The Sunday matinee between the Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers was a duel between two of the NBA’s strongest tank jobs. The Pacers won the day in a lopsided 129-98 takedown of Portland, while the Blazers won in their mission to collect ping-pong balls for May’s NBA Draft Lottery.
Sometimes this young and inexperienced Blazers bunch swings above their weight class, appearing spirited and scrappy enough to give better teams a shot. Other times they look helpless and discombobulated, like chickens with their heads cut off. Today was certainly a case of the latter, as shooting woes and sloppy turnovers turned this game into a joyous romp for the win-deprived Pacers by halftime.
If you missed the action, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are a few more observations from the day.
What’s Colder Than Being Cold? .... ICE COLD!
Maybe you can blame it on the early start time, but the Blazers came out of the gates cold as can be Sunday afternoon. Point guard Brandon Williams couldn’t get it going from deep or in the lane in the first quarter. Forward Trendon Watford’s patented floater was off. Then shooting ace Ben McLemore came in off the bench and promptly bricked his first attempt. The Blazers started the game 1-8 from the field and quickly fell into a 12-4 hole that they’d never recover from. They shot 30.4% from the field and 22.2% from deep in the first quarter, falling behind 35-22 after one. At halftime, the team trailed 69-48. Josh Hart was the only player who could consistently create on offense for Portland and the only Blazer to reach double figures by halftime. The rest of the team was able to put up better numbers in the second half, raising the team field goal percentage to a more respectable 46.9%. By then the game was largely out of reach and the Pacers had eased up on defense.
Sloppy Turnovers and Bobbled Passes
Up top, I mentioned this iteration of the Blazers can often look “discombobulated.” This was largely in reference to the number of unforced turnovers the team gave up today and the way they bobbled so many passes. All game long, but especially in the first half, the Blazers couldn’t catch the ball cleanly. Players often didn’t suspect the pass was coming, but even when they did, they still had trouble holding onto the ball. Even when these plays didn’t result in turnovers, the passing woes, compounded by the shooting troubles, put Portland’s offense in a terrible rhythm. For the game, Portland coughed up 18 turnovers, but it was the nature of the giveaways that was so demoralizing. There was CJ Elleby fumbling the ball away on drives, an unforced over-and-back violation off a sloppy pass and a lazy inbounds pass in the backcourt that led to a Buddy Hield three-pointer in the third quarter. At one point, Kris Dunn had a three-on-one fast break with Greg Brown III and Keon Johnson, two of Portland’s best finishers. Dunn threw a 10-story-high lob behind Johnson, who then fumbled it off to Brown, who proceeded to throw the ball to a Pacer at halfcourt before stumbling out of bounds.
Teams Just Wanna Have Fun
A few weeks ago, it was Patrick Beverley shooting the t-shirt cannon while he and his teammates danced on the bench during Minnesota’s 124-81 blowout against Portland. Today it was Pacer players dancing and hugging after Lance Stephenson threw a behind-the-back pass on the break to Oshae Brisset for a reverse, double-pump jam. He got fouled on the play too for good measure. It’s become abundantly clear that teams have fun playing against the Blazers. Opponents get their fair share of highlight plays, the defense can be sliced up like butter, players enjoy uncharacteristically big nights and stars get to rest by the fourth quarter — if they haven’t already taken the night off. Indiana tallied 38 assists on 48 made field goals and shot 57.1% from the field. Brisset has averaged 7.9 points per game on the season and unleashed 24 points on the Blazers, with 19 of those coming in the first half. Justin Anderson, who’s on a 10-day contract, scored 18. Just like in that Minnesota blowout, Indiana fans started doing the wave in the second half.
Josh Hart Still Good
It’s clear that Portland is playing out the rest of the season with the intention to better their position for the Draft Lottery, but Hart did his best to sabotage that mission today. The veteran dazzled again, scoring a game-high 26 points on an ultra-efficient 11-13 from the field. He shot well from deep, going 3-5 from downtown, and then made strong moves to get to the basket and his midrange jump shot when defenders were forced to honor his pump fake. Hart scored 14 points in the third quarter, bringing the Blazers to within 12, before Billups shut him down for the entire fourth quarter. Without him, the team was lost again and the blowout ensued.