One game after having their best offensive first half of the season, the Portland Trail Blazers promptly followed it up with their worst defensive output of the 2022-23 campaign in a humbling 130-110 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
The opening quarter showcased a game with true shootout potential, though after Luka Doncic and his hot-shooting teammates rained down one 3-pointer after another, it became clear that the Blazers wouldn’t have the firepower to remain competitive on this night. Damian Lillard led all Blazers scorers with 24, and Trendon Watford anchored the second-unit with a 16-point, 11-rebound, six-assist performance.
The loss drops the Blazers to 0-2 in the season series against Dallas, and 16-13 on the season. Below are a few quarter-for-quarter thoughts on tonight’s loss.
When these two Western Conference powerhouses met last month, it turned out to be a high-octane game filled with tough-shot making and offensive mastery. Mere possessions into tonight’s encounter, it became clear that the scoreboard operator was going to be in for a busy night tonight as well.
As is normally the case in first quarters, the game was played at a Royal Rumble-type speed with action everywhere. Each of the team’s premier superstars had a little difficulty breaking the seal on the game to start; Dallas went with the often-attempted strategy of putting size on Damian Lillard — commonly in the form of Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock — and it worked well for about five or six possessions. Once the Blazers began to work their variations of screening, re-screening, and off-ball sets, Lillard was able to quickly put his imprint on the game.
In the meantime, the Blazers, owners of the NBA’s highest-scoring trio, proved they could survive solely off of Jerami Grant’s aggressiveness. Over their last five games, only the New York Knicks have a better first quarter point differential, and thanks to Grant, as well as a 4-of-4 shooting performance from Nurkic, they gave themselves a chance to build upon that.
Unfortunately, the Mavericks were able to dish it right back, picking out matchups they liked out of the pick-and-roll, on their way to an equally-productive quarter. The end result: a 32-31 edge for Portland after one.
Within a single commercial break, it appeared as though the Blazers’ positive fortunes had quickly run dry. With their six-time All-Star on the bench, Portland’s offense was messier than a frat house on Friday night, and the defensive effort wasn’t much better. By virtue of settling for tough, contested shots and then failing to generate stops on the other end, Portland could muster only a single field goal over the first three-and-a-half minutes.
There were potential signs — even if you tried to ignore them — that this might have just been the Mavericks’ night. There was one possession in which Nurkic committed an offensive foul before Lillard could even cross halfcourt; there was the next possession in which Christian Wood got the friendliest of friendly bounces on an and-one play that opened the Mavericks’ lead up; there was the fact that Portland couldn’t win the minutes even when Doncic sat. Take your pick.
Portland seemed especially uncomfortable dealing with Wood’s ability to stretch the floor either in stand-up or in pick-and-pop, and as a result, he and Doncic were both looking at 20+ by the end of the first half.
Bright spots were difficult to come by, but among those that did stand out: Trendon Watford’s minutes were spirited, particularly in how he mixed in aggressiveness with his shooting touch. And, it appeared that Lillard’s offensive heroics would give the Blazers a puncher’s chance at keeping it close. Mercifully, they trailed just 72-63 after two.
Remember that nine-point deficit coming out of halftime? Those proved to be good times; smelling blood in the water, the Mavericks matched superior aggressiveness and red-hot shooting on the way to a 9-of-10 start to the quarter. Before you knew it, the Mavericks had opened up a 25-point lead, and the Blazers’ reserves were on the floor with six minutes to play in the third quarter.
Even when it became relatively likely that Dallas was going to cruise to a comfortable win, they kept up the two-man game with Doncic and Wood, filled with highlight-level alley-oops on their way to quickly hitting the century mark. When they weren’t working their pick-and-roll, their perimeter shooters hit at fish-grease levels; it was one of those games in which you had to start Googling players.
Save for the occasional solid play from the likes of, say, Keon Johnson, there wasn’t a ton to write home about. The Blazers’ deficit had ballooned to 35, as they trailed 110-85 after three.
The one consolation that comes in blowout losses is that they grant you chances to see lesser-used talent in extended minutes. Shaedon Sharpe didn’t make quite the expected impact — often relegated to tougher shots and not much of a tangible impact elsewhere on the box score — though two of his teammates in Trendon Watford and Keon Johnson were able to add some respectability along that second unit.
If not for the box score at the bottom of the screen, Greg Brown III’s highlight dunk in his Dallas homecoming could be among the best poster jams of the year. To their credit, the Blazers’ deeper reserves did play the Mavericks’ reserves to a virtual standstill down the stretch. Though, the end result had been decided long ago; the Blazers would need to ultimately wait until tomorrow to attempt their return into the win column.
The Blazers move on to the next Texas challenge, as they prepare for a Saturday night battle against the Houston Rockets at 5:00 pm PT.