The Portland Trail Blazers threw a multi-tentacle attack at the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night, worthy of the Watcher in the Water trying to feast on a few hobbits and a wizard. Despite a valiant effort on Portland’s part, Brooklyn was able to slice away with the sword of Durant, freeing themselves to scurry into the dwarven mine of three-point shooting, emerging on the other side with a 128-123 victory. Josh Hart had 25 in the loss, Brandon Williams 24.
If you missed the action, you can find our always-entertaining quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are a few more observations from the day.
Stars vs. Hustle
At no point in this game did the Blazers contain the main scorers for Brooklyn. Kevin Durant scored 38, Seth Curry 27, Andre Drummond and Bruce Brown 17 apiece. But Portland circled around the Nets’ talented players like gadflies: poking, bumping, annoying, running. For the first three quarters, this game was all Brooklyn trying to outclass Portland, the Blazers out-hustling them to make up for it. It turned out pretty even. Portland took an 18-point lead in the third, mostly via activity. Brooklyn had to raise their game to get it back.
When Brooklyn erased the lead, they did it quickly. They never gave it back, either. But at least the Blazers made them play to get it.
When the Blazers had no prayer of matching up with Kevin Durant, they substituted physicality for skill. They threw their bodies at KD off ball, heedless of whatever foul penalty they were required to pay as a result. Durant got 15 foul shots, but had to do real work to get open looks. In the fourth period, he couldn’t get any, as the Blazers threw two men at him whenever the Nets thought about sending the ball his way. KD had zero—count them, zero—field goal attempts in the final frame.
The real problem for Portland was, watching Durant so hard, they had nothing left to spend on his teammates. As long as Brooklyn played lazy and/or crazy—moving slow and turning over the ball—the Blazers stayed right with them. As soon as they started moving and stopped handing Portland the basketball, the Blazers didn’t have enough halfcourt offense to keep up.
Of late, Ben McLemore’s three-point shot has been missing so badly that assistant coaches have been seen posting flyers on telephone poles trying to find it. Not so, tonight. McLemore finally recovered his shot, hitting 5-12, including a fantastic buzzer-beater to end the first half. Along with the marksmanship came McLemore’s energy and drive. This was the best game the Blazers have seen from him in a month. He scored 17.
Brandon Williams continues to amaze with his speedy drives to the bucket. He doesn’t just have another gear on the drive, he has a whole ‘nother vehicle. It’s pretty astonishing to see him get a step, then all of a sudden, he’s in orbit somewhere, converting a layup. Tonight he hit his threes as well. His stat line ended 24 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, only 2 turnovers, 10-19 shooting, 3-7 from distance.
Kris Dunn took a super-active role in Portland’s attack in this game. His biggest contributions probably came on defense. He was in the middle of Portland’s turnover-forcing festival, gathering 4 steals. He was an annoyance to Brooklyn even when he didn’t force turnovers. He fit right into Portland’s all-activity, all-the-time approach.
But Dunn also went to the hoop with aggression when presented with the opportunity. He scored a little, dished a lot. His shot selection was far better than in his first game with the Blazers—he attempted only four shots—while his athleticism showed forth.
Justise Winslow got 28 minutes, continuing his return to the regular rotation. It was a mixed bag for him. He does plenty of little things. He throws his body, gets rebounds, and he’s a real threat on the break. But his jumper is sketchy, he looks a little lost in the halfcourt offense, and then there’s things like missing three free throws in a row with 2:09 remaining in the game and the Blazers down just 8. Portland’s definitely better off with Winslow now, particularly since he has some defensive chops, but the polish is still missing.
As we said, the hustle readings were off the charts for the Blazers in this one. They grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, scored 21 second-chance points, matching that with 21 on the break. They scored 68 in the paint and forced the Nets into 21 turnovers, converting those into 29 points.
For all the Blazers did right, one stat stands out: Brooklyn scored 29 fastbreak points themselves, netting +8 on Portland. If the young players for the Blazers had gotten back slightly more often, and with greater effect, this game might have gone the other way.
The Blazers head to Indiana to face the Pacers at 12:30, Pacific on Sunday afternoon.