The Portland Trail Blazers didn’t play the perfect game on Tuesday night versus the Washington Wizards. At times the looked slow, tired, and just plain thin against one of the NBA’s offensive powerhouses. But the Blazers played a team game for all but isolated moments, and that made up for any ills. On the second night of a back-to-back, Portland put six players in double figured, four of them scoring 19 or more, and routed the Wizards 132-121.
The Wizards are not a premium NBA franchise. Playing bad teams makes everything look better. Even so, the Wizards can SCORE and the Blazers stopped them from doing so in the first quarter. Portland’s defense was both active and effective. The attack centered around the wings. Gary Trent, Jr. and Robert Covington made the game hard for Washington. They were joined on the offensive end by Rodney Hood. That trio scored 24 points in the first 6:00, helping Portland rattle off an 18-0 run. During that same span, the Wizards scored only 7. Most impressively of all, Damian Lillard contributed zero points to the effort. That amounts to a 19-point lead, stellar shooting, and great defense without the franchise superstar lifting a finger.
As is typical, Portland’s second unit couldn’t hold the strong defense, but the Blazers still led 40-23 after one with Lillard contributing just 2. I’d be willing to wager that this is either the first, or nearly the first, time that’s ever happened, aside from games he was injured.
Naturally, the Blazers can’t have nice things without losing them. That includes leads of every size. The Wizards closed the margin to 12 before you could say, “Boo!” in the second period. But Trent, Jr. calmly raised it again, draining a pair of threes. No matter how many misses his teammates heaved, Enes Kanter vacuumed them up or tipped them into friendly hands. Even when the defense slipped, the offense overcame, thanks in large part to Kanter’s efforts.
That story changed right around the 7:00 mark. Bradley Beal started hitting threes, spreading and then paralyzing Portland’s defense. That seemed to sap the vigor out of the offense as well. The Blazers devolved into isolation ball, starting with the mildly-acceptable Carmelo Anthony version then progressing into hard-to-watch gunk. The lead wilted to 7 points, then 6. Lillard got aggressive as the half waned, but he still couldn’t get the scoring mojo going, settling for wheelbarrows full of free throws instead. It proved enough, though. Portland led 75-63 at the half. A dozen-point lead gave the Blazers cushion for the inevitable fatigue on the second night of a back-to-back.
The third period started out in standard Blazers fashion: Lillard three, Trent, Jr. three, Lillard three. Being good guests, Portland also allowed the home team to hit from distance. The flurry of scoring looked impressive, but didn’t change the margin much. Washington went on a 9-0 run mid-period, then Portland went 12-0. Lillard scoring a dozen in the period was enough to push the Blazers over the top when all was said and done. Portland led 106-90 after three.
Rodney Hood started off the fourth with a couple threes, signaling to the Wizards that the comeback would be hard. With Lillard still rolling and Trent, Jr. in the vicinity, the Blazers had all the firepower needed to make it happen. But flagging defense and feet allowed the Wizards to close the lead late. Portland stood and watched as Washington ran. The Wizards closed the lead to 4 with four minutes remaining, but Trent, Jr. splashed another three and that was enough. A big Lillard slam with 2:10 remaining put the lid on the game. We even got one of our first “Lillard Time” wristwatch celebrations as the Blazers cruised to victory.
Put some respect on Gary Trent, Jr.’s name. He set the tone in the game with his defense, then added 7-9 shooting from distance, 8-16 overall, for 26 points. His game is professional now: two-way, confident, and impactful.
Enes Kanter had 5 offensive rebounds, but it felt like 50. He was disruptive on the glass, giving the Blazers extra possessions and eating clock to help preserve the lead. He was knocking around Wizards like bowling pins. 14 points, 15 rebounds.
Rodney Hood looked like Rodney Good of olden days tonight. His three-point shot was pure (3-6 from the arc) and he was able to move around the floor.
Robert Covington had a “What the What???” moment in the first period, hitting his first three triples. He aligned with teammates providing mostly-solid defense. 19 points on 5-8 shooting from distance gave Portland the edge they needed to make the game comfortable.
Carmelo Anthony scored 21 points on 8-16 shooting, which is a fantastic stat line. With their bench seriously depleted, the Blazers were happy to go to him. The Wizards started to enjoy it too as the game unfolded, double-teaming him on the catch, knowing he was either going to shoot in isolation or wilt. The plan may not be sustainable; Portland needs to get players healthy quickly. You can’t argue with 21 points in 26 minutes, though. Tip of the hat to ‘Melo.
The Blazers forced 7 turnovers in the first period, a prodigious rate. Behind Trent, Jr. and Covington, they demonstrated what their defense could be. Flagging energy kept them from sustaining the attack, but for a moment, they looked good.
Just as importantly, Washington shot on 17 free throws. Over-aggressive defense from overly-tired players is usually a set-up for Whistlemania. Portland avoided that trap.
Oh...Damian Lillard had 32 points and 8 assists too.
The takeaways from this game were pretty basic:
- Portland can play good defense upon occasion. When they do, they look great.
- Three-point shooting makes everything better for the Blazers. They hit 21-46 tonight, 45.7%. That made the game easy.
- Damian Lillard is fantastic, but if the Blazers want to win consistently, the rest of the team has to be there. The difference between just a little bit of coordinated effort and Iso-Ball Hell (coupled with colander-like defense) is night and day.
Check out this awesome Instant Recap from Marlow Ferguson, Jr.
The Blazers face off against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76’ers on Thursday night at 5:00 PM, Pacific.