The Memphis Grizzlies managed to hang on to a 130-128 victory against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday, delivering coach Terry Stotts’ squad their fourth straight loss. Tonight’s contest featured a slow start and plenty of offense in the final two frames. For the Grizzlies, explosive second-year guard Ja Morant went off for 33 points on 17 attempts from the field. Jusuf Nurkic and Damian Lillard led the way for Portland with a combined 53 points.
If you haven’t already, you can check out our quarter-by-quarter analysis by clicking here. Before we look ahead to the next matchup against the Grizzlies, here are the key points that stood out in Friday’s heartbreaking result.
The Beast Awakens
The Grizzlies’ defensive approach was unsurprising: get the ball out of Damian Lillard’s hands. That scheme generated a mountain of space for Nurkic to operate in. Once the extra help careened over the top of a screen, the big fella turned and darted to the paint with purpose. On several occasions, Nurkic was met with little resistance. During those sequences, he didn’t second guess his movements and finished possessions with dunks.
Perhaps the most promising part of tonight’s contest was the half-court sets where Nurkic was met with contact. He absolutely feasted on a handful of matchups across from Brandon Clarke. Nurkic shelved his haphazard flip shot for the night and relied on decisive finishes in the post.
Defensively, Nurkic provided more of a mixed bag. Jaren Jackson Jr. looked unstoppable at times and Morant’s speed gave the big fella fits (more on that later). Nurkic finished the night with 26 points, 17 rebounds, one block and five personal fouls.
Portland could not match or slow down the pace that Memphis played with throughout the game. It didn’t matter how the possession started, once the Grizzlies found an inch of daylight it was over. Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant did a superb job of harnessing the chaos in the open floor. Morant’s style was directly aimed at the rim, while Brooks crafted his way to favorable attempts from multiple levels.
Portland’s offense found a beautiful rhythm halfway through the second quarter that carried over to the rest of the game. But the Grizzlies routinely dismantled the Blazers’ hopes of establishing a lead with unimpeded baskets in transition.
The Grizzlies finished the game with 29 fast break points (the Blazers notched seven) and tallied 74 points in the paint.
Signs of Intensity
Regardless of the final result, the Blazers did show plenty of fight against the Grizzlies. From Lillard’s exchange with Brooks to Nurkic’s physical performance, Portland put plenty of good action on film tonight. When the Grizzlies were forced into half-court sets, the Blazers’ defense put up a fight. Rotations arrived with purpose, passing lanes were invaded and extra bodies arrived to scoop up loose balls. Unfortunately for Portland, too many of the points that Memphis generated came in transition.
It is tough to put an objective finger on it, but it felt like the Blazers played tonight’s game with a bit more of a much-needed mean streak.
Outside of Lillard and Nurkic, four other Blazers reached double-digit point totals. Of that second group, CJ McCollum led the way with 22 points. When McCollum wasn’t putting the ball in the basket himself, he was getting others involved. The former Lehigh star kept his head up and looked to exploit the Grizzlies’ high-pressure defense whenever possible. McCollum finished the night with seven assists.
Enes Kanter turned in another blue-collar performance off the bench. For considerable stretches, Kanter’s ability to convert misses into second-chance points carried Portland’s offense. Along with Kanter, Carmelo Anthony provided timely scoring off the bench. Melo was quick and efficient during most of his possessions, finishing with 13 points on a 3-of-4 shooting night from distance.
The Blazers meet the Grizzlies again on Sunday.