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Maurice Harkless Shines in Blazers’ Tough Win Over Celtics

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The Trail Blazers relied on their defense in a 97-92 victory over the Celtics.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Trail Blazers kept their winning streak alive by capturing a hard-fought victory against the Celtics. Buoyed by a strong defensive effort, Head Coach Terry Stotts’ squad survived a putrid shooting night on offense. Damian Lillard’s 33-point outburst provided the scoring punch that put Portland over the top, but gritty performances from Maurice Harkless and Jusuf Nurkic kept the Blazers afloat.

It was a similar recipe for the Celtics on Wednesday. Kyrie Irving supplied the fireworks and Marcus Smart kept Boston in the mix with his relentless play on both ends of the court. In the end, Nurkic and Lillard proved to be too much for the Celtics in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter.

Passing Lane Property

Harkless set the tone for the Blazers’ night by securing two steals in the first quarter. With the offense struggling, Portland’s defense prevented Boston from getting out in front. When both teams combined to go 1-19 from deep in the second quarter, it was the Blazers’ aggressiveness that gave them the edge going into halftime.

At half, Portland’s shooting percentage rested at a paltry 35.6 percent. Despite the ugly shooting, the Blazers clung to a slim one-point lead thanks to their work in the margins. With advantages in both offensive rebounding and free throw attempts, Stotts’ squad bought themselves enough time to find their rhythm.

Second Unit Struggles

Portland’s revamped second unit turned in its first forgettable outing. Enes Kanter was targeted by the Celtics’ offense, Rodney Hood and Seth Curry produced a goose egg in 40 minutes of combined work, and Layman had notable lapses on both ends of the court.

The struggles from the Blazers’ reserves were compounded by spirited play from the Celtics’ bench. Gordon Hayward sparked coach Brad Stevens’ offense in the first quarter and Jaylen Brown recorded his second double-double of the season in 30 minutes of action.

Portland’s re-tooled rotation was destined to hit a few speed bumps after the All-Star break. Even as the Celtics routinely placed Kanter in tough spots, Stotts remained committed to his new big fella over Zach Collins.

The Closer

Nurkic took the wind out of the Celtics’ attack late in the game. Boston’s small-ball lineup was put to rest halfway through the fourth quarter once the Bosnian Beast returned to the court. Nurkic feasted as the Celtics’ failed to move the big fella out of the post. At one point, Robert Williams was summoned off the bench to go toe-to-toe with Nurkic. The results weren’t pretty for the little-used youngster. Nurkic completed a ferocious dunk and helped the Blazers force a turnover on defense. Williams returned to the bench after 30 seconds of action.

Harkless Out In Front

Lillard overcame a rough shooting night by moving downhill on offense. He successfully countered the Celtics’ perimeter pressure by earning 24 of his 33 points from inside the three-point line.

Along with strong defensive contributions, Harkless was relentless on offense. Four of his 10 rebounds came on the offensive end and he finished with 17 points to complete a sturdy double-double.

Al-Farouq Aminu attempted just two shots from the field, but his only conversion couldn’t have come at a better time. His late-game three-pointer helped the Blazers stymie the Celtics’ rally. Outside of his meager point total, Aminu finished with nine rebounds and two steals.

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The Blazers return to action on Friday with a trip to Canada to face the Raptors.