In a Moda Center showdown that saw their winning streak come to an end, the Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Washington Wizards tonight 118-111. Damian Lillard had a tough shooting night overall but still led the Blazers with 35 points while Enes Kanter had yet another double-double in a 19-point, 13-rebound showing. Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook took over, scoring 37 and 27 points respectively. Westbrook had a triple-double, adding 13 assists and 11 rebounds.
If you missed the game or want a rundown on how the action flowed, see our Instant Recap here. With that out of the way, here are six observations from tonight’s loss.
Tough Fourth Quarter Kills the Streak
The fourth quarter was really a difficult one for Portland (although it wasn’t even their worst quarter of the night) as they were outscored 29-19. It wasn’t a colossal collapse, but it did feel like everything that could go wrong pretty much did. Gary Trent Jr. went cold from outside. Washington was smart and started throwing as many guys as possible at Lillard defensively in the pick and roll. Meanwhile the Wizards took advantage of Portland on offense.
Washington outscored the Blazers 54-36 in the paint for the game. The gap was particularly pronounced in the fourth. Portland guarded well from the free throw line and up only to fail protecting the paint.
The Second Quarter is the New Third Quarter
Remember last season when the third quarter felt like it was always going to go against the Blazers? Well, the torch has been passed to the second quarter now. After building up a double-digit lead after one, the Blazers fell behind, scoring only 12 points in the second. The bench struggled offensively and they weren’t particularly stellar on defense either. Anfernee Simons and Carmelo Anthony have off shooting nights is a recipe for disaster. Portland was 24th in the NBA in second quarter points going into this one, and they played like it tonight.
Beal and Westbrook Were a Handful
We’ll touch on the overall defensive effort from the Blazers in a bit, but a good place to start is how they handled Washington’s stars. Early on, it looked like Portland was content with letting anyone not named Bradley Beal score. Beal had Trent glued to him and it still didn’t matter. He got 37 points by snaking by whoever guarded him. He only made two threes on the night, but he found the gaps inside the arc and scored easily.
The real surprise was the efficient night from Russell Westbrook. He had his usual triple-double, obviously, but he earned his 27 points from a solid 11 of 17 from the floor. He only attempted one three also, well below his season average of 4.1 per game. That’s good for the Wizards because he’s a mediocre shooter from outside. It’s bad for the Blazers, though, because that meant he could just barrel inside against Portland’s struggling interior defense. Overall, these two were just too much for Portland on the night.
A Weird Defensive Night
When you look at the box score, it becomes immediately apparent how strange of a night it was defensively for Portland. Holding Washington to only 23.1% shooting from three? Good! Giving up 54 points in the paint? Bad! Forcing 17 turnovers along with 17 stocks (steals + blocks)? Good! Giving up 64 combined points to Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook? Bad!
There were some real positives tonight, and the Blazers have actually played like a middling defense during their (now former) winning streak. Sure, a lot of those steals came on some bizarre mistakes from Washington’s backcourt (I counted two or three passes where they just thought a Portland player was a teammate), but still, it wasn’t horrible. The interior defense, however, was lacking, except for one guy...
RoCo the Rim Protector
Robert Covington had four blocks in this one, and that sounds about right considering he had four and six blocks in his past two games. Covington has been a legitimate rim protector these past few games. He’s easily been the best player Portland has fielded that way, although that’s not something that’s particularly hard to accomplish considering the competition for the title features some defensively-inept big men at the moment.
Still, this is important because it means that playing small-ball basketball is an increasingly viable strategy for the Blazers. With Harry Giles out, they’ve been able to use Covington at the five more and it’s been pretty good so far. He was a legitimately good center with Houston, and I once again am pining for more small ball lineups from Terry Stotts.
Enes Kanter had another big double-double, putting up 19 points along with 13 rebounds. Six of those rebounds came on the offensive end. That’s not particularly surprising. But Lamar Hurd pointed out on the Blazers broadcast that those offensive rebounds are more than just stat-padding numbers for Kanter. The more I thought about it, the more I found myself agreeing with him.
Kanter isn’t someone that creates for other people from a playmaking perspective. But having Kanter constantly grabbing offensive rebounds or tapping balls out to teammates is a whole other type of creation. In the first quarter, he allowed Portland to get more attempts and put up their highest-scoring quarter of the season (43 in the first). It either keeps possessions alive or creates possessions that shouldn’t have happened otherwise. He’s not making passes from the high post like Giles or Nurkic, but Kanter creates in other ways.
Next up, the Blazers will hit the road to face off against the Phoenix Suns. Tip-off is at 6 p.m. PT.