The Trail Blazers secured their second victory of the season with a thrilling 121-119 showing against the Mavericks. CJ McCollum led the way in the back-and-forth contest with a 35-point outburst. For the Mavericks, the young duo of Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic combined for 61 points to give the Blazers a scare.
Outside of the victory, Zach Collins’ early exit with a shoulder injury could emerge as the biggest takeaway form Sunday’s action.
The game began with a foul on Kristaps Porzingis by Zach Collins, and despite a two from Damian Lillard, early momentum remained in Dallas’ favor, especially as the Blazers struggled to find their rhythm on defense. The Mavericks took an early lead, 17-7, before the Blazers called a timeout. Even though they found their shooting rhythm after the timeout with a key three from Collins, the Blazers could not seem to find an early answer for Maxi Kleber.
Persistent pressure from Rodney Hood on both ends of the court, as well as hang-in-there defense from Collins helped the Blazers stay in the game. The momentum switched several times throughout the quarter, and the Blazers kept pace. It didn’t last, though, as the Mavericks adjusted and the Blazers’ bench struggled to find a rhythm. Kent Bazemore provided more presence at the rim, which helped to collapse Dallas’ defense. After a bad pass from Bazemore to Anthony Tolliver, the Mavericks capitalized with a Seth Curry three. At the end of the first, the Mavericks hot shooting (59%) translated to a 40-25 lead, that included a 15-0 run to close the quarter.
Hassan Whiteside started off the second quarter with a defensive rebound off of Seth Curry’s missed three. The Blazers weren’t able to capitalize, and on the next play, Curry had a clean pass out to Porzingis on the perimeter, who promptly sunk the three. This defined the fight that this game turned out to be, trading buckets at times, and big gaps in scoring at others. Another example came when the Blazers failed to take advantage of a Mavericks turnover: CJ McCollum dished a neat little pass to Zach Collins, who couldn’t finish after a foul from Kristaps Porzingis. Afterward, McCollum followed up with a steal that led into a transition layup. McCollum pushed the pace on offense consistently, probing the Mavericks’ defense with repeated dribble drives for success.
The Mavericks dominated the offense on the perimeter and in the midrange, but the Blazers were able to disrupt the Mavericks’ barrage by pushing the pace. After Kent Bazemore missed a layup, Zach Collins struggled to clean it up, and the resulting fastbreak for the Mavericks resulted in a miss, a Collins rebound, and a three-pointer from Anfernee Simons. Following a Dallas timeout, Collins opened up with a three, and McCollum kept up his onslaught on the lane despite the physicality of the Mavericks’ defense, leading the way to a 12-0 run. Mario Hezonja responded with some defense of his own, smothering Seth Curry at the three-point line to the point that Curry shuddered. The persistent nature of the Blazers’ defense and offense allowed them to hang in the game and keep up the pace: the ultimate example of the frantic speed of the game came at the end of the second: Hezonja initially poked the ball away from Doncic, but Lillard stuck with it, leading to a two-hand jam from Rodney Hood. The Blazers closed out the half down by 12.
After a rough sequence of bad passes on both sides, the third quarter got underway with a stepback jumpshot from Damian Lillard, and additional strong defense allowed the Blazers to add to the lead. Following a turnover by Zach Collins, Porzingis matched up against Collins in the post, but Collins showed how his defense has grown by forcing a miss from Porzingis. Damian Lillard then managed to draw a foul from behind the three point line, but it wasn’t enough to swing the momentum all the way for the Blazers: despite a block on Porzingis by Whiteside, Porzingis came back to score. But Damian Lillard was on a one-man mission, trying to get as many buckets in the third as possible.
It seemed like that every time the Blazers got their feet underneath them, Doncic came back with a three, but the Blazers continued to adjust. Repeated fouls broke up the action, and both Rodney Hood and Kent Bazemore made key contributions. Mario Hezonja played stellar defense, forcing Porzingis to shoot over him after picking up the switch, and making Porzingis miss. The third quarter came to its spiritual end when Zach Collins got hit in the shoulder and left the game, headed straight for the locker room. Despite that setback, Kent Bazemore appeared to put the team on his back and barrel toward taking the lead back.
Shortly into the fourth, Kent Bazemore had a three from the corner for the first Blazers lead of the game. Kristaps Porzingis continued to demonstrate why he is referred to as a unicorn, playing both close to the rim and shooting from deep. With Collins out, Labissiere stepped in, and on the Blazers’ end, Mario Hezonja showed his grit in the fourth, sidestepping the Mavericks’ defense for a clean two before drawing a charge on the next play. Unfortunately, he fell for Luka Doncic’ fake shortly after, and the Blazers committed a three-second violation, allowing the Mavericks some space to come back, forcing the game into a possession-by-possession battle.
It continued until Whiteside fouled out after going toe-to-toe with Porzingis under the basket. Porzingis’ foul shots pulled them up by one, and the lead swapping continued until Dallas gave Doncic the ball, and after a launched three, a botched rebound, and a foul call on the Blazers, Coach Terry Stotts challenged the foul call. After a successful challenge, a jump ball was called. Rodney Hood faced off against Kristaps Porzingis in a jump ball, where Kent Bazemore’s long arms allowed the Blazers to recover the ball, and Doncic fouled Bazemore behind the line. Bazemore sank two of his shots, deliberately missing the third, and despite the missed rebound, the Mavericks were unable to hit a final three. The Blazers won, 121-119.
Hassan Whiteside seemed to struggle on both offense and defense at times, especially in regard to communication. He appeared a little lost, and he had a couple of missed passes and pick-ups that could have made a difference down the stretch.
Mario Hezonja is tenacious. That tenacity seems to be contagious. While Kent Bazemore displayed that in the preseason, it is great to see Rodney Hood catch it as well.
When Damian Lillard struggles, this team is deep enough to make up for it. Lillard was all but absent in the first half, and he came back in the second to scorch the Mavericks in the third. It was his scoring, along with McCollum, Bazemore, and Hood, that ultimately lifted the Blazers over the Mavericks, marking a real team effort.
Their willingness to push the pace is covering up the lack of depth with their reads. In Stotts’ flow offense, there can often be several outcomes to a play. Sometimes that leads to a lot of shuttling the ball around on the perimeter, especially as a team becomes comfortable with each other. In this game, it appeared to be very focused on the first play that could be made: the iso, the dribble drive, the spot-up three, the lob. It is to be expected that that will change as this team gets to know one another.
Coach Stotts trusts Damian Lillard. When it came to challenging the foul call, Stotts was hesitant to use it, but he said post-game that Lillard was “adamant” that he do so. It paid off for the Blazers in a win.
Zach Collins is scheduled for an MRI on Monday and will not play against the San Antonio Spurs. According to Jordan Kent of NBC Sports Northwest, he told several sources that it popped back in cleanly. It remains to be seen what the loss of Collins means to the Blazers, but Whiteside fouling out has already happened, and it could happen again.
Ultimately, this team has to get more reps in together. They have to become more comfortable with each other. It is clear that they trust one another, but the actual knowledge of each others’ games is not there yet. It will come in time. Their ability to gut it out against a tough Dallas team shows how capable they are.
The Blazers return to action on Monday to face LaMarcus Aldridge and the Spurs.