The Portland Trail Blazers — in yet another unnecessarily tight game — pulled out a victory against the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers to improve to 4-2 in the bubble. Portland now sits 0.5 games back on the 8th place Memphis Grizzlies and 0.5 games clear of the 10th place San Antonio Spurs with two seeding contests remaining.
This afternoon marked a much-needed win after the Blazers lost to the Los Angeles Clippers B-team 24 hours earlier. For Philadelphia, Ben Simmons didn’t play and Joel Embiid exited after just five minutes due to an ankle injury, so the door was wide open for Portland...again. Still, Damian Lillard had to play hero and drop 51 points in order to secure the win.
For the 76ers, Josh Richardson scored a personal bubble-high of 34 points on 13/20 shooting and six three-pointers. Alec Burks came off the bench to tally an efficient 20 points on 14 field goal attempts. Double-digit scoring efforts from three other 76ers players wasn’t enough as the Blazers squeaked out the win in the final minutes.
Based on how Saturday’s game concluded, it was a guarantee that Lillard would come out looking for blood this afternoon. He did just that, dropping 51 points on 16/28 shooting against a tough Philadelphia defense. He only made four triples — Lillard did his damage in the paint and at the free throw line.
The 76ers opted to drop their bigs in pick and roll coverage, inviting Lillard to hoist up his patented pull up threes around a Jusuf Nurkic screen. Uncharacteristically, they didn’t fall early on as the effects of Saturday’s 39 minutes of action weighed on him. Instead, even against the sagging big, he got to the rim time and time again to either finish or draw a foul.
Even on a pass back out to the three-point line, Lillard somehow got the ball through the net.
We've seen a lot from Dame but this is new! pic.twitter.com/ovrEXhxhRm— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) August 9, 2020
In the second half, those outside attempts started to fall. Philadelphia’s primary two defenders against Lillard — Matisse Thybulle and Josh Richardson — became more aggressive as a result. The veteran guard recognized that and collected a crucial four-point play with three minutes remaining in the fourth to reclaim the lead. And the next possession, he netted another triple to push the lead to six points, ultimately enough to win the game.
Before seeding games even began, the general public knew Portland would struggle to defend the perimeter. That was on full display today against the 76ers.
Entering their fifth matchup of the bubble, Philadelphia had made 42 three-pointers. Over the same number of games, Lillard and Gary Trent Jr. made a combined 51 three-pointers. Suffice to say, Philly isn’t a great outside shooting team. Against Portland, though, they went 14/30 from deep.
A few missteps factored into the 76ers shooting so well. First, the Blazers switched nearly every screen, isolating big men like Nurkic and Zach Collins on the perimeter against quicker guards. To not sacrifice the blow by and a layup, they stepped back enough for the guards to fire up mildly contested threes.
Second, outside of Trent Jr., Portland’s guards can’t fight through screens. A high pick allowed for any Philadelphia ball handler to pull up from three without a hand in his face.
And third, the Blazers aren’t familiar with one another or the team defense to effectively scramble. They run the first shooter off the line but then all collapse and leave another shooter open for an even better look.
If Philadelphia can knock down nearly 50% of its triples, that doesn’t bode well against actual three-point shooting teams. The Dallas Mavericks should expose that on Tuesday.
CJ McCollum’s Defense
Another negative outcome of the constant switching is that CJ McCollum has to guard bigger forwards. The 76ers hunted him with Tobias Harris early on, getting the switch and immediately finding Harris in the post. He ultimately shot 7/19 on the game, but the opportunities were certainly there.
McCollum’s string of unnecessary fouls contributed to yet another woeful third quarter for Portland as well. He shoulder-checked a driving Shake Milton in transition and got called for a flagrant one, leading to two shots and the ball for Philadelphia. Milton wound up scoring three points on the possession — not the worst outcome — but it trimmed the Blazers lead to eight with 10 minutes left in the third.
By the end of the frame, Philadelphia had outscored Portland by 10 points and had a one-point lead.
Carmelo Anthony Keeps Scoring
Carmelo Anthony scored a quiet 20 points, which was enough for second-most on the Blazers roster. Those 20 points were also enough to move him from 17th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list to 15th, surpassing John Havlicek and Paul Pierce. He’s now at 26,411 total points, 85 behind Tim Duncan for 14th all-time.
Take a big deep breath.
The Blazers face the Mavericks on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. PT. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis will sit out Monday’s game against the Utah Jazz for rest, meaning they should suit up against Portland as the second of the back-to-back.