The Portland Trail Blazers played a scintillating third quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night, pulling past a first-half deficit and making a run at their first victory in seven outings. It was not to be, though. Damian Lillard’s desperate effort to keep his team afloat in the fourth wasn’t enough to bail out ineffective defense. The Blazers dropped the ball, and the game, against Memphis 113-103.
Lillard finished the evening with 21 points but shot only 6-21 from the field. The big asterisk: he was an impressive 5-11 on three-pointers. Norman Powell led the Blazers with 25 while Anfernee Simons contributed 22 off the bench. Between them, that trio attempted 54 of Portland’s 82 shots, which didn’t leave a lot of production for the rest of the roster.
Portland finished the game an impressive 15-38 on three-pointers (39.5%) but shot only 31-82 (37.8%) overall. The Grizzlies amassed 27 fast break points and 50 points in the paint, breaking down Portland’s defense inside before barraging them with threes to finish the game.
The Blazers got off to a hot start, basically the same way they did against the Phoenix Suns last night. Damian Lillard and Norman Powell hit threes. The supporting cast moved the ball to open shooters. In the first 4 minutes, the Blazers had 13 points and the Grizzlies, with 4, spent a momentum-change timeout. Turnovers were Portland’s only real flaw, but Memphis was stumbling and bumbling through their offense, so the miscues didn’t hurt much practically. But once again Portland’s offense stalled as the second (read: third) unit came in...a result of injuries, but not pleasant to watch. The Grizzlies didn’t get much better on offense as the quarter unwound, but even their mediocrity was enough to catch up to Portland’s painful awkwardness. Blazers turnovers didn’t help their cause, nor did 14(!) fast break points allowed in the period. Despite Portland’s good start, the Grizz led 24-19 after one.
Portland’s pick-and-roll defense got barbequed at the start of the second period. First the deep bench left dribblers and passing lanes open. The situation didn’t improve until all the starters returned. The first unit at least stopped penetration into the lane, but they got really lucky that the Grizzlies couldn’t hit wide-open threes. Memphis got a ton of great looks, converting zero. Jusuf Nurkic looked a little distracted, drawing problematic fouls. It was just...weird.
Though Portland kept the Grizzlies from scoring at the arc, they couldn’t shut down the lane. With Nurkic sitting, Steven Adams destroyed Portland with offensive rebound putbacks. Nor could the Blazers score themselves outside of the lane, Their jumpers were broken; the scoreboard refused to move above a snail’s pace. Lillard and Anfernee Simons hit long balls late in the period to free things up a little, but it wasn’t near enough. A three-point breakaway play in the last seconds of the quarter by Larry Nance, Jr. brought the margin back within single digits, but the Blazers still trailed 55-47 at the half.
The Blazers erased the memory of the first half by catching absolute, unadulterated FIRE at the start of the third period. Lillard hit two long-range triples; Powell followed up with a four-point play. All of a sudden Portland stood on the right side of a 16-2 run that took them from 8 down to 4 up before four minutes had elapsed. The Blazers continued to splash from deep as the quarter continued. It was almost otherworldly, and exactly what they needed. Powell was a key. He hit deep, poked away steals, and remained terribly active. He and Nurkic spearheaded an effective defensive attack wherein the middle of the floor became inaccessible to Memphis and the perimeter filled with busy-handed steal-mongers. Nurkic scoring inside didn’t hurt either. All the energy and continuity missing from the first half showed up big time in the third quarter. The Grizz did make a strong 12-4 push at the end of the period, but it was hard to kill Portland’s buzz. When the smoke cleared, the Blazers led 82-80. The lead was modest, but welcome.
Desmond Bane and Dillon Brooks came at the Blazers hard at the start of the fourth, making Portland pay for their inability to watch the arc, striking from deep. The first four Memphis buckets in the period came from distance. That put the Grizzlies up 12 before the Blazers could sneeze. The Grizz didn’t slow down either. They hit 8 of their first 8 shots, Portland had Nurkic drop back in the lane against them, but that allowed them relatively easy floaters. Lillard tried to keep Portland afloat, first driving to the rim, then attempting threes. He just couldn’t score fast enough.
Lillard kept shooting, hitting infrequently. Anfernee Simons added a triple. Powell scored too. But Bane and Brooks kept shooting pure, giving the Grizzlies huge efforts. Memphis’ fourth-quarter shooting chart looked like the court got Chicken Pox. After a huge third period effort, the Blazers sagged to yet another loss.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of the game.
The Blazers will try to win ONE game on this homestand as they welcome the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night at 7:00, Pacific.