It came down to the wire, but the Portland Trail Blazers fell just short of putting what would have been an exclamation mark on an already successful road trip Saturday, falling 117-112 to the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center.
Portland trailed by 16 points early in the first half, but quickly closed the gap and then played Dallas tight the rest of the way. The Blazers even held a lead late in the fourth, but it was the Mavericks who got it done in crunch time to seal the victory.
Although Damian Lillard returned after missing Portland’s last contest while recovering from a right calf strain, the Blazers still couldn’t get themselves completely off of the injury carousel. Justise Winslow was a late scratch due to a non-Covid illness. He joined Jusuf Nurkic, who missed his third straight game with a sore right abductor, as key regulars missing time on this 6-game road trip.
Jerami Grant was was sizzling and led the way with a season-high 37 points. Damian Lillard finished with a 29 points and 12 assists and Anfernee Simons added 24 points and seven rebounds.
Here’s how the action went down.
As has been the trend lately, the Blazers went straight into the 3-2 zone defense from the opening tip, and for a brief moment they were able to befuddle the Mavericks. Portland looked in rhythm and was able to jump out to a quick 7-0 lead before Jason Kidd had to burn an early timeout.
From then on, it was all Dallas. The Mavs were able to put pressure on the zone by following the conventional wisdom and knocking down outside shots. Luka Doncic ran around Blazer defenders like traffic cones and consistently used the confusion left in his wake to locate open shooters on the perimeter. Spencer Dinwiddie had a pair of Dallas’ 4 threes in the quarter. Suddenly Portland was forced to play Luka’s game. Overplay him and live with easy looks for other capable scorers, or try to guard him 1-on-1 and make him do it all himself - that’s the gamut. Portland found success with neither, as Doncic was on fire and nearly had a triple-double in his first shift.
The Mavericks had seized the momentum and held a 35-25 lead after one.
For much of the second quarter, it looked like those trends would continue. Dallas’ second unit kept finding the hot hand and a stretch of threes from Dinwiddie, Christian Wood and Tim Hardaway Jr. extended the lead to 16 points at 49-33 with just under 8 minutes to go. Nothing was going the Blazers’ way.
But just when you might expect a lesser team to throw in the towel, Portland regrouped in the corner, spit a tooth into a bucket and staggered into the ring for another round.
Shaedon Sharpe ended the drought with an angle three that found its mark and that seemed to get the rest of the team going. Lillard checked back in and went John Wick on a Mavs defense as determined to get the ball out of his hands as the Blazers were with Doncic. Although he did not have a field goal in the stretch, Dame scored or assisted on 16 of Portland’s final 18 points in the quarter and suddenly the Blazers were back in business.
A torrid end to the half from Grant, who knocked down a pair of threes and converted a high-flying dunk in traffic, helped to nearly evened the contest and the Mavericks’ lead dwindled to just 2 points at 59-57 heading into the break.
Dallas needed help from the guys not named “Luka” to build its first lead, but that help was almost entirely absent in the third. Portland continued to throw the kitchen sink at Doncic, but this time around, the release valves failed and the game quickly morphed into the slower, grindy affair that the Blazers would prefer. Portland continued to pound the rock through Lillard and Grant, who did just enough to outpace Doncic, who showed signs of slowing down after dominating in the first half. Much of the scoring was done at the foul line, which again, the Blazers would probably prefer. Big, momentum changing buckets were hard to come by and instead felt like a game that would be decided by inches.
When the dust settled, Portland held a razor-thin 88-85 lead into the final frame.
The Blazers did not begin the fourth optimally. After opening the period with a Trendon Watford layup, Portland went cold for nearly the next four minutes until Grant knocked down a jumper to restore a bit of order, but by then you could feel things start to slip away.
A two-handed alley-oop connection from Lillard to Simons gave the Blazers a 98-92 lead with 7 minutes remaining, but the the final stretch belonged to the Mavs and Dinwiddie, who knocked down three backbreaking treys in a row during what become the pivotal stretch of the game where Dallas regained the lead and never looked back.
Stay tuned for our extended recap coming soon from Dave Deckard!
The Blazers will finally return home and get a couple days of rest before hosting the San Antonio Spurs Tuesday night at the Moda Center. Tip is set for 7 p.m.