The Trail Blazers suffered their first loss of the NBA’s restart schedule after their spirited comeback attempt fell short against the Celtics. Boston secured a 128-124 victory thanks to a combined 64 points from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. For Portland, Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic led the way with an evenly split 60 points. Despite the loss, the Blazers battled back from a 20-point deficit to go toe-to-toe with the Celtics in the final moments.
Here is a look back at the Blazers’ heroic comeback attempt that fell just short.
The first three minutes of action ran counter to how the rest of the quarter would play out. Early on, both sides threaded their respective offenses through the paint. Jusuf Nurkic went to work on Daniel Theis and found success with decisive-and-powerful post moves. For the Celtics, they focused on quick two-man actions that opened up opportunities for players streaking through the paint.
As the quarter continued, the Celtics’ offense turned to the perimeter. Boston moved the ball purposefully early in possessions and feasted on an opponent that was consistently late to react. Led by Gordon Hayward’s three shots from distance, the Celtics finished the quarter going 8-for-12 on their three-point attempts. The Blazers’ inability to defend beyond the arc were compounded by erratic play from Hassan Whiteside and foul trouble for Zach Collins. The Celtics finished the first frame up 38-24.
The Blazers’ defensive lapses worsened in the second quarter as the Celtics settled into an effortless rhythm. Unlike the first quarter, Boston slowed things down and picked apart Portland’s paint-centric defense. Nurkic and Carmelo Anthony were frequent targets of pick-and-roll sets that led to favorable looks for the Celtics. Once Tatum hit his stride, if felt like all his attempts were good shots, leading to 15 points in the quarter.
Nurkic combined with Gary Trent Jr. to keep the Blazers within 20 points. Trent kept Boston’s offense honest with his three-point shooting and Nurkic continued to exploit inferior defenders in the post. The Blazers headed to the locker room trailing 67-48.
The hole the Blazers found themselves in continued to maintain its depth for the majority of the third quarter. Fueled by a steady stream of three-pointers, led by Hayward once again, the Celtics kept the Blazers at arms length. Collins, back from an extended foul-induced break, help shift the momentum alongside Nurkic. Portland’s bigs worked off each other for good looks in high-low actions on offense and Collins’ nimble feet finally applied pressure to Boston’s forwards on the defensive end.
Facing a defense suddenly focused on slowing down frontcourt play, Lillard finally hit his stride. Slowly, the Celtics’ lead shrunk below twenty points, then finally to single digits. Nurkic and Lillard combined for 22 points in the frame, cutting Boston’s lead to eight points after three quarters.
Lillard’s hot hand returned to work in the fourth quarter with a beautiful four-point play that cut the Celtics’ lead to just two possessions. After mixed results through three quarters, McCollum joined the action with three-point shooting of his own, giving the Blazers their first lead since the first quarter.
Facing renewed pressure, the Celtics leaned on their two talented forwards: Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The latter of the two showed up in big moment after big moment. Smothered or open, Brown had the answer to Lillard’s offense on the opposite end of the floor.
Separated by a single possession for the majority of the final six minutes, both squads turned to their crunch-time lineups. Outside of a Nurkic-for-Collins swap, the Blazers utilized the same late-game lineup from Friday. A beautiful sequence involving a Lillard-Nurkic set ended with a crucial three-pointer from Trent to give Portland a single-point lead with just under two minutes remaining. The Celtics did not break, though. Four points from Hayward and a dagger three-pointer from Brown in the next minute and a half gave Boston an advantage that they would not relinquish.
A late three-pointer from Melo combined with a costly over-and-back violation to give the Blazers a chance to tie the game with just under seven seconds left on the clock. Instead of going for a three-pointer, Nurkic sliced through the middle for a quick two points. With no timeouts and under five seconds remaining, Boston did just enough to secure a 128-124 victory.
Modern Forward, Old-Fashioned Problems
It was no secret that the Blazers would miss Trevor Ariza inside the bubble and Sunday’s loss proved why. Tatum represented the first premier forward that Portland would face during the restart. The former Duke standout notched 34 points of his own while also turning the Blazers’ defense into Swiss cheese for his teammates.
Collins did enough to bother Tatum around the rim, but early foul trouble for the former Gonzaga big man allowed his counterpart to settle into a comfortable rhythm. Once Portland’s defense sent help, Boston’s shooters would apply the punishment from beyond the arc. The Celtics converted 18 of their 30 three-point attempts on Sunday.
It was another mostly-awkward outing for Whiteside in his new role off the bench. His minutes in the first half bordered on an outright disaster. Facing Enes Kanter along the baseline outside of the paint, Whiteside bit on a routine pump fake, allowing the former Blazers center to dribble easily into the paint. Once Kanter reached the basket Collins applied a desperation block attempt, earning him his third foul of the quarter. Both Whiteside and Collins would sit for the entire second quarter.
Whiteside’s second-half shift went slightly better, but that was a low bar to clear. He finished with five points and five rebounds in 16 minutes of action.
Big Shot Gary
Gary Trent Jr. has cemented his place in Portland’s crunch-time lineup. The second-year wing has proven he can space the floor under pressure. He finished with a single-game career-high seven three-pointers against the Celtics. The future is bright for the former Duke standout.
Nurkic was the only consistent offensive presence in Sunday’s loss. The big fella punished one-on-one matchups underneath all game. Nurkic finished with 30 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals in his second game back from injury.
Lillard saved his best for last. After failing to connect on a single three-pointer in the first half, he sunk five of them in the final two quarters. Lillard finished with 30 points and 16 assists.
The Blazers return to action on Tuesday to face the Rockets.