It was a win that took a little time to manifest, but the snowball soon became an avalanche as the Portland Trail Blazers broke away from the Indiana Pacers in the second half to win 116-100 Sunday night. Jerami Grant led all scorers with 28 points. In a game that saw all five Blazers starters score in double figures and three score over 20 points, Portland reminded fans that when fully healthy, they are a threat in the Western Conference.
Indiana valiantly hung around for one half. Myles Turner and Buddy Hield asserted their veteran presence, scoring timely buckets and playing well on both ends. Five Pacers also scored in double figures, but Indiana got outgunned from distance by 12 percent. That was enough to sink the Pacers in a hole they couldn’t climb out of, though they gave a scare for a moment early in the fourth before bowing out.
Make sure you catch our instant recap from Dave Deckard, who beautifully broke down the most critical moments of tonight’s game.
Now, here are eight observations from the victory.
Good Work Inside, Gentlemen
Both the Blazers and the Pacers had a 3 early, courtesy of Hield and Lillard. But from the onset, it was inside strategy that prevailed. Both teams were masterful with misdirections, smokescreens and cuts. Diving to the basket worked as an easy ticket for point-blank points from Indiana’s Jaylon Smith, while Jusuf Nurkic also got going within 5 feet on his way to 19 points on 7-12 shooting. Backdoor cuts and movement along the baseline opened up opportunities for both teams and left the long ball available for Lillard and Hield to duel.
With Lillard back in the lineup, Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle didn’t opt to trap the star guard in the high screen and roll, neither did he deploy a full court press on the ball handler coming up the court. Dame found himself in the corners on several occasions where he was shaded baseline. Otherwise, he was not made uncomfortable — a situation Carlisle might want back when watching film. Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups had no special tricks up his sleeve on defense, too. He opted to have his bigs show hard on Andrew Nembhard for his own reasons, and that led to eight assists from the backup point guard, with seven of those coming in the first half. Nembhard made the Blazers pay for giving him too much attention, especially when he was only 1-4 from distance and 2-5 from the field.
Hands, Hands, Hands!
Oh, the good ol’ fashioned hands chant. Everyone who’s played basketball at any level has heard it from a coach as they do their defensive slides. The Blazers guards went back to the basics and allocated eight steals in the first half by showing their hands and reading passing lanes like a suspenseful novel. They were especially deft at jumping to intercept passes in the air. It was just deflection after deflection, with 14 fast break points coming as a result.
No Answer For Myles Turner
As usual, a Blazers line bereft of intensity in contesting 3-pointers led to Myles Turner comfortably draining two shots from the outside. Nurkic was in another zip code whenever Turner had a look from outside, and the same can be said for Drew Eubanks too. Turner had just as much fun inside, where he was 5-7. Whether he was catching it on the block or off of a bullet pass with no defender in sight, Turner was the main reason why Indiana was within five points at the half.
The Third Quarter is Ours
A 15-4 run in 3:06 to start the third sent a message to an Indiana team without their best player Tyrese Haliburton — we the Blazers won’t drop a game we’ll regret losing down the line. Grant has been solid as a rock all season, and led the charge of that run with seven points of his own. Rip City rounded out into form as the quarter drew on and looked more like the team we grew accustomed to seeing the first 15 games in. The ball was moving well and the wealth was shared.
There’s That Zone
You can read that in whatever tone of voice or cadence you wish. They all fit the bill. Once coach Billups pulled out his favorite trap card from his deck, the tide turned. The Blazers didn’t go to it every possession, but sprinkled it into their gameplay and it jolted Portland into a successful quarter where defense led to offense.
16 in a Minute?
Do they even do that brutal conditioning drill in NBA practices? Billups might start using it after this Blazers blunder with eight minutes left tonight. Trailing 100-87, Buddy Hield got his own rebound off a missed free throw during Indiana’s mini fourth quarter rally. The play led to two more free throws for Hield to cut Portland’s largest lead of 22 down to 11. There are certain cardinal sins you don’t commit in basketball — not stopping the ball in transition, missing a wide open layup — and allowing a rebound and points off a missed free throw is in that echelon. Thankfully, a Lillard logo bomb went down that kept Indiana at bay.
Underwhelming Rookie Battle
Bennedict Mathurin and Shaedon Sharpe have been two of the best rookies all year. Unfortunately, supporters didn’t get to see these two gifted rookies play up to their standards. Mathurin struggled early and Sharpe played only 17 minutes, leaving a small footprint that was further muted by his unselfishness. He only attempted three shot attempts all night.
This was a crucial win for a Blazers team that slugged through a 2-5 slump without Lillard in the lineup. Now that they’ve won their second consecutive game and Lillard is back, they’ll have to work their way through an upcoming nine-game western conference joust, starting off at home against the Denver Nuggets — a team they’ve already beaten this season — on Thursday night at 7:00 PM, PT. They’ll enjoy a three-day layoff in the meantime.