands of perimeter players on pick-and-rolls. This contest was excellent exhibition of that. The Blazers were able to overcome the Celtics’ scheme by getting the ball to their open wing players for favorable looks. Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless answered the call, combining for 8 three-point field goals. As a team, the Blazers finished the game with 21 assists and only 8 turnovers.
The Blazers held a 28-to-19 rebounding advantage at halftime, but let it evaporate in the disastrous third quarter. Boston cut Portland’s double-digit halftime lead to just four points after winning the rebounding margin by 12 boards in the third quarter. Mixing one-shot possessions with second chance points for your opponent is a guaranteed way to surrender a lead.
Harkless Emerges From The Shadows
Maurice Harkless made the most of his playing time by converting all five of his three-point attempts. This was the first game since November that Harkless played more than 30 minutes, and it was his first double-digit scoring game since facing the Spurs in January. Harkless added 8 rebounds to go along with his 19 points.
Jusuf Nurkic started hot, but was unable to keep that pace going after the first quarter. After 10 points in the opening frame, Nurkic finished with just 14. Two costly offensive fouls in fourth quarter kept the big fella off the court in crunch time. Nurkic also chipped in eight rebounds and two blocks in his 28 minutes of work.
Damian Lillard did his best to get others involved while facing intense pressure on defense. Lillard recorded nine assists and committed only two turnovers. His eight points in the final two minutes were nearly enough to give Portland the victory. In the end, Lillard went 6-for-19 from the field for 21 points.
CJ McCollum finished a memorable week of basketball by going 9-for-22 from the field for 22 points. He added three rebounds and three assists to his boxscore after 36 minutes of action.
Chance At Redemption In The Motor City
Our friends at Celtics Blog will be enjoying Al Horford’s heroics well into the night.
The Blazers will return to action on Monday with a visit to Detroit to face the Pistons.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com