The Portland Trail Blazers and Brooklyn Nets put on a dazzling scoring display in Portland on Tuesday night. For three quarters they played the most efficient offense the NBA is capable of, with shots falling from every conceivable angle. Brooklyn tightened the defense in the fourth, but Portland responded by fighting and clawing to a decisive possession. Unfortunately, it did not go their way, and Brooklyn emerged with a 116-112 win.
Every Portland player except Rodney Hood hit double figures in this one. Damian Lillard led the team with 22, but hit only 3-13 from the arc. CJ McCollum had 16. shooting 4-12 from distance. Enes Kanter had one of his best games of the year. pasting 19 points, 19 rebounds (10 offensive) and 6 assists on the shorter Brooklyn squad.
The Blazers did a good job of containing James Harden. He shot 7-24, scoring many of his 25 points at the foul line (11-13).
The Blazers wanted to play defense in this game. They threw early traps against James Harden, in an inversion of the scheme other teams throw against Damian Lillard. The Nets are too balanced for that. They played efficiently, scoring either at the rim or from three. Portland couldn’t inhibit any of Brooklyn’s passing. Point of attack defense was ok, but nothing else clicked. As Portland eased off of the scheme, Harden heated up. Brooklyn was heading for a 50%, maybe 60% shooting quarter. The Blazers countered as they usually do: shooting deep and hoping a guard gets hot. In this case, CJ McCollum filled the role, hitting three threes in the period. Everything was fine, as long as the triples hit. Dame added two of his own. Plus, in a huge bonus, Enes Kanter cleaned up misses to the tune of 5 offensive rebounds, 3-3 shooting, and 7-8 free throws made. That performance took the Blazers from a good quarter to a great one. They needed it too, because the Nets were on fire. The Blazers led 41-37 after one.
The second period didn’t have the same crazy tempo as the first, but the shots just kept on falling. Brooklyn pushed the rock inside, scoring big in the paint. Portland stayed right with them, still shooting deep. Plus the Blazers continued to feast on second-chance points. Then the Nets got out in transition. It was like watching a WWE match: all kinds of offense, with both combatants trading undefended blows. Kanter had a double-double at the half, but Robert Covington had three fouls and Derrick Jones, Jr. left the game with seconds left in the frame, holding his arm. It turned out to be “just” a forearm bruise, but the combination of all those things did not bode well for the defense as the game continued. Portland led 66-65 at halftime.
The Blazers went back to the three-ball to start the third. At this point the approach was predictable, but the shots still fell. Brooklyn continued to key off of penetration and/or the break. Portland got a little revenge mid-quarter, as Jones, Jr. hammered down a couple of nasty dunks. But the Nets got it right back when Blake Griffin hit a three. No matter how they scored, neither team could escape by more than 3-4 points from the other. The first team to play real defense was going to win. Otherwise, this was going down to the wire. As if to prove the point, McCollum hit a three with 9 seconds left to end the third, then Harden went inside to lob to Nicolas Claxton. The Nets led 92-91 at the close of the period.
As it turned out, Brooklyn got busy on the defensive end first. They stuck with man-to-man against Portland’s second unit, inviting McCollum and Carmelo Anthony to shoot mid-range, then mopping up the misses. Portland couldn’t catch up with the quick opportunities the Nets put up after, and Brooklyn got a 7-point edge before the quarter was two minutes old. Once again the Blazers fell prey to the Brooklyn passing game. They flooded the ball, only to find the Nets scoring with players nobody was watching. It didn’t help that the Nets were converting with 16 seconds left on the clock every possession.
Things looked grim until Covington hit back-to-back threes with 7:30 left in the quarter. Scoring 6 at a time makes every deficit smaller. But Portland couldn’t follow up. Their next few shots missed. So did Brooklyn’s, as the Blazers slowed them down for a brief stretch. But the Nets recovered faster, pushing the lead right back to 7, making the Blazers push the stone up the hill again.
Once again Kanter came to the rescue, snagging two offensive boards and converting both. Brooklyn’s smaller lineups just were not bothering him. He brought the Blazers back within 3 with 3:00 remaining. The big finish was nigh.
One would expect the respective superstars for each team to step up at this point, and they did...in a way. Both Harden and Lillard set up teammates for conversions against collapsing defenses. Each missed their own three-point attempts, though. The big ache for Portland was their paltry three-point deficit, which meant that trading buckets wasn’t enough. They made the Nets miss (finally) but they just couldn’t sink the tying shot themselves. When Covington picked up his sixth foul against Harden with 16.5 seconds left, the outcome looked bleak. But Terry Stotts challenged the call and it was subsequently overturned. This led to a jump ball (and Covington’s return) instead of free throws for Harden.
The Blazers controlled the tip, but Lillard couldn’t get off a shot. He passed it to Covington, who was fouled on the floor, given 2 free throws against a 3-point margin. Covington missed the first, then sank the second, leaving his team down 2 with 7.8 seconds remaining. After forcing the ball away from Harden, the Blazers gave the intentional, possession foul to Jeff Green with 4.4 seconds left. Green hit both, leaving the margin at an unapproachable 4. Lillard missed the didn’t-matter three at the buzzer, which provided the final margin.
Stay tuned for analysis of the game from Marlow Ferguson, Jr. coming up soon!
The Blazers travel ALL the way across the country to face the Miami Heat on Thursday at 4:30 PM, Pacific.