Portland has now won two in a row against quality teams, following a dreadful five-game losing streak.
Damian Lillard had another big night with 32 points, five rebounds and five assists. Norman Powell came through with one of his best games of the season with 28 points and four assists.
The Blazers overcame a huge night from former Oregon Duck Dillon Brooks, who had 37 points, but couldn’t deliver the heroics down the stretch.
Lillard picked up right where he left off Friday against the Hornets, aggressively looking for his shot from the get-go. Lillard nearly single-handedly carried the offense throughout the entire first quarter, torturing the Grizzlies defense with a clinic of stepbacks, laser-focused threes and line drives to the basket. He even had a 4-point play to boot (his first of the season) on his way to 17 points. It was about as determined as Dame has appeared all season, looking to score nearly every time he touched the ball.
This helped the Blazers endure a hot start from Brooks and the Grizzlies, which, despite Lillard’s efforts, still saw Portland trail by 11 points in the early goings. The plodding Grizzlies offense without Ja Morant almost lulls you to sleep, and Brooks & Co. were able to dissect the Blazers defense and feast mostly unencumbered in the mid-range.
But once the early momentum faded, the Blazers were able to claw back into striking distance, trailing only 32-28 heading into the second quarter.
With Dame on the bench, Portland’s makeshift second unit continued to put pressure onto Memphis. Nassir Little was his usual ball of energy self while Robert Covington found his shooting stroke early. The two had eight points apiece in the period, and provided enough of a general nuisance on defense to help prevent the Grizzlies from capitalizing on Lillard’s absence. The Blazers even briefly held the lead midway through the period.
When Lillard returned, he was treated like a teenager who just got caught drinking at the Christmas party, Memphis never let him out of the sight of at least two defenders at any time. The Grizzlies essentially said “Fool us twice,” and if their game plan hadn’t already been entirely Lillard-centric, it became so then. Lillard still managed another six points in the quarter, but the one man show would need to be expanded to an ensemble.
Memphis carried only a 52-51 advantage going into the break.
There were multiple points in the third quarter where it looked like the Grizzlies were about to make the run that would put the Blazers away. First, it was a 9-1 run midway through the period punctuated by a Brooks fast break jam which put Memphis ahead 69-60. Then, after Portland managed to close the distance, the Grizzlies built another six-point lead culminating with a Steven Adams tip-in allowed by poor defensive rebounding. Just about any other night, either of these might have been enough to break the Blazers’ spirit and do them in. But credit to Portland, for each hit they took, they delivered an equal blow right back.
Timely trees down the stretch from Covington and Anfernee Simons helped mitigate the damage, and the Blazers went into the final frame trailing only 80-77.
The door was left wide open for both teams for most of the fourth, as shooters started going cold. Neither side could string together enough baskets to really seize any sort of control, so the last 12 minutes felt like going back and forth hoping that when time expired, the pendulum would be swung the the right side.
An and-1 layup from Simons early in the quarter regained the lead for Portland at 84-82, but it wasn’t until the final minutes that the contest would truly be decided.
With 1:14 remaining and the score tied at 97, Jusuf Nurkic tipped in his own miss to give the Blazers a 99-97 lead. Then, after LIllard forced Brooks into a highly-contested three point attempt at the other end, Powell knocked down a rhythm jumper from the elbow to seize a 4-point lead that might as well have been 20. That would end up being enough to put the game out of reach. Portland was able to play the foul game the rest of the way.
Stay tuned for the extended analysis of tonight’s game.
The Blazers will get a day off before heading to New Orleans to face the Pelicans Tuesday evening at 5 p.m. Pacific.