The Portland Trail Blazers hung tough but ultimately lost 116-110 tonight to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night. Jerami Grant led a balanced attack for the Blazers with 23 points. Turnovers, fouls, and missed three pointers-doomed the young Rip City squad.
Lebron James sat out this contest, but Anthony Davis scored a game-high 30 points with 13 rebounds.
The game was a back-and-forth affair with neither team running out to a big lead. Point guard Skylar Mays got the start with both Scoot Henderson and Malcom Brogdon sitting out with injuries. Portland also called up two players from their G-League affiliate, The Rip City Remix. Both played key roles coming off the bench tonight.
It was good to see this unexperienced team compete with the Lakers. Even in a loss, you can see the growth and maturity in the Blazers.
If you missed the game, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After you’ve read that, here are the details that defined the contest.
Hustle, Determination, Grit
This Blazers team continues to surprise opponents with their effort. Anthony Davis played the entire third quarter with the hope of putting away the game so he could rest the entire final period. That did not happen. The Blazers did what they have been doing most of the season, keeping the game close.
Portland leads the league in the unofficial statistic of doing dirty work and all the little things. You would think being down starters Anfernee Simons and Scoot Henderson, along with bench players Malcom Brogdon and Robert Williams III, would cause this team to fold under pressure. They have proven most nights that they want the win more than the other team.
You can handle losses as long as the team wins the hustle statistic. The coaching staff continues to press the right buttons and the players are responding with positive effort and results.
Welcome to the Party
It feels like every game lately the Blazers are bringing on new players, and tonight was no different. Due to injuries, the Blazers introduced guard Jamaree Bouyea and big man Doup Reath. They both made immediate impact on the game.
Bouyea played 12 minutes registering 6 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. Reath played 14 mins and logged 11 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, and a team high +11 while he was on the court. Beyond the box score, Bouyea and Reath showed flashes that potentially could make them rotational NBA players.
Bouyea looked like a 10-year veteran point guard on the floor. He handled the ball pressure well and he didn’t rush his shot. I was also surprised by the speed he showed in the pick and roll, not just the speed to get around his defender, but also quick decision-making to throw the correct pass. He does get hunted on defense because of his lack of size, but he has the ability to punish defenders on the other end of the ball. Bouyea should see some extra minutes while Henderson, Simons, and Brogdon are out with injuries.
Reath’s special power was his ability to stretch the floor and knock down the open three-point shot. He tied Matisse Thybulle for the team lead tonight with 8 three point attempts, connecting on 3 of them. Early in the fourth quarter, he pulled Davis away from the basket to help the Blazers navigate in the paint. Reath is a big body, help with rebounding and blocking shots. With the season ending injury to Robert Williams III, I believe Reath will be a key contributor off the bench.
The Month of Mays Continues
Nearly every game analysis so far has had a section dedicated to Skylar Mays, but he has deserved it. His first start of this NBA season did not disappoint. Mays scored 15 points with 4 rebounds, 12 assists, and only 1 turnover in 33 minutes of action. That kind of assist-to-turnover ratio will earn Mays minutes and a nice payday down the road. 12 assists to just 1 TO is nuts!
Mays took over a stretch of the fourth quarter that almost brought the Blazers back from an 8-point deficit. He threw up a beautiful floater, nailed a pullup jumper, and assisted on a three to Jerami Grant that forced a Lakers timeout.
Mays always looks calm and composed on the court. His steady pace and ability to hunt for his shot make him a solid contributor for the Blazers. If Henderson can return from injury and deliver on the potential that we all hope is there, Mays would be the kind of backup point guard a Championship team can only dream about.
Pass the Rock
Although the Blazers are on the wrong end of the turnover battle most nights, their passing has been fun to watch...mainly in transition and finding the open man during offensive sets. Young NBA teams tend to fall into isolation plays, going one-on-one with their defender and taking bad shots. These Portland Trail Blazers are different. They swing the ball and make the unselfish play like a veteran NBA team heading into the playoffs.
At the 8:35 mark of the second quarter, newcomer Bouyea took a screen from Reath only to find a wide open Shaedon Sharpe at the top of the arc for a three that hit nothing but net. Young players typically force action there or pull up for their own shot in the pick and roll. Instead Bouyea made the correct read and passed to the wide-open Sharpe. Then only 20 seconds later at the 8:15 mark, Sharpe returned the favor and found Deandre Ayton for a hook shot about 3 feet from the rim. Both of these actions were set up by passes before the assist (also known as the hockey assist). It’s exciting to see this team show maturity in areas that are rare for young squads in the NBA.
Balance in the Force
The Blazers had six players in double figures tonight. Jerami Grant led the way with 23 points, but Matisse Thybulle led the Blazers at halftime with 14. Even though Thybulle finished with that same total, it’s clear he’s feeling more comfortable in a scoring role with the team. He went 4-8 from long range tonight. All his looks were on point, just a little long or short. Thybulle has to be a threat from the corner if the Blazers are going to create any space in the middle for others to operate.
Take Care of the Ball
Call me crazy, but the Blazers are leaving L.A. tonight with a victory in their back pocket if they had just taken better care of the basketball. Portland is 24th in the league in turnovers, committing 16.1 a night. Versus the Lakers tonight they did just that. Turnovers are a part of life with a young team, but so many were unforced and that was hard to stomach.
Both the first and third quarters started with careless inbound passes that led to steals and easy layups. They happened so quickly the camera didn’t even catch them. Then with 2:34 left in the game and the Blazers down 103-106, Sharpe threw a pass into the backcourt with two Blazers staring at it like it was hot lava. Taurean Prince grabbed the ball and raced for a layup that felt like the final nail in the coffin.
Sharpe was the biggest culprit tonight with 7 turnovers, most of them unforced bad passes. Someone on this team has to take over the game on the offensive end, but it’s important to still let the game come to you. Sharpe continues to grow exponentially in front of our eyes, but limiting turnovers is an area for improvement in his game.
Lebron James did not play tonight, but the Lakers still had the best player on the floor. Anthony Davis was everything for the Lakers on offense and defense. Length has always been his calling card. Now he has added muscle to that long frame, making him one of the most dominant big men in the NBA.
Davis scored 30 points on 10-20 shooting with 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 blocks. When he sat, the Blazers would make a run. When he came back into the game, the Lakers would take the lead.
Sprinkle in a little Austin Reaves off the bench and the Purple and Gold were too much for the Blazers. If Davis can stay healthy, this Lakers team will find themselves back in the Western Conference Finals and maybe beyond.
Stay tuned for extended analysis following the game.
Portland will travel to Utah to face the Jazz on Tuesday night with a 6:00, Pacific start.