After disposing of the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies in successive blowouts, the Portland Trail Blazers looked to keep their perfect road trip alive on Friday, facing the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets played without perpetual MVP candidates Kevin Durant and James Harden, but Kyrie Irving suited up and Brooklyn carried enough ancillary firepower to put Portland’s lights out if they weren’t careful.
As it turned out, the Blazers need not have worried. Irving scored 28 but took 26 shots to do it. The Nets couldn’t hit a three to save their lives. Brooklyn, likely aware of Portland’s proclivities, overplayed at the arc defensively. The Blazers responded by going inside off of screen action with Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter. The paint barrage was enough to match the Nets’ production. A few threes salted on top broke the game wide open. After being left for dead last week, the Blazers have responded with three straight road wins, downing the Nets 128-109 to push their record to 35-28. They currently stand one-half game behind the Dallas Mavericks in the race for the 6th seed in the NBA’s Western Conference.
Damian Lillard scored 32 points on 12-22 shooting with 9 assists. Jusuf Nurkic added 23 points and 11 rebounds on 9-12 shooting. Carmelo Anthony and Anfernee Simons scored 15 and 10 off the bench, respectively.
Looking to repeat their success against Memphis on Wednesday night, the Blazers came out trying to screen on every play. But unlike the eager, yet inexperienced, Grizzlies, the Nets are a veteran team. Brooklyn wasn’t going to be fooled. The undersized Nets basically decided as long as a guard wasn’t converting, they were fine with it. Jusuf Nurkic scored at a point-per-minute rate off of rolls, but the Nets bothered and/or clobbered Lillard and McCollum on every attempt. McCollum was off badly. Dame’s scores came hard. Norman Powell made up for it a little bit, but it was hard to miss how much more labored Portland’s offense looked overall moving primarily through Nurkic instead of the backcourt. The Blazers going 0-fer at the arc didn’t help. Nurk scored a point per minute, but he had to.
On the other end, Portland’s defense was no better than advertised. (And the advertisements already had it at a deep discount.) Brooklyn either scored easily or got fouled.
Lillard heated up late in the period. With a little help from Carmelo Anthony—and from the Nets’ second unit, who forgot how to hit—he pulled Portland close again. Brooklyn led 25-23 when the horn sounded on the first.
Carmelo kept firing without remorse as the second period opened. He has one job; he does it well. DeAndre Jordan got big minutes for the Nets, a result of their early paint woes, no doubt. He kept his team strong on the glass, getting defensive boards and put-backs with seeming ease. Portland native Mike James scored some nifty buckets too. But the Blazers did a good job keeping the Nets—particularly Joe Harris—from hitting threes. That was enough to keep the score reasonable, within grasp of Anthony and company. Kyrie Irving missing everything was a nice bonus.
Behind a sustained attack, 90% of which was simply slashing through the lane, Portland went on an 11-2 run in the middle of the quarter. They opened up a lead of a half-dozen. Even when the Nets heated up again. the Blazers sustained the margin. Brooklyn just seemed disinterested in interior defense. They needed a couple of rare threes to keep Portland’s lead from stretching to double-digits.
The Nets cranked up the offense big-time as the quarter closed, hitting repeatedly from distance. (Who knew Jeff Green would be relevant in 2021?) But Portland kept pushing it inside and drawing fouls. Slow but steady scoring was enough to propel them to a 59-57 lead at the half. Nurkic had 16 points in 13 minutes at intermission.
The Blazers danced with what brung them in the first part of the third period. They kept going to Nurkic inside, peppered occasionally with a wing drive. Nurk looked as energized on both ends as we’ve seen him. It’s a serious possibility that playing a big role in the offense makes him happy. If the Blazers could have hit a three, they’d have been on easy street. Unfortunately, they missed two out of every three they took.
The Nets did even worse, though, attempting about a billion threes and hitting exactly one. With 2:30 left in the quarter, Brooklyn had taken 11 deep shots and only 6 shots inside the arc. That made their 1-11 rate from distance particularly damning. Portland’s lead went as high as 8. Right after the mandatory time out, a Lillard dunk brought it to double digits. Right after, back-to-back threes by Lillard and Robert Covington took the margin all the way to 15. It stayed at 13 as the horn sounded; Portland led 94-81 heading to the fourth.
Brooklyn made the obligatory run at the top of the final period, hitting their first four shots, including a pair of threes. But Anfernee Simons put in five quick points of his own to keep the Blazers afloat. The lead held around ten for the next few minutes. Then Lillard returned to the game and hit a three, spiking it back to 15. Things were looking dismal for the Nets as the halfway point of the period passed.
At that point, all the Blazers had to do was score to win. That’s their wheelhouse, and they kept it up. Simons was striking, Lillard lofted threes, while Nurkic, Powell, and McCollum all scored off of drives. Wherever Brooklyn’s defense wasn’t, the Blazers took advantage. Portland was up by 19, 120-101 with 3:00 remaining, when Head Coach Terry Stotts subbed in the deep bench. The victory was secure and Portland walked off the court with their heads held high.
Stay tuned for Steve Dewald’s analysis of the action!
The Blazers face the Boston Celtics on Sunday at 4:30 PM, Pacific.