The Portland Trail Blazers have one of the best offenses, and one of the worst defenses, in the NBA. That combination means they’re never out of any game, but they’re never sure to win one either, no matter the quality of opponent. Case in point was tonight’s game against the Miami Heat, who were missing Jimmy Butler and suiting up only nine players. In theory, the Blazers should have handled Miami easily. In practice, the game went back and forth, with Portland scoring big but utterly unable to stop the Heat on the other end. The team with the ball in hand for the last possession was going to win it. As it turned out, that team was Portland. The Blazers walked away with a 125-122 win after a little fourth-quarter scoring from Damian Lillard and a lot of offensive rebounding from center Enes Kanter. Those sat atop the foundation of CJ McCollum’s scoring. McCollum posted 35 in the game on 14-25 shooting.
CJ McCollum got off to a roaring start, hitting three three-pointers and a mid-range jumper to put Portland ahead of their depleted foes. 11 points in the first four minutes isn’t a bad showing. He’d go on to score 14 of Portland’s first 16. Unfortunately, Portland’s defense was its usual mushy self. Miami shot better than 50% from the floor...no small feat considering their offensively-challenged lineup. Fortunately, Portland’s second unit hit threes, which, as usual, gave them a margin of error. Bam Adebayo had 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks in the quarter, but CJ’s 21 in the period staked Portland to a 31-24 lead.
Miami got on a roll from distance to start the second period, a move that causes the Blazers no end of trouble whenever it happens. A trio of threes from the Heat brought Portland’s defense out to the perimeter, which left them badly exposed inside. Lobs, dunks, fouls, and open chip-shots ensued. Portland didn’t stop a layup all quarter. Miami took the lead without breaking a sweat. McCollum added 8 points to his total, but Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn, and Tyler Herro were all in double figures well before halftime. Portland still led at intermission, 59-58, but nothing looked secure.
The Heat were all over the paint in the third period, scoring inside like it was a layup line in warmups. Portland’s defense turned from permissive to embarrassing eyesore. Then again, when you’re running lineups containing McCollum, Damian Lillard, Carmelo Anthony, and Enes Kanter, some of that is going to happen. Portland’s real sin was missing threes to the tune of a 25% success rate for most of the quarter. But Dame, ‘Melo, and Anfernee Simons (twice) hit threes late to pull Portland back into close contact after the Heat had edged ahead. A Herro three at the buzzer gave Miami a measure of revenge, knotting the score at 91 heading into the fourth.
The opening of the final period featured both teams trading shots, with nobody getting ahead. But then the Heat hit not one, not two, not three, but four triples, which was more than the Blazers could match. Miami opened an 10-point lead (the first double-digit margin for either team) with just over six minutes remaining. Then Portland’s starting guards got back into gear. Lillard scored inside and out. McCollum dove the lane for a layup, followed immediately by Dame. All of a sudden, the Blazers led by one again with just under four minutes remaining.
The Heat took a three-point lead thanks to Herro, but Kanter got it back with a three-point play off of a putback. Miami scored, then Kanter set up Robert Covington for a three off of another offensive rebound. Miami scored again, then Kanter rebounded a McCollum floater and scored himself. Every time Miami had the initial defense, Enes denied them the defensive finish. That left Portland up 119-118 with 41 seconds left to play. Portland never gave up on a possession, but they never managed to defend one either.
The game concluded as McCollum hit Derrick Jones, Jr. for a dunk and-one, putting Portland ahead 122-120 with 13.9 left. Miami had the last look, but went early for an Adebayo layup that knotted the game at 122. The Blazers had 10.8 to put points on the board and win it.
Damian Lillard took that possession, a three-pointer with a single second left on the clock. It missed, but former Trail Blazer Trevor Ariza barely ticked him on the shooting arm. The whistle blew and Dame had free throws. He hit all three. Miami had no timeouts and couldn’t get the ball inbounded to a shooter. The game ended with the ball sailing out of bounds off of a Lillard tip and Portland secured the win.
McCollum finished with 35 points, Lillard 22. Anthony had 20 off the bench.
Miami shot 56% from the floor, 47.1% from the arc, and scored 52 paint points in the loss.
Stay tuned for analysis from Marlow Ferguson, Jr. coming up soon!
The Blazers travel to Orlando to face the mostly-traded-away Orlando Magic tomorrow night at 5:00 PM, Pacific.