On Wednesday evening the Portland Trail Blazers and Detroit Pistons played a rollercoaster game befitting of two of the youngest teams in the NBA. Cade Cunningham stepped to the plate for his Pistons repeatedly, but Deandre Ayton, Jerami Grant, and Shaedon Sharpe gave Detroit a scoring hydra to contend with, more than adequate to match their single star.
Throughout the evening, Portland kept rebounds and turnovers relatively equal, shooting percentage within shouting distance. A landslide of foul shots, coupled with an avalanche of scoring from Sharpe, carried Portland through a strong 18-minute close to the game. Down double digits, they came back all the way and then some. Despite losing Scoot Henderson to an ankle sprain in the fourth period, they bulled their way to a 110-101 victory, bringing their record to 2-3 on the season.
Sharpe was the second-half scoring star, scoring 15 points in the third period alone, 29 for the game on 9-16 shooting, 3-6 from distance, 8-10 from the foul line. Scoot Henderson tallied 11 points and 7 assists in 20 minutes. Grant scored 24, Ayton 16 with 11 rebounds.
Cunningham led all scorers with 30 points, but he shot just 11-27 from the field.
Portland finished the evening with a 33-11 edge in free throw attempts, good for +17 points at the line.
The Blazers started out the game with a Scoot Henderson to Deandre Ayton alley-oop. They followed up with a stout defensive possession, a Shaedon Sharpe offensive rebound, and a toss-out for a Jerami Grant three. It was energetic, aggressive, everything you’d want from the young Blazers.
Unfortunately, the game lasts more than 90 seconds. Detroit got inside, baited the Portland defense into the lane, then capitalized with three three-pointers. Portland kept scoring inside too, but their inability to get out to the arc defensively hurt. Detroit led 16-12 at the first full timeout at the 6:51 mark.
Ayton continued to anchor Portland’s offense in the midsection of the first. Seven minutes into the frame he had 7 shots and 8 points. The Blazers have finally begun to tap his potential. Grant was a strong follow-up option. Of note: Shaedon Sharpe had 0 shot attempts in the first seven minutes but still contributed 4 rebounds and 3 assists.
In another interesting development, the young and reckless Pistons turned over the ball more than the young and reckless Trail Blazers, one of the first times all season Portland held an early and clear advantage in that category.
Not all went well. The Blazers missed a raft of interior shots. Detroit still scored at the rim and arc with 50% aggregate shooting. The Pistons’ base offense was better than Portland’s. That kept the scoreboard even despite Portland’s rebounding and running advantage, right up until the closing minutes, when turnovers and lane coverage really caught up with the Blazers. Detroit led 32-26 after one.
A returning Robert Williams III played tough defense in the lane at the start of the second. That allowed his teammates to extend farther out on the court, bothering Detroit in the mid-range. They still weren’t quick enough cover the three-point arc, though. The Pistons struck on the sideline and up top off of a screen. That preserved their 40-34 margin with 7:27 left in the second.
After the early mandatory timeout, the wheels fell off for Portland. Turnovers led to Detroit break-aways. The Pistons got four straight conversions from approximately zero inches. In about two minutes they pushed the lead to 12, 48-36, forcing Head Coach Chauncey Billips to call a momentum-changing timeout.
It didn’t work. More turnovers and more breakout runs allowed the Pistons to motor ahead by 16, then 18. Billups sent Malcolm Brogdon back in to settle things down in the closing minutes of the half, but that didn’t help either. Portland shot below 40% from the half, Detroit above 50%. The Pistons led 59-47 at intermission.
The Blazers started off the third quarter hot. Scoot Henderson hit a three and a chippy. He also assisted on two Ayton alley-oops. Within three minutes, they had the lead down to 6, 64-58.
Detroit surged back, though. Turnovers and dunks destroyed the Blazers again. Up to 15 the gap went. But Sharpe had a head of steam going. He scored, and scored, and scored once more. That brought the margin to single digits again, 78-69, at the 3:23 mark. A Grant layup a play later took it down to 7.
Sharpe’s rolling fire continued in the final 150 seconds. He hit a layup and a three, then ANOTHER three. By the time the clock read 1:30 Sharpe’s Blazers trailed by 3, 82-79. Then Toumari Camara went 1-2 with a blocked shot on one end then an and-one conversion on the other, bringing Portland to within 2, 84-82.
One more free throw cut the lead to 1, 84-83, at the close of the third. The Blazers had a chance heading into the final frame. Sharpe went 6-9 for 15 points in the period.
The teams traded jabs over the first couple minutes of the fourth. Detroit hit inside off of quick passes. The Blazers scored from midrange and at the line. The Pistons’ scoring was once again surer, but Portland forced enough turnovers to keep them from running away. Detroit held a lead, but it didn’t get above 6. Sharpe and Ayton continued to convert, Ayton remaining aggressive on defense as well. When Ayton hit Grant for an open corner three with 6:51 remaining, the Blazers led 74-73.
Scoot Henderson sprained his ankle about this time, leading to his exit. Skylar Mays replaced him.
Sharpe would score on an alley-oop following the ensuing timeout. Then the Blazers forced Detroit’s sixth turnover in 6:00 of play. Things were looking good for Portland, especially considering how far down they had been.
Portland continued to convert from the foul stripe another recurring story of the evening. Every time Detroit wanted to get excited, Portland drove and the officials helped them to points without time running off the clock. Neither team could escape. The score was tied at 99 when Portland called timeout with 3:27 remaining.
The Blazers continued to shoot free throws as the game wound to a close. Detroit’s arena was actively booing the referees at this point, but Portland played aggressively everywhere, offense and defense. Foul shots, plus two missed layups for Detroit, kept Portland up 106-101 with 1:04 remaining.
A missed Pistons three followed by a Brogdon conversion put the game on the shelf with 33 seconds left. Portland now owns their first winning streak of the season at two games, even.
Stay tuned for extended analysis, coming soon.
The Blazers return to the Moda Center on Friday night to face the Memphis Grizzlies in their first in-season tournament qualifying game of the year. The contest begins at 7:00 PM, Pacific.