The Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Boston Celtics 145-117 tonight, their second straight home loss this week after giving up only one the entire season prior. Portland’s defense was missing in action at the start of the game, recovered a bit in the second quarter, then took a permanent vacation in the second half. Boston ended up shooting 56.3% from the field and 56.8% from the arc on their way to an easy victory.
Damian Lillard remained sideline for the Blazers with an ongoing abdominal injury. In his absence, CJ McCollum scored 24 on 8-21 shooting. Dennis Smith, Jr. scored 21 on 7-14 shooting from the point guard slot. Jusuf Nurkic added 18 points in 20 minutes, shooting 6-9.
The Blazers started out the night unable to connect on deep shots. They went 0-6 in shots beyond 20 feet. They also hit only 3 of their first 8 shots in the lane. That put the kibosh on their offense. On the other end, they allowed the Celtics to shoot approximately six billion percent. Seriously, Boston hit 14 of their first 15 shots, and they were shooting them from EVERYWHERE. A 20-point deficit is nothing new for Portland. Tonight they built one in the first quarter. Even for them, that’s overachieving. Portland trailed 38-23 after one.
With injuries plaguing the roster, Coach Chauncey Billups was forced to dig deep into his bench in order to field a second unit. This had the dual effect of lulling the Celtics to sleep and upping Portland’s energy. Guys who don’t get to play as much are going to play hard when they see the floor. With some justification, Boston started lofting every shot from beyond the arc. Granted, they hit 3 of 6 in the opening minutes, but at least it made them somewhat easier to defend...errrr...predict? Cody Zeller, Larry Nance, Jr., and company started crashing the boards, setting crisp screens, and hitting open shots. Midway through the period the gap dropped to 9, a minute later to 7. Compared to the first quarter, that seemed almost like a tie.
Lo and behold, the first unit caught the fever. Boston was still playing silly when Portland’s starters retook the floor for a redo. The defensive intensity edged upwards. The Blazers started scoring at the rim and the foul line...easy, more bankable points, aided by poor interior “D” from Enes Freedom. CJ McCollum came alive. It all rolled Portland’s way and they came almost all the way back. But the Celts regained their sanity and started passing the ball for decent shots late. That was enough to preserve a 64-58 lead heading into intermission.
Incredibly, the Blazers started the third quarter playing the same poor brand of defense they had started the game with. If the lesson was learned, they sure had a funny way of showing it. Boston didn’t come out with the same intensity. Portland also hit shots. That covered up the worst of it. But the Celts still got the margin to double-digits again easily. It didn’t look like the Blazers were playing to win, just not to look bad.
Jusuf Nurkic gave Portland an improvised floatation device when Boston threatened to sink them, hitting a couple shots in the lane and helping with interior defense on the other end, which finally began to look semi-solid. He couldn’t help Portland defend in transition, nor could it prevent perimeter defenders from fouling Celtics three-point shooters, both of which became issues as the quarter unfolded. Still, it was something. If McCollum had used Nurkic’s screens better, Portland’s offense might have really gotten rolling. It didn’t, and as a result, the Celtics were able to expand their margin to safe territory again. Boston led after 103-84 three.
The Blazers tried to repeat their second-quarter magic at the outset of the fourth, taking the ball inside and scoring repeatedly. But even though they shut down the lane against the Celts for a while, they never solved their defensive issues at the arc. Boston feasted on threes and, as a result, pumped up the score to near-intolerable levels. It was a disappointingly limp ending to a seemingly-botched game.
Stay tuned for extended analysis coming soon!
The Blazers will try to play a slightly better first quarter when they welcome the Los Angeles Clippers at 7:00 PM, Pacific on Monday night.