As it turns out, a meeting against the NBA’s worst-ranked defense was just what the doctor ordered to get back on track. Nursing a three-game losing streak of drastic circumstances, the Portland Trail Blazers put together a season-best offensive output with just enough defensive resistance, and that helped fuel a feel-good 147-127 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
It appeared as though one Anfernee Simons would be the de-facto leading scorer after a red-hot opening frame, but after sensing that the game was too close for his liking, Damian Lillard elected to steal a little bit of that thunder and rain on the Spurs’ defense himself.
Lillard led a memorable night with a 37-point, 12-assist masterpiece on 12-of-19 shooting, and he had quite the backing between Nurkic (25 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and three steals), Simons (26 points on just 15 attempts), and a brilliant second unit performance, anchored by Shaedon Sharpe (19 points).
The win bolsters the Blazers to 22-25, and into a tie for No. 12 in the West (though, still just six-and-a-half games out of the No. 3 spot). Below are a few other points that stood out.
Don’t Dare Blink:
The 2023 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City remains a few weeks away; for those who wanted to get a preview of what it might look like, Monday’s Spurs-Blazers was one of a few options available.
On a night in which the Milwaukee Bucks put together a 150-point outing, the Blazers effectively took on the challenge, and they could’ve provided themselves a chance at the night’s highest scoring mark, if not for a little sportsmanship. How about a statistic to put it in perspective? Per Stathead, the Blazers have scored 147+ points in a single game 12 different times in the franchise’s history; this was just the second time it happened since that special year back in 1992.
The reasons for it were plentiful. Despite the breakneck pace, Portland had only 10 turnovers — it’s amazing how many more shot attempts you can get for everyone when this number stays low — along with a 24-6 edge in fast break points. Perhaps most notable of all: the Blazers shot 20-of-33 from 3-point range, which, spoiler alert, ranked as the best percentage of the season.
The Breakout Back-Ups
Over 47 games this season, the Blazers’ second unit has only outscored the opposition’s bench six times. Tonight wasn’t one of those nights — apologies in advance — but it did mark one of their best cumulative nights of the 2022-23 campaign.
How the Blazers will find a way to survive the Lillard-less minutes remains a worry, but in tonight’s win, Portland got marquee performances from a number of their reserves. Shaedon Sharpe paved the way, threatening his career-high in scoring with a 19-point performance, as well a +26 in 27 minutes; it was one of those nights where athleticism and IQ met in perfect symphony.
Nassir Little’s return has helped demonstratively in that regard; his presence has provided a jolt of energy in every game he’s been in. Together, he and Sharpe put together plays such as this throughout the night.
With some assistance from Drew Eubanks, a +19 in 16 minutes — always amped up against his old team — Trendon Watford and friends, the Blazers pieced together 47 bench points. For reference, they rank dead-last in this regard (24.0 PPG) throughout the season. They won’t double that output every night, but when they do, their chances to win go up exponentially.
Turning on the Turbo:
Take a quick glance at the Blazers’ Twitter clips from tonight’s game, and you’ll notice one thing above all else: tons and tons of opportunities out in transition. As noted a few paragraphs above, Portland kept the home court advantage that is the Moda Center alive throughout the night, in large part due to their focus on playing with pace and aggressiveness.
For those who’ve tuned in to the Dave and Marlow podcast, you know we’ve talked about this extensively; this is a different team when they can score within the first few seconds on the shot clock. Tonight, they put together 24 points in transition; they’re now a perfect 6-0 when they’ve tied or hit this number.
The caveat, of course, comes in considering who Portland played tonight, but, in Monday’s win, it opened up the opportunity for a few of the Blazers’ best strengths: those unstoppable double-drag screens in transition with Lillard (he moved into No. 7 all-time on the 3-point list tonight as well, jumping ahead of Jason Terry), opportunities for Josh Hart, and less-contested looks for players like Simons. Here’s to hoping more is to come.
Other Random Notes:
— The defense still leaves a bit to be desired, but the Blazers’ four best offensive games (ORtg) have all come in the month of January, with the back-to-back vs. Dallas last weekend, the Jan. 2 game vs. Detroit, and then tonight. Inspiring stuff.
— One night after blowing a 25-point first-half lead against the Lakers, the Blazers kept their foot on the gas here. It felt noteworthy that Chauncey Billups, who talked about being the “least experienced head coach” in the NBA, had Lillard at the scorer’s table with the Blazers up 131-109 with 8:11 left, just to be sure.
— The Blazers tied their highest-scoring first quarter of the season and were in a 74-74 tie at halftime. It was a battle of bad defense against slightly-less-bad defense, and with a few runs, Portland was able to create separation. A perfect game to up your averages in.
Portland looks for an encore performance at home on Wednesday night against the Utah Jazz, another defensively-vulnerable team, at 7:00 PT
If you haven’t already, take a glance at Ryan Rosback’s instant recap of tonight’s win.