Thanks in large part to the phenomenal performances by Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic, the Portland Trail Blazers pushed their winning streak to 10 games on Monday night, defeating the Miami Heat 115-99. Aside from a late fourth quarter scare, Portland looked in control for the majority of the game. Neither Dwyane Wade nor Hassan Whiteside suited up for Miami.
King of the Key
The Blazers’ game plan early was obvious. They wanted to take advantage of size mismatches and control the key. Nurkic, Evan Turner and Maurice Harkless all got chances going to work on the block. The results were positive, resulting in 11 free throws in the first quarter alone. Blazers were getting the ball down low on offense, but also giving up far too many paint touches on the defensive end. The Heat successfully found seams in Portland’s defense and were able to actually outscore the Blazers in the paint 14-10 in the first.
Best bench? Not so fast.
The Miami Heat entered the game with the highest-scoring bench in the league. The Blazers proved early in the game that their reserves can keep up with anyone. The game was tied at 23 when Damian Lillard and four guys from the second unit went on a 11-2 run. The bench was sensational defensively. The previously-exposed paint became a non-option for the Heat. Rookie Zach Collins and fellow Blazer Beast from the Bench, Ed Davis, controlled the interior, a common sight of late. The Blazers’ second unit finished the half a combined +32 and the Blazers led at intermission by a score of 59-47.
Nurk and Dame Show
Portland’s success in the first half was due to contributions all up and down the roster, but he third quarter was all about Dame and Nurk. The duo combined to score 22 of Portland’s 29 points of the period. They found success off the two man pick-and-roll, Dame caught fire from three, and Nurkic was “unguardable” on the block for a Miami front line clearly missing their starting center. The Blazers coupled offensive success with low turnovers and solid defense to build up a 19-point lead. The game looked like it was all but over.
An NBA team should never “give up” but credit Erik Spoelstra and the scrappy Heat for not only not giving up, but for turning it up when the game seemed done. The Heat fought defensively, forcing the Blazers to play 1-on-1. They pressured Portland into 4 early turnovers in the fourth quarter. All of a sudden, an 18-2 Miami run brought the Heat within 3. Luckily, the Blazers had a couple aces in the hole. Lillard and Nurkic, who had been on the bench for the entire run, entered the game. Their presence almost perfectly coincided with an 18-5 run for the Blazers. That was enough to finally cool down the pesky Heat as Portland came away with the 16-point victory.
All’s Well That Ends Well
The Heat made their push, but had no answer for Lillard and Nurkic. Having the two best players on the court on your team makes a big difference. Throughout their streak, the Blazers have been getting contributions everywhere. On Monday, the big three of Dame, Nurk, and CJ McCollum took over the offense, combining for 88 points.
Turner also had some good moments, including a three-pointer to seal the game. Collins had a great first half. The rest of the roster was relatively quiet.
As the long NBA season winds on, teams find different ways to pull out victories. Against Miami, the Blazers got to the line, their bench gave good minutes, and they rode their big dogs to their 10th straight win. That’s an incredible feat.
Jusuf Nurkic - Nurk was matched up against the smaller, rookie center, Bam Adebayo. Portland called Nurkic’s number early and often. He answered with 27 points and 16 rebounds. The Bosnian Beast controlled the paint defensively and gave the Heat trouble both as a finisher and as an offensive rebounder. When Nurk is good, he simplifies his moves and his game. Everything looks so fluid. That Nurkic showed up today in a big way. He was superb tonight.
Zach Collins - Collins may still officially be a rookie but he has almost a full season under his belt— and he’s playing like it. He broke out the jump shot early, knocking down a couple threes and a jumper. He even drew a crafty foul on a pump fake from just inside the arc. It’s been a lot of fun watching Collins grow.
Damian Lillard - Lillard continued his streak of excellence. He hit 7 threes on 14 attempts for 32 points, but also added 10 assists and 5 rebounds. Not only are those numbers impressive, but Lillard’s scoring opened up the game up in the third quarter, then saved the Blazers in the fourth. Surprisingly, Dame only had one two-point field goal for the entire game.
CJ McCollum - CJ looked like he was going to take the game over early. He scored 15 in the first half and seemed to be in a good rhythm. But he was only able to muster up 2 points the rest of the way. Justice Winslow did a phenomenal job guarding McCollum, but we have seen CJ torch better defenders before. His aggression was just not there in the second half.
Shabazz Napier/Al-Farouq Aminu/ Maurice Harkless - These three players combined for 63 minutes, 3-17 from the floor, and 10 points. The defense is always there, for Moe and Aminu especially, and they always leave an imprint on the game, but this was a pretty weak game for the trio offensively. It all turned out fine today, but Portland is going to struggle in future games if none of the three can get going on both sides of the ball.
Luke Babbitt - Unfortunately for die-hard Blazer fans, Luke walked away with a DNP-CD (Did not play- coaches decision) tonight.
The Blazers draw LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night.