Fueled by the heroics of Damian Lillard and Al-Farouq Aminu, the Portland Trail Blazers emerged victorious from a nail-biting matchup against the Detroit Pistons. Portland developed a lead early in the second quarter, but it didn’t last long. The score bounced back and forth for the remainder of the game until consecutive defensive stops, a four-point play from Lillard, and a clutch floater by Aminu secured the win in the dying seconds.
Al-Farouq Aminu Saves the Day
Aminu demonstrated perhaps his best court awareness of the season. He slashed to the hoop when his defender collapsed on a Lillard drive, he floated into the corner when his defender helped on the roll man, and, importantly, he made his shots in these scenarios. En route to a season-high 22 points, Aminu shot 8-13 from the field and knocked down two timely three-pointers.
Besides the open opportunities provided to him by Lillard, Aminu created his own looks without turning it over, too. In CJ McCollum-esque fashion, he drove to the hoop with the ball tucked under his arm and finished a tough one-handed layup late in the fourth quarter. More importantly, he scooped up a near turnover by Lillard with seconds remaining in the game and hit a unique floater to assure the victory.
After a few games of mishandled passes, ill-advised drives into traffic, and poor outside shooting, a season-best performance from Aminu should right the ship for the forward as the playoffs swiftly approach.
McCollum’s Absence Changes Pick-and-Roll Defenses
Without McCollum on the court, Portland’s starting lineup only fields one reliable three-point shooter: Lillard. The problem? He’s the ball handler for the team’s frequent pick-and-rolls.
McCollum’s absence encouraged Detroit defenders to help on Nurkic when he rolled or when Lillard attempted to penetrate after the screen. Fortunately, Aminu and Harkless converted their early outside attempts and forced the Pistons to play the perimeter a little tighter. Nonetheless, a crammed paint area forced Lillard and Nurkic to turn the ball over several times, an issue only exacerbated when Aminu and Harkless don’t make their threes.
Seth Curry Stays Hot
The Blazers are now 17-0 when Seth Curry scores more than 10 points. The frequency of games he eclipses the ten-point mark dramatically increases in the absence of McCollum: he’s scored double digits in all three games without McCollum.
Against the Pistons, Curry hunted for his shot right off the bat. He drove to the hoop, hit midrange jumpers following a pump fake, made one three-pointer, and drew fouls. By halftime, he had a team-high 16 points, a season-high for points in a half.
As his teammates picked up the slack offensively, Curry remained a distraction for Detroit’s defense. They couldn’t leave him on the perimeter and intensely closed out when he received a pass. Instead of continuing to force shots up, the guard accepted his secondary role and failed to score in the final two quarters, all while positively contributing to the team’s offense.
Interior Defense Struggles
Although Portland outscored Detroit in points in the paint 54-46, the team’s interior defense struggled. Jusuf Nurkic, a heralded rim protector, refused to leave Andre Drummond in the paint to help on drives. As a result, the Pistons guards exploded out of the pick-and-roll and easily accessed the basket for uncontested layups. Outside of his four three-pointers, all of Reggie Jackson’s points came at the rim.
Another factor of the Blazers’ poor interior defense was the extended playing time of Enes Kanter down the stretch. He played the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter despite no foul trouble for Nurkic. Kanter failed to handle the pick-and-roll correctly and allowed numerous looks at the hoop for Detroit.
Finally, Aminu and Harkless miscommunicated on several possessions in the second half. Their miscommunication left a Pistons player open on the perimeter or under the hoop, but both closed out on the perimeter opponent and abandoned the paint, where Nurkic refused to help.
Portland’s four-game homestand concludes on Monday with the Brooklyn Nets (which is also BE Night!).