The Portland Trail Blazers had a tough night against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday. They had about 28 minutes of good fight in them. Unfortunately NBA games run 48. Dallas used an overwhelming first quarter to put the Blazers down 17, then spent the rest of the game playing well enough to defend the lead. Kristaps Porzingis once again gave Portland a handful, scoring 22 points on 8-18 shooting. Luka Doncic registered a triple-double with 15 points, 10 rebounds, and a season-high 15 assists. The Mavericks shot 54.5% from the field for the game, 44.4% from the arc, winning 132-112.
Jusuf Nurkic (18 points, 8 rebounds, 7-11 shooting), CJ McCollum (20 points, 6 assists, 8-16 shooting), and Anfernee Simons (23 points, 7 assists, 9-14 shooting) all had impressive games for Portland, but their contributions were sporadic enough that the Mavericks absorbed them without feeling threatened.
The Mavericks started the game lightning quick on offense, running through and past the Blazers, who looked more like they were showing up for a Zoom meeting than an NBA game. An 8-0 lead was broken up by Jusuf Nurkic, who scored a bucket inside, then set a nice screen for Anfernee Simons for the one-two-three. Kristaps Porzingis got it right back with a pair of free throws and a three of his own. That turned the Mavericks into a runaway train, barreling down the floor for layup after layup, with dunks salted in besides. Luka Doncic wasn’t scoring, but he dished the ball like it was an all-you-can-eat sushi joint. When Portland threw their little zone defense trick, Dallas treated it like a high-school practice. They centered the ball to Porzingis, drew the “D”, then cut diagonally for a pass and another layup. From Portland’s perspective it was ouchy, made doubly so by their offense, which was about as effective as a seal playing an accordion. The Mavs doubled up the Blazers 34-17 with 90 seconds remaining in the period. The Blazers hit a couple shots late before Doncic converted a completely unfair four-point play to leave the score 41-25 after one. The Mavericks shot 5-7 from distance, 65% overall in the period. Porzingis had 14 points. Doncic 10.
The Blazers began the second period stopping Dallas’ ball movement like Taco Bell stops gastrointestinal distress. They also had CJ Elleby and Trendon Watford taking a significant number of shots. That wasn’t a disaster, as they got a couple layups, but it wasn’t reassuring either. Finally, just after the 8:00 mark, they showed signs of life with CJ McCollum hitting a three off of an Elleby assist and Norman Powell striking deep soon after. That brought them within 9, 50-41. Given how the game had gone to that point, the margin felt close. But “close” also described the Mavericks’ scoring attack, as they continued to pass their way to the rim in the never-ending layup line. They hit a handful of threes too. Under these conditions, every one felt like a sledgehammer. That 9-point lead became 18 in less than four minutes.
But the Blazers pulled a page out of Dallas’ book as the second quarter came to an end. It wasn’t pretty and it didn’t happen with passing and nifty cuts. but Portland kept taking the ball inside again and again. It began to pay dividends. As Portland’s scoring rose, Dallas’ flagged, to the tune of a 14-5 run to end the half. Dallas led 68-59 at intermission. Once again 9 points seemed like the thinnest of margins compared to what could have been with the Mavericks shooting 59% from the field, 50% from the arc in the half.
Dallas may have engaged in a little bit of involuntary laurel sitting at intermission. They came out playing soggy-waffle offense, letting Portland shoot on the other end. A trio of threes and a layup got the Blazers off to a hot start. A sweet alley-oop from McCollum to Anfernee Simons with 5:57 remaining made the deficit just four, bringing a breath of life back into the game.
Unfortunately Portland’s offense cooled down almost immediately after. They got a couple of mid-range jumpers, but almost nothing else as Dallas tightened up inside. The Blazers gave as good as they got; Dallas missed plenty too. But the Mavericks didn’t have to come back. A couple of threes kept them afloat. Plus a pair of flagrant foul free throws on a call against McCollum, then another three by Reggie Bullock. By that time, Portland’s threat had ebbed and Dallas’ lead was back to double-digits. They took a 98-81 lead heading into the third.
Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic tried their hardest to power the Blazers forward at the start of the fourth, knowing that it was do or die. They bullied their way into scoring position and hit tough shots. But the defense just couldn’t give them a platform to stand on. Dallas stroked threes and hit mid-range jumpers that maybe, on a better night, wouldn’t have fallen.
The rest of the fourth period got so grindy that the refs might as well have been baristas. Bodies sloshed into each other on every play. Common fouls and technicals mingled. The Blazers looked tired...unsurprising on the second night of a back-to-back. Dallas attempts that had been layups in the second period became thundering dunks. When his teammates weren’t slamming it down, Jalen Brunson poured in slick pull-up jumpers. Doncic also hit some mean turn-arounds and continued hunting his season-high assist total and a triple-double, just rubbing it in at that point. Had the potential outcome been a high school basketball team, “Blowout” would have been the hyper-athletic center and “Comeback” the 5’5 equipment manager sitting alone on the bumper of the bus, waiting for the game to finish. It’s nice that he came, but he wasn’t getting in this game.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of the game, coming up soon!
The Blazers start another long road trip, traveling to Houston to face the Rockets on Friday night at 5:00 PM, Pacific.