In the penultimate edition of my review of each Portland Trail Blazers player’s best game of the 2019-20 season, we look at the starting front court: Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza and Hassan Whiteside. (Imagine reading the previous sentence shortly after Portland exited the playoffs last year…who would’ve thought that Melo, Ariza and Whiteside would be donning the red and black?)
Anthony showed flashes of the 2012-13 scoring-champion several times throughout his 50-game tenure with the Blazers. None of those big offensive efforts were more important than his 28 points in a win over the Toronto Raptors on January 7. He shot 10/17 from the field and 5/8 from three-point territory that night, including a go-ahead pull-up jumper with four seconds left that ultimately won Portland the game.
His night didn’t get off to a strong start, however. On the first play, he attempted a Dirk Nowitzki fadeaway shot and had it returned by OG Anunoby. That shot signaled to Anthony that his attempts needed to come out of the offense rather than forced isolation plays against a lengthy Toronto team.
Early in the third quarter, the veteran knocked down a triple thanks to an offensive rebound by Whiteside. It stopped the Raptors momentum and brought the lead down to 11 with plenty of time to play. The following possession, he pump faked on the arc and watched the defender fly right by him; Anthony pounded a few dribbles and sank an elbow jumper.
Immediately after coming off the bench with 5:47 remaining in the fourth, Anthony made a corner triple from a spinning Whiteside pass to cut Toronto’s lead to four. His next three came four minutes later as part of a 10-2 closing run by Portland. Damian Lillard found Anthony open in the corner when the Raptors defense collapsed on the drive.
In the Blazers final possession of the game, the defense prevented Lillard from receiving the inbounds pass. Anthony inbounded it to CJ McCollum, who got trapped along the baseline without his dribble. He returned the ball to Anthony, who executed his classic couple-dribble pull-up jumper from the elbow to give Portland the lead with just four seconds remaining. Kyle Lowry missed a deep three out of the timeout and the Blazers won, 101-99.
Ariza only played 21 games for Portland before the season’s postponement, but he had a couple candidates for best game in that span. Ultimately, his 22-point, six-rebound performance against the Phoenix Suns on March 10 marked his pinnacle in the red and black. He made 7/12 from the field and 5/8 from deep to go with one steal and one block.
Although the veteran wing had better scoring outings for the Blazers, his 22 versus the Suns came in addition to defending Devin Booker for a majority of the contest. He stayed in Booker’s jersey around screens, in transition and on drives, forcing the All-Star guard to miss 16 of 25 attempts.
Ariza made three of his five triples in the first quarter, all resulting from smart passes by his teammates. The first came from McCollum on a baseline drive, the second from an incredible cross-court find over Aron Baynes by Lillard, and the third on an extra pass along the perimeter by Gary Trent Jr.
He proceeded to miss his next three attempts from beyond the arc, two of which were gimmes in transition. As Phoenix climbed back from the double-digit deficit in the second quarter and remained tight throughout the third, Ariza’s tough defense on Booker forced other Suns players to score. In the second, he ran out with Booker and interrupted a usually elementary pass at half court for a steal that doesn’t make the box score. The next time down the floor, he swatted Booker’s fading jumper – on the ball’s way down, it hit off Booker to return possession to the Blazers and energize the home crowd.
Ariza regained his shooting touch in the fourth quarter as Portland’s lead became insurmountable. He hit a corner three off an extra pass by McCollum to extend the gap to 12, then two plays later another three in transition to extend the lead to 16 with less than five minutes remaining. The Blazers won 121-105.
For the most part, a player’s best game can be determined by scanning box scores and reading the recap for that contest. For Whiteside, however, that’s not the case. This year he had box scores of 20 points and 20 rebounds, a double-double with blocks, and more. But my selection for the best game of his first campaign with Portland was February 1 against the Utah Jazz.
The main reason for that decision: he held Rudy Gobert to six points and 11 rebounds in 32 minutes of floor time. Conversely, he posted 17 points, 21 rebounds and three blocks on 7/10 shooting. Whiteside frequently receives criticism for not boxing out, but he put a body on Gobert every time a shot went in the air. And even when the Jazz big man did get position on the glass, Whiteside managed to squeeze his way back into the mix and smartly force the ref to bail him out with a foul call.
The team stats reflected the battle between the two centers. Portland outrebounded Utah 60-42, and a normally weak Blazers defense held a powerful Jazz offense to 40 points in the paint.
Offensively, Whiteside thrived in the post against smaller defenders and when slipping screens for Lillard. This win came during Lillard’s absurd scoring explosion, so both defenders focused on him on pick and rolls and cleared a lane to the rim for Whiteside.
The big man’s energy feeds off his teammates, and his teammates’ energy feeds off him. So, seeing Whiteside dive to the floor to collect a loose ball before Mike Conley could in the third quarter pushed the Blazers to maintain its lead for the remaining time. The final score ended as 124-107 in favor of Portland – Whiteside was a team-high +20.