The Portland Trail Blazers faced the Miami Heat on Wednesday night needing to avenge a loss on their home floor two weeks ago, a game which featured sloppy play and a fine-provoking tussle between Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic and Heat guard Tyler Herro. Herro was not on the floor tonight, but Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler were. Even with Butler exiting the game early with technical fouls, Miami was still a formidable opponent.
Portland countered Miami’s ferocity with sweet offense from starting guards Anfernee Simons and CJ McCollum. When the game was played openly, Portland’s offensive impresarios looked brilliant. When it ground to a standstill, Jusuf Nurkic stood in. It all amounted to a hard-fought battle in which the Blazers looked committed, if not always efficient.
In the end, the recently-returned Adebayo brought more on both ends of the floor than the Blazers could cope with. Simons scored 27, McCollum 24, and Nurkic added 18 with 14 rebounds, but the Bam Man put up 20 and 11 to lead the Heat to a 104=92 win.
The game started choppy, with CJ McCollum looking to handle the ball and score at every opportunity. Some were great, some less so. The Blazers were a bit out of rhythm on offense, but Miami wasn’t much better. They scored from the foul line, but hardly anywhere else. Portland seemed committed to stopping the Heat in the paint. Miami couldn’t convert in traffic or hit outside shots. That made the Blazers look plenty good.
As is typical, the Blazers made up for their offensive hiccups with the long ball. They hit a half-dozen threes in the first. Their defense couldn’t keep the paint pristine the whole quarter, though. Miami began creeping inside in the waning minutes. It all ended up about even, with Portland leading 26-23 after one.
The world fell apart for the Blazers at the start of the second. Miami scored inside, outside. from every side there was. Their bench rode straight over the Blazers like a runaway train. They passed and cut crisply, went hard to the hole, and their defensive effort was superior. Portland, meanwhile, went, “Buh?” Miami flirted with a 10-point lead.
McCollum and Anfernee Simons took care of that, though. Lightning strikes from two of the best scorers in the game made up for a host of ills. But the guards could only do so much. Miami’s speed and aggression didn’t subside. Portland had to shoot hotter and hotter to keep pace. CJ and Ant were up to the task, but it was a huge ask.
The Blazers got a HUGE break when Heat forward Jimmy Butler lost his ever-loving mind, yelling at the refs long enough to get ejected at the 2:30 mark of the second. He was one of the huge potential advantages for Miami against the young-ish, mostly-broken Blazers.
Simons remained flamethrower-hot through the close of the half. That was enough to keep the Blazers intact against 35 points for the Heat in the quarter. Miami led 58-56 at the half. McCollum and Simons each had 20 points at intermission.
Portland started the third period without Nassir Little, who left the game with a knee contusion.
The game ground down to a near-standstill as both teams walked the ball and traded defensive blows. This was exactly the recipe for a Jusuf Nurkic outbreak, and Nurk provided. He scored six points in a two-minute span, injecting much-needed points into the early part of the frame. After scoring 30 apiece in the second period, the teams struggled to top 20 in the third.
Robert Covington came alive in the third period, once again providing the extra boost the Blazers needed on both ends. He was matched blow for blow by Miami forward Caleb Martin, who threw some pepper into that sauce to make up for Butler’s absence. The contest became like a wrestling match, with each side reversing holds on each other, occasionally slamming heads into turnbuckles. Portland still led after three, but by the barest of margins, 80-78.
It wouldn’t be fitting to have the game finish in anything but a slugfest through the fourth quarter, and that’s pretty much what we got. After a quiet third period, McCollum took more scoring responsibility upon himself. Nurkic remained active, Simons opportunistic. Portland definitely had offensive chops, but Miami’s defense was so active. If you could somehow combine the teams, Wonder Twins style, they’d have the form of a pretty decent roster. As it was, each team played to their strengths and let the chips fall where they may.
By the midpoint of the period, it became apparent that Portland’s offensive touch was going to run out before Miami’s defensive resolve. Blazers shots came deeper on the floor, later in the shot clock, and more covered. Passing disappeared. Second chances were non-existent.
Head Coach Chauncey Billups played his trump card with the Blazers down 6 at the 4:22 mark, subbing in Nurkic to finish the game, provide scoring balance, and grab boards. But Miami’s advantage wasn’t in bulk, but speed. Nurk didn’t help the Blazers in that regard. Since the guards weren’t running many high screens, his offensive contributions were limited as well.
Adebayo had no such trouble, playing around and over the Blazers to help shut down the game. When Bam, after scoring 8 straight points for the Heat, hit Max Strus for an open three with 2:03 left, the Heat finally led by double digits and the game was decided. Portland missing every three-pointer they took in the fourth didn’t help.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of the game coming soon!
The Blazers draw the Boston Celtics on Friday, with a 4:30 PM, Pacific start.