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Blazers Defense Stymies Struggling Pistons

You don’t have to score big if you can lock down.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Riding an 11-game winning streak heading for a dozen, the Portland Trail Blazers were expected to take care of the struggling Detroit Pistons tonight. They did so, putting their entire starting unit in double figures and leaving a couple of bench players just shy, but the overall effort was modest compared to the runaway successes Portland has experienced of late. Then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Portland’s offense, highlighted by 24 points from Damian Lillard, proved mushy, but their defense held Blake Griffin to just 15 on 6-17 shooting and Detroit’s entire starting lineup only managed 53 points total. If you can’t score 110 in a run-out, holding the opponent below 90 is a perfectly legitimate, and often more effective, way of pulling out the victory. The Blazers did exactly that, running their win streak to 12, cementing their status as a team to be reckoned with this spring.

Everything Clicking Early

Portland jumped out to an early lead by finding success on the offensive side of the ball in about every way possible. The pick-and-roll was causing the Pistons problems, straight post-ups were working. They made smart reads and hit shots on flare screens, and, as always, Ed Davis was in there raising Cain on the offensive glass. Portland was able to get in the lane at will and made strong reads to create good shots. The Blazers even finished the first quarter without a turnover. Portland missed some good looks and although they were able to put up 31 points in the first quarter, Detroit was probably happy heading into the second quarter only down by a score of 31-20

Run that back

The second quarter was more of the same. Portland continued to play unselfishly. They got good shots, but still struggled to knock them down. The Blazers had a stretch of 3 turnovers in 3 possessions that led to a Detroit 7-0 run, but didn't turn the ball over the rest of the half. Portland shot 4-14 from behind the arc on good looks—normally a failing—but still ten Blazers scored and seven finished the half with 5 points or more. While the offense was churning out good shots, rebounding and overall intensity were responsible for the Blazers heading into the half with a 60-45 lead.

Waiting for that breakthrough

With the Blazers looking like the superior team all game long, it seemed inevitable that they would hit some shots and break it open at some point. Portland got up by as many as 18 in the third quarter, but still were never able to drop the hammer. The defense was good and effort remained high, but Portland just could not get the crucial basket when they seemed to have the Pistons on the ropes. The turnover count increased and makeable shots rimmed out, leaving the second half in doubt for a while. Then Al-Farouq Aminu hit a big three after the Pistons had cut the lead to 7 with under 4 minutes left. Damian Lillard followed up with six straight points to finish off the Pistons for good by a score of 100-87.

Rich People Problems

The biggest complaint about the game is that the Blazers should have blown Detroit out the game early and been able to rest their players in the fourth. This game was the first of a back-to-back, so extra rest would have been big. Instead, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum both had to play 37 minutes to finish off the struggling Pistons.

Portland’s offense got in a rut today, but that’s the great thing about defense and rebounding— they don’t have ruts. The whole game looked like it was played in mud but at the end of the day, the Blazers played hard and did what they needed to do to take care of business. That’s what good teams do and that’s the formula to putting up a 12-game win streak.

The Fellas

Damian Lillard - Lillard struggled with his shot, as many Blazers did tonight, finishing 6-19 from the field. But he still ended up with a game high 24 points due to 9 makes on 9 attempts from the free throw line. Lillard’s ability to stay effective when his shot is off by getting to the line is what makes him so valuable. He also came up big at the end of the game and contributed 7 rebounds with 8 assists.

Maurice Harkless - The Blazers have found a way to be successful this season even while getting limited production from the small forward position. When Moe plays with confidence and aggression, the Blazers hit another level. Harkless started the game with a ferocious one-handed dunk off of a middle drive and added a couple threes early. But that turned out to be all for him. He was seen on the bike in the second half so an injury may have been part of it. He did return.

Jusuf Nurkic - Nurkic had a matchup worth watching as he lined up across from the NBA’s leading rebounder, Andre Drummond. Nurkic got sent back a few times in the lane and struggled with foul trouble all game long. Even so, his jumper was falling early from the mid-post and he was a nightmare for Detroit’s defense all night off of the pick-and-roll...both as a roller and off of the pop. Portland was at their best when Nurkic was on the floor tonight.

Al-Farouq Aminu - Chief almost always draws the toughest defensive assignment of the game. Tonight it was Blake Griffin. Once again, Aminu was more than solid. He was part of the reason that the Blazers were able to hold Griffin to 15 points on 6-17 shooting. Aminu also reeled in a team high 12 rebounds and hit that big three late when it looked like Detroit was about get back in it.

Meyers Leonard - When Jusuf Nurkic came out of the game early with two fouls, Head Coach Terry Stotts went with rarely-used Meyers Leonard to replace him. A dunk, two assists, and some of the most determined screens you’re going find in the game headlined a very solid contribution for Leonard. It’s always good when a player who struggles to get minutes gets to come in and help out.

The Bench: The Blazers bench has been a weapon as of late, but outside of Davis (9 points, 6 rebounds in 20 minutes) and 9 points from Evan Turner, the bench struggled to make the same kind of impact today that they have been making lately. 27 points is a good output, but the Blazers’ second unit has been maintaining or extending leads in the past few weeks. They were not able to do so today. The Blazers will need that bench in tomorrow’s game against the Clippers.

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The Trail Blazers face the Los Angeles Clippers Sunday in Staples Center at 7:30 PM, Pacific