The Portland Trail Blazers fought until the bitter end, falling short at the final buzzer against the Brooklyn Nets by a score of 109-107 in front of their home crowd at Moda Center on Thursday night. Royce O’Neale’s tip-in with less than a second remaining proved to be the final dagger in an epic clash between a pair of teams who have had distinctly different starts to the young season.
The Nets, mired in drama and playing without star Kyrie Irving due to suspension, were led by the 35 points of Kevin Durant. Coming off of a 153-121 drubbing at the hands of the Sacramento Kings just two nights prior, they played like a team with something to prove, and overcame an 11-point Blazers lead in the third quarter to finish strong.
Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 25 points and 11 assists, while rookie Shaedon Sharpe chipped in a career-high 20 points off the bench.
For a quarter-by-quarter breakdown, see our Instant Recap. Here were the key takeaways from Thursday’s game.
Late Game Execution
The Blazers have been phenomenal at closing out games this season. They put forth a strong effort against the Nets, it just wasn’t quite enough. The game was back-and-forth all night, but Portland pulled ahead by 11 points late in the third quarter—the largest lead for either team on the night. The flurry was spurred by the hot shooting of Anfernee Simons, after a quiet first half. However, the Nets closed the frame on a 14-0 run, setting up the exciting finish.
Brooklyn held a 100-95 point lead with just under five minutes remaining. Blazers coach Chauncey Billups then opted to intentionally foul Ben Simmons—shooting 47% from the line on the season—on consecutive possessions with the Nets in the bonus. The strategy backfired, at least in the immediate aftermath, as Simmons made three of four foul shots. However, it helped slow the pace of the Nets offense, allowing Portland to buckle down for some key defensive stops in the closing minutes.
With the Blazers down three and 15 seconds remaining, the Nets doubled Lillard, who found Jusuf Nurkic in the paint. The big man scored against a scrambling Durant, who fouled the big man on the layup, setting up the game-tying free throw. On the ensuing Nets possession, Jermani Grant contested Durant’s go-ahead midrange attempt to force a miss, before O’Neale came up with the winning tip-in on the offensive rebound. Portland had two lob attempts at the rim with less than a second remaining, but couldn’t get a clean look against the lengthy Nets defenders.
KD Gets Help
Durant has been remarkably consistent for the Nets this season, but hasn’t gotten much help from his teammates. That was not the case against Portland. While KD was an impressive 13-22 from the field, Joe Harris scored 13 points in the first quarter—going 4-4 from three. Yuta Watanabe picked things up in the second half, connecting on five three-pointers and scoring a season-high 20 points in the process. O’Neale added a triple-double.
However, it was the play of Simmons that stood out most towards Brooklyn’s success. The Aussie native has seen his production dip mightily over the course of the season. Yet he played an integral role in pushing the pace for the Nets, which is when their offense was at its best. Simmons finished with season-highs of 15 points, 13 rebounds, and was a perfect 6-6 from the field—doing all of his damage at the rim. He also added seven assists before ultimately fouling out.
The Sharpe Show
Portland’s rising star turned in an incredible first half performance. The rookie was 6-7 from the field, including 3-3 from distance to score 15 points in just 12 minutes of action before the break. He scored at all three levels, and effectively put the team on his back offensively. Interestingly, he only logged nine minutes in the second half, and wasn’t part of the closing lineup. The Blazers—outside of Simons’ burst in the third quarter—struggled to get into an offensive rhythm for much of that period. Sharpe only had two field goal attempts after halftime.
The Blazers (10-5) finish up their homestand against the Utah Jazz on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. PT, before embarking on a four-game road trip starting Monday in Milwaukee.