The win marks the second straight triumph after a five-game losing streak that had the Blazers hovering around the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture.
However, if they play like they did tonight, there won’t be any doubt as to whether the Blazers should make the playoffs.
For a quarter-by-quarter breakdown, see our instant recap.
Here’s a look at some of tonight’s storylines:
Cool, Calm and Collected
Despite trailing by 11 early, the Blazers were able to keep their composure. This team has struggled with adversity a lot this season, especially on the road, but tonight was a different case.
That’s when Damian Lillard began to heat up and take over.
Dame’s Hot Start
Damian Lillard is beginning to look more like himself, and that’s really good for the Blazers. He finished the first quarter with 16 of the team’s 28 points, shooting 4 of 6 from the field.
Had Lillard not been there, the Grizzlies could have easily pulled ahead and left the Blazers in the dust.
Lillard scored 16 more points throughout the remaining three quarters to lead all Blazers with 32 points on 9 of 19 shooting.
Damian Lillard: VERY good basketball player pic.twitter.com/vRvp4yCt6X— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) December 19, 2021
For the first time since December 1, the Blazers held an opponent to 100 points or fewer. The Blazers held the Grizzlies to 28.5 percent from the field and 26.5 percent from downtown. Desmond Bane, who shoots north of 40 percent from beyond, shot just 1 of 8 tonight.
While the Blazers may have caught the Grizzlies on an off night, it does show maturity that the Blazers matched up with this team earlier in the week, made adjustments, and came out on top.
Crashing The Glass
If there was a place to point towards why the Blazers won tonight, one might look at the rebounding battle.
The Grizzlies lead the NBA in rebounds per game with 47.5, while the Blazers rank towards the bottom of the league at 23rd with 43.9. However, tonight it appeared as if the roles reversed. The Blazers out-rebounded the Grizzlies 51-33.
Jusuf Nurkic and Larry Nance Jr. each had 11 to lead all players, and Nassir Little added nine, including four offensive rebounds.
When that kind of effort shows on the glass, it permeates around the team’s total defense. Although the Grizzlies play big and the Blazers tend to play more small, they prioritized rebounding tonight and it showed.
Too Many Turnovers
Despite the team’s successes tonight, there is still a ton of room for improvement, especially in the turnover department.
The team coughed up the ball 25 times tonight. The Blazers found so many ways to give the ball back to the Grizzlies, they might have even invented new ways to turn the ball over. Eight second violations, four shot clock violations, bad passes, losing the ball out of bounds. The Blazers do themselves no favors when they are all unforced.
Portland is in the middle of the pack with the rest of the NBA, committing 14 turnovers per game, but if they can cut that number down a little bit, some of these losses they’ve had recently can be returned as wins.
Clutch At The End
Talk about the entire game all you want, this game came down to the final possessions with roughly around two minutes to go.
The Blazers and Grizzlies were knotted up a couple of times during the fourth quarter, but the Blazers came through when it mattered most.
Jusuf Nurkic has struggled with injuries lately. He’s dealt with a sprained finger and even suffered a rib contusion during tonight’s contest, but remained in the game. Around the 1:15 mark, he picked up his own miss and tipped in the shot that would ultimately give the Blazers the lead for good. While Nurkic has struggled this season, his presence on the floor made a big difference at the end of the game.
The bigger possession came right after when the Blazers denied a go-ahead three from Dillon Brooks and denied the Grizzlies a chance at any second chance points. Then, in the half court, Lillard and Norman Powell played their two-man game and it ended with a Powell midrange dagger for his 25th and 26th points of the evening.
Tonight marked Powell’s fifth 20-point performance in his last seven games and was one shy of his season-high.
With CJ McCollum and Robert Covington out of the starting lineup, it’s really opened a lane for Powell to play his more natural game and he’s playing really well off Lillard, who sets him up with high-percentage looks and smart shots.
In order for the Blazers to continue climbing up the standings, this duo is going to have to keep doing what they did tonight.
The Blazers travel to the Big Easy to take on the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. PST.