The Portland Trail Blazers shut down red-hot Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in a 136-119 win on Saturday night. Seven Trail Blazers scored in double figures, lead by 36 points from Damian Lillard.
Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons chipped in with 22 and 21 points respectively. Gary Payton II earned himself the game ball with four steals in his first 10 minutes of play, and 10 points on the night — his first game in double figures on the season.
The story of the night was the defense. Portland stifled Doncic and held him to a season-low 15 points on 7-19 from the floor and 1-6 from the free throw line. He was a team-worst -17 on the night and couldn’t get into a groove in any of his 36 minutes played.
The Mavericks got out-rebounded 25-47 and outmuscled 28-50 in points in the paint. Their one successful point of attack came from distance, where they shot 47.8 percent on 22 made 3-pointers — much of which came in the first three quarters.
Good news! The ball was moving, and the Trail Blazers limited themselves to a respectable 12 turnovers.
Let’s dive into prevalent themes that took shape throughout the contest, that can also provide us with context for how the quick turnaround of a rematch will transpire tomorrow night.
If you haven’t already, check out our instant recap from Dave Deckard for play-by-play analysis.
Great Defense, Greater Reads
The Mavericks tried a 3-2 zone up front tonight with Josh Powell sagging inside of the key as the utility guy. Lillard found a convenient spot on the floor — the left baseline 17 feet out — which he attacked, leading to his first four points. The Blazers moved the ball, getting and-one’s, and found solid offensive success. When Powell sagged too hard, Nurkic was freed up on the right wing, where he drilled threes. He shoots 52 percent from that spot.
The Blazers showed a second defender on Doncic at almost every turn tonight, and with good reason. The Slovenian has been averaging north of 40-11-9 on 50 percent shooting in his last 10 games, so a contain defense is really all that Portland could deploy. Doncic made correct reads, passing the ball. He only had two points through nine minutes, and that lone field goal came when he was left on an island.
Josh Hart was the help man to trap Luka when on the perimeter, and Drew Eubanks helped when Doncic went into the post or got the step on the pick-and-roll. Luka would either drive in and kick to an open Bullock — who shot 8-10 on three-pointers in the game — pass to the big man stepping up in the middle for hockey assists, or find the open man when trapped at the logo for more long bombs. As a result of Luka’s decisiveness, Dallas made eight 3-pointers in the first quarter alone, 22-46 for the night. Doncic finished with 10 assists.
The Impact of GPII
Gary Payton II forced four turnovers in his first five minutes of play. Three of those turnovers resulted in fast-break points. The first was a breakaway layup that he converted off of a poke. The second was a strip on Spencer Dinwiddie that resulted in a crafty layup in traffic by Grant. The third was an immaculate read on an inbounds pass that GPII picked off and led to a Nurkic deuce at point-blank range. If that’s not making the most of your opportunities, I don’t know what is.
And for a brief stint, the Blazers did not need to bring a second defender to help on Doncic, because he would face guard the 3-time All-NBA first team honoree and get physical with him, utilizing nuisance tactics that the referees could not in good conscious blow the whistle for.
There’s That Zone
It’s been eons since we’ve seen the patented zone implemented by Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups at the start of the season. Portland ran it from the time that Lillard came out in the first period tonight, well through the second quarter against the Mavericks’ second unit. It worked well. Theo Pinson was the Maverick that found himself the recipient of open looks from distance — twice from the right wing. He missed both.
While Dinwiddie found a way to get his via a slew of midrange shots and 3-pointers (3-4 at the half, 4-6 for the game), the Mavericks were not as effective when this defense was being executed. The trend continued when Doncic returned and the Blazers reverted back to a man defense.
Lay Up Your Treasures... At the Rim?
If you read the Bible, you probably remember the advice, “Lay up your treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt.” Coach Billups must’ve put a spin on those words and told his troops to “lay up your treasures at the rim where your athleticism will have freedom to erupt,” because the Blazers were busy attacking the rack all night long.
Jerami Grant was getting crafty with both hands. Josh Hart was being Josh Hart, pressing the notion and heading to the rim with a purpose. Anfernee Simons showed flair and precision with paint points high off glass. And let’s give Lillard his flowers. He had a reverse layup inside of two minutes where he wasn’t even looking at the rim. He put the jelly on the English muffin and served that up to the Mavericks along with a 17-point lead — their largest of the first half. Even missed dunks from Lillard and Simons were garnering “oohs” and “ahs” from the crowd at the Moda Center.
Beyond attacking the basket, where the Blazers won the points in the paint battle 50-28 and the fast break battle 24-9, those treasures were also laid up at the rim from further out. As a result, they shot 55.7% from the field and 41.5% from the arc.
More Reggie Bullock
Back to Bullock’s shooting... He made five 3-pointers in the third quarter alone. He was connecting on shot after shot after shot. The end result of trapping Doncic out of the pick-and-roll was an open man freeing himself up. In most cases, coach Kidd ran the play with Bullock as the screener. While that didn’t switch a weaker defender on to Doncic to attack, it did lead to 15 points that were all target practice for the former University of North Carolina Tar Heel.
Payton II was the extinguisher to Bullock’s flame, as he drilled two open 3-pointers that put the lead back at 16 points as the fourth quarter approached.
In all, the sacrifice on defense was worth it for Rip City. Through three quarters, Doncic only had 13 points on 6-15 shooting. This was a textbook definition game plan of letting the “others” beat you.
Lillard ensured that Rip City would come away with the win. He had the play of the game in the second half where he drove inside and hit Nurkic with a Magic Johnson-esque no-look pass that the Bosnian big threw down with authority. He hit from outside, inside, found his teammates and put the icing on the cake en route to a 36-point night.
The recipients of his 10 assists and ball movement were all of his teammates. All nine of them scored in regulation. All shot 50 percent or better from the field save Shaedon Sharpe.
With this win, Portland effectively ended their five-game slump. They will see these same Dallas Mavericks team tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. PT.
Christian Wood’s availability is up in the air as he battles an ankle injury. Depending on his status, that will be very critical in how both teams shape their game plan. Portland found immense success in trapping Doncic on every possession and forcing his teammates to hit shots.
Coach Billups may need to anticipate a rematch where Mavericks Coach Jason Kidd runs Doncic off the ball more, as well as out of the post. With Wood in the lineup, the Blazers will face an inside threat who can score out of the post and stretch the floor. Regardless of defensive intensity, Dallas is arguably the best 3-point shooting team in the entire NBA, so finding new ways to bother them from the top down will be instrumental in racking up a second consecutive victory.