The ever-shorthanded Portland Trail Blazers used some third quarter magic to overcome another large early deficit against the Miami Heat on Wednesday night, but ultimately couldn’t complete the comeback, falling at home, 115-109.
And that may have not even been the biggest loss of the evening. Late in the third quarter, Larry Nance Jr. exited the game after coming down awkwardly on his right leg and immediately went to the locker room with a noticeable limp. The team quickly announced it as a “right knee injury” and he would not return. Stay tuned for updates.
There was even some late-game argy-bargy as Jusuf Nurkic tussled with Tyler Herro in the final minute. Herro took exception to getting leveled by a Nurkic screen, to which he retaliated by shoving Nurkic, and then likely regretted that decision after seeing all of the near 300 pounds of angry Bosnian manchild coming menacingly towards him. Players and officials intervened before things could really get out of hand, but both were able to get enough of each other’s skin to earn a pair of ejections and possible suspensions.
Anfernee Simons overcame a slow start to lead Portland with 28 points to go along with 7 assists. Norman Powell added 26 points.
With both teams missing their biggest stars, most of the opening period could be summarized as “feeling out who was going to have the hot hand”. Because hey, It could be anybody these days. It seemed at times almost like a college game, combining a slower, plodding pace with an almost lulling ball movement enabled by the rare absence of several of the most ball-dominant players in the league.
Miami quickly found their man in the unsung Max Strus, who connected a couple triples on his way to eight points in the quarter. Portland struggled to get baskets but did manage to get to the foul line enough to keep within striking distance. Nance was 4/4 from the charity stripe in the quarter and knocked down a corner three to lead the Blazers with seven points, but not much else was doing. Heat held a 30-23 lead after one.
What little momentum Portland carried into the second quarter just about immediately came to a halt, as suddenly nobody could buy a bucket. The Blazers endured not one, but two multi-minute stretches without a field goal while Miami obliged to push their advantage with very little resistance behind hot outside shooting from Duncan Robinson and Kyle Guy.
At one point, the Heat held a 50-32 advantage and events looked to be trending towards another blowout.
But an inspired effort to finish the half from Nurkic combined with some buffoonery on the part of the Heat helped Portland end the quarter on a 15-8 run and remain very much in the thick of things.
Nurkic capitalized on foul trouble for Miami’s lone true big man Omer Yurtseven by pounding the rock inside, where he delivered 8 of his 10 first half points down the stretch.
And to boot, Kyle Lowry, who nearly had a double-double in the half, picked up two rather quick technicals barking at the officials and got himself tossed (although the second of which looked to be highly questionable). His absence would change the game.
The Blazers, who might otherwise have been contemplating postgame dinner orders, now found themselves back in the fray, trailing only 58-47 heading into the break.
After a quiet start, Simons came out of the locker room swinging haymakers. The guard, who had only two field goals in the first half, was lights out for stretches of the third, where he knocked down four triples and exploded for 18 points. Showing flashes of his 43-point outburst on Monday, Simons let it fly from deep with zero hesitation and almost single-handedly helped Portland close the gap. The Heat weren’t entirely stifled - they still managed 25 points in the period - but the Blazers looked to be the aggressors. Miami’s lead was cut down to just 83-80 heading into the final frame.
Unfortunately for Portland, close is all they would get. The Blazers hot shooting again evaporated in the fourth quarter while the Heat got huge boosts from Strus and Herro. Strus continued to be lethal from behind the arc, and a stretch of three triples in a row ballooned Miami’s lead from seven points to 16 midway through the period, and just like that Portland’s energy looked to be sapped.
A late surge from Powell and Nassir Little managed to claw Portland back within as close as four, but it wasn’t enough. The twin ejections of Nurkic and Herro capped off the evening in not-so-fine fashion.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of the evening coming soon!
The Blazers will get a day off before beginning a stretch of three games in four nights by hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday evening at 7 p.m. Pacific.