A furious second half rally came up just short as the Portland Trail Blazers dropped a close game to the Boston Celtics on Sunday afternoon.
Down by as many as 24, Damian Lillard’s 22 second-half points helped Portland find its way back into the game, but it wasn’t enough as they fell to the Celtics 128-124. Lillard finished with 30 points and 16 assists. Jusuf Nurkic had 30 points, nine rebounds, and five assists.
Jayson Tatum led all scorers with 34 points while Enes Kanter and Gordon Hayward finished with eight rebounds each.
Portland outscored Boston 76 to 61 in second half, but it was the barrage of 11 first-half three-pointers that proved to be the difference between the two sides in the second game of the NBA restart.
Early deficit neutralizes Portland’s game plan
After an up-and-down, high-scoring game against the Memphis Grizzlies, it was clear early on that Portland wanted to slow the game down and control the pace against Boston.
The Blazers got off to a good start by playing through Jusuf Nurkic. Whether it be in the pick and roll game or just a simple post up, Portland had something going when they looked to attack the smaller Boston lineup early.
Above, you can see Nurkic isolate 6’8” Daniel Theis on the near side and go to work in the post. Below, Nurkic slips a pick and roll and has a clear lane to the hoop.
Be still our hearts pic.twitter.com/d6AVGEkd9A— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) August 2, 2020
Both of these are good examples of what a healthy Nurkic brings to this team. The problem is that, because Boston was able to pull away early, Portland couldn’t afford to slow the game down as much and take advantage of Nurkic in the half-court game.
Having to play from behind makes Portland more one-dimensional on offense, benefitting an already-pesky Celtics defense. The Blazers looked sharp early, but the dynamics quickly changed as the first half wore on.
Ball movement improving in Orlando
With Carmelo Anthony, Damian Lillard, and CJ McCollum, Portland has multiple players that thrive in isolation. However, with so many players unafraid to pull up from anywhere on the court, it’s important to balance both possessions of isolation and ball movement.
Currently ranked last in the league in assists per game (20.3), there were stretches of play throughout the season in which ball movement appeared stagnant.
This is more of what Stotts wants to see. Lillard sucks defenders in before kicking it to Nurkic who finds Collins for the easy bucket.
In the last five games, Portland bumped its assist average up to 23.8, which would boost them up ten spots in the table. They finished with 31 against Boston.
While it’s been just five games, Portland has looked much better with its ball movement in Orlando and have found easy buckets because of it.
Exorcising third quarter demons
Oftentimes the team’s achilles heel, Portland had one of its best third quarters in recent memory against the Celtics.
The Blazers outscored Boston 38 to 27 in the quarter, igniting a stellar comeback that saw them come back and take a lead for the first time since the opening quarter.
After allowing the Grizzlies back into the game in the third quarter just days ago, it was nice to see the shoe on the other foot this afternoon.
Of course, it also helps to have Lillard on your side.
In Portland’s second game of the NBA restart, we saw a team that faced adversity and roared back. If we continue to see that over the next few weeks, the Blazers have a good shot at making it to the playoffs.
After a pair of matinee games, Portland will play its next game at 6 p.m. PT on Tuesday against the Houston Rockets.