Payton was Portland’s prized and lone free agency acquisition back in June. It was considered a savvy move from General manager Joe Cronin to pry the 30-year-old journeyman away from the Golden State Warriors, where he had just played a key role on a championship team. But abdominal surgery in September has sidelined Payton since training camp while fans have anxiously watched the team struggle with backcourt depth and defense, both of which Payton was signed to provide.
While he only played 13 minutes as he eased into the rotation, Payton was clearly a factor against Detroit, finishing with 7 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, and a steal, participating in several highlight plays.
The Pistons are a bad team and already one of the favorites to win the Victor Wembanyana draft sweepstakes in the offseason. With their best player, Cade Cunningham, expected to miss the remainder of the season following surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left leg, Detroit is in de facto tank mode. This presented the Blazers with a perfect opportunity to rebound from Friday’s disappointing loss.
Jerami Grant had a game-high against his former squad with 36 points and Anfernee Simons added 30 on 11-18 shooting, ending a recent slump. Damian Lillard provided a double-double with 19 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds and 4 steals.
Jusuf Nurkic made a brief return the lineup after missing Friday’s contest with a non-Covid illness, but exited early after taking a driving elbow from Jaden Ivey straight to the beak. He immediately went to the locker room but would return later.
I don’t think this strictly qualified as a “revenge game,” but Grant was facing his former team, and as customary, he appeared to have a greener light than usual. He took four shots in his opening stint; knocked down two of them, including a three. Not exactly showing up your ex at Prom, but Lillard and Simons both had slow starts and Nurkic was presumably icing his face with the training staff, so Portland will take it. Grant had 7 points in the quarter, which helped offset Bojan Boganovic, who continues to torture the Blazers even from another conference. Bogdanovic doesn’t need much daylight to let it fly, and he had his stroke tonight. He scored 9 of his 21 points in the first and helped the Pistons jump out to an early lead.
At about the 3-minute mark, Payton made his entrance to a huge ovation. He didn’t take long to have an impact. After turning the ball over on his first offensive possession, Payton knocked down a three and then a couple trips later, corralled the loose ball from a Grant steal which led to a transition layup from Simons.
Detroit, led by Bogdanovic and Alec Bucks, seized a 27-22 advantage after one.
The tone shifted right away in the second with back-to-back plays featuring Payton to open the period. The first was a nifty designed lob to Shaedon Sharpe that woke up the subdued home crowd. The second was a quick bounce pass through traffic for an open Simons layup. Nothing spectacular, but entirely representative of the kind of energy Payton brings to the team. From there, Portland seemed to gain some manner of foothold.
Scoring remained an obstacle for both sides for much of the quarter. The Pistons did most of their damage via Ivey’s free throws, while Lillard scored 6 of a Blazer 8-0 run that gave them a 44-38 advantage. But Detroit would answer back with 12-2 run behind Ivey and Jalen Duren, who took advantage of Nurkic’s foul trouble. They launched an all-out assault on the paint. Their strength and athleticism was tough to contain, and for a moment, this looked like it might turn this into an actual contest.
But Portland ended the quarter on a 15-0 run largely fueled by Grant and Drew Eubanks. They combined for 13 of those 15 points, some of the loudest of the game. This included three transition dunks - one drawing a foul - and a cherry-on-the-top three with three seconds left that blew the game wide open.
Blazers took a cushy 61-52 lead into the break.
Third and Fourth Quarters
I’m sure there’s a universe where the Pistons regroup and make a go of the second half, but it isn’t this one. Portland continued to find the bottom of the net, and after a pair of threes each from Grant and Simons, the Blazers suddenly held a 77-59 lead they would never look back from. Portland went through the motions and were able to rest their starters for the fourth while walking away with the easy win.
Stay tuned for our extended recap coming soon!
The Blazers will get a day off before beginning a three-game road trip against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday evening - tip is set for 5 p.m. Pacific.