The Portland Trail Blazers walked into Moda Center on Sunday night hoping to follow up a convincing win against the lowly Detroit Pistons with another against the significantly less lowly Miami Heat. The Blazers had earned a victory in Miami three weeks before, but that was against a Heat team without Jimmy Butler. The Heat star was back tonight and Miami’s defense was in full form. The visitors spent the night banging, bruising, and stifling Damian Lillard and the Blazers, holding Portland to 31.4% from the arc. The result was a 107-98 Miami victory.
Damian Lillard scored 12 in the loss, shooting 3-10, 3-8 from three-point range. He attempted only 4 free throws. Jusuf Nurkic returned to the starting lineup, adding an efficient 9 rebounds and 3 blocks in 22 minutes. Butler’s stat line read 20 points, 4 steals, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds in 36 minutes. Heat guard Victor Oladipo did not play this game.
The Blazers came out trying to force the ball inside to Nurkic upon his return. They ended up committing three turnovers in their first three possessions. A couple of layups, one by Nurkic and the other off of a Nurk assist, righted the ship. Nurkic also played good defense on the other end, even tallying a block. This set off an 11-0 run which put the Blazers starters in control of the game. Another pair of turnovers proved the only blemish on an otherwise-decent start.
Enes Kanter grabbed rebounds and scored inside as his shift began. Portland’s second-unit defense could not live up to the standard of excellence, however. Miami feasted on dunks and short jumpers. The Blazers made do with threes and fast-break dunks. As the quarter closed, they ran the “three forward” unit (Nassir Little, Derrick Jones, Jr., and Carmelo Anthony) to balance their three-guard starting lineup. Points proved slightly harder to come by. The interior defense was slightly better, though. When the smoke cleared, the Blazers had committed 7 turnovers but still led 31-25.
The Heat played physically to start the second period. Portland had trouble responding. Jones, Jr. was the obvious player Miami was willing to leave. He scored, retaliating efficiently. Everyone else struggled. The Blazers continued to turn over the ball as well. Easy scores off of run-outs helped the Heat catch up on the scoreboard, which they did at the 8:00 mark. Nurkic was the only Blazers player providing interior defense. He couldn’t be everywhere at once, though. Portland shooting 30% from the three-point arc wasn’t helping. The Heat has no such trouble. A couple of threes put them in the lead. Lillard and McCollum brought them back late, pushing tempo, but the Blazers were really lucky the Heat started to miss wide-open threes. Otherwise Miami would have gone up 20. The Blazers weren’t as lucky when Nurkic went to the locker room with a back issue. He would return for the second half, but his team missed him. Miami led 56-48 at the break.
Turnovers for Portland and easy shots for Miami made the hole deeper as the third quarter began. The Heat demonstrated how to take over a game with defense. Portland obliged by lofting contested shots...when they got a shot up in the first place. The Heat were up 15 before three minutes had elapsed. Norman Powell replied with a layup and dunk, but the Blazers weren’t stopping Miami from scoring, so the easy shots didn’t narrow the margin. The ultimate insult came at the 5:30 mark when Duncan Robinson hit a three from Lillard’s logo spot, putting the Heat up 15 again after a modest Portland flurry. Lillard kept trying to pull Portland back, but Miami had him watched and clocked. The ball wasn’t moving on Portland’s end, making the Heat’s task easier. Portland suffered yet another blow when Kanter collided with Jones Jr,’s shoulder on a drive, suffering a signficant blow to the head. Miami led 89-71 after three.
Kanter returned in the fourth period, thankfully clear of concussion, but by the time he did, Miami’s defense—coupled with their ability to score occasionally—had put them up 20. Every Portland shot was contested; every Portland drive came with massive physical contact. The story just wasn’t changing, nor did the results. Head Coach Terry Stotts pulled the starters with 4:34 remaining and Portland down 99-80. The deep reserves scored really well, but it was not enough to threaten.
The Blazers committed 17 turnovers in the game, well over their season average of 11.3.
Miami shot 49.4% from the field, 41.4% from distance.
Stay tuned for Steve Dewald’s instant recap!
The Blazers welcome the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night at 7:00, Pacific