The Portland Trail Blazers played another improbably energetic road game on Monday, facing the Indiana Pacers one day after taking the Milwaukee Bucks to the limit on Sunday. Portland once again showed a passion for pace, this time backing it up with quick contests on defense and some shiny three-point shooting on the other end.
When the smoke cleared, Portland earned a 114-110 victory courtesy of 47% shooting, 50% from the arc, some opportunistic defense, and 17 points from Jerami Grant in the fourth quarter, a significant portion of his game-leading 34 overall.
Tyrese Haliburton almost equaled Grant with 33 points. Malcolm Brogdon had 24, including the game-icer, and Deandre Ayton 22 for Portland.
The game started out fast and hot with each team striking from distance and rebounding at the rim. Both teams wanted to get into their offense quickly. That always gives Portland a puncher’s chance. They landed some stiff jabs and a haymaker or two, leading 14-12 at the 8:00 mark despite Indiana shooting 5-9 from the field.
The Blazers maintained their edge through the halfway point of the period. Deandre Ayton kept threatening, drawing defensive attention, keeping the Pacers away from Portland’s big scorers. Ayton became one of those scorers whenever the defense left him in one-on-one coverage. If it weren’t for Tyrese Haliburton, the Blazers would have built a decent lead. As it was, the Pacers point guard shot over and drove through Portland’s defense, scoring at every level.
That’s the way the period progressed: Ayton and Haliburton trading threats and strikes. Once Ayton checked out of the game, though, Portland’s offense and lane defense both fell apart. Indiana went on a late-quarter mini-run, taking a 34-30 lead into the second quarter. Ayton and Haliburton had a dozen each in the period.
Haliburton sat at the start of second. With him went all of Indiana’s offense. The Pacers struggled with turnovers and contested shots. Portland wasn’t incredible themselves, but three-pointers from Malcolm Brogdon and Duop Reath made them look better than they were. Portland’s second unit was plenty active with their hands on defense, though, disrupting passes, poking dribbles, and making Indiana stumble.
Brogdon kept Portland’s offense aflame during the middle minutes of the second as the Blazers bought their starters some rest. He attacked the rim with intensity, occasionally setting up teammates when the defense lasered in on him. He led his team to 5-8 shooting in the first half of the second period.
The good times couldn’t last forever, though. The Pacers brought their starters back in and the offense—led by Haliburton once again-started to click.
But Portland kept pace with the opponent, scoring at the rim when their midrange shots deserted them. Scoot Henderson pushed the offense in the closing minutes, scoring and then assisting to Toumani Camara for a buzzer-beating three to put Portland up 65-60 at halftime. Indiana shot 55% for the first half, but Portland shot 51% themselves, 64% from distance.
The third quarter started to turn against the Blazers slightly, as the Pacers scored inside with regularity and hit an even higher percentage than they did in the first half. Portland’s saving grace was keeping up pace, pressure, and rebounding. They got off approximately 50% more shot attempts than Indiana did in the first six minutes of the third. That made up for their relative lack of accuracy. The Blazers maintained a 79-75 lead at the 6:00 mark, accordingly.
That, my friends, is when the scoring died. Portland’s defense deserves full credit for limiting Indiana’s open looks. Portland’s offense also deserves full credit for limiting their own. But the suffocating defense was enough to keep the Pacers scoreless until they converted a breakaway layup with 2:40 remaining. It was among the best stretches of defense the whole season long.
The final 160 seconds of the third were disastrous for the Blazers. With Ayton sitting, Portland had no rebounding and precious little interior defense. Throw in a turnover or two and a wheelbarrow full of bricks, and Indiana’s comeback was all but assured. An 8-2 run for the Pacers left the score 83-all heading into the fourth quarter.
The most notable development at the start of the fourth period was what didn’t happen. With the scoreboard pretty much knotted, Tyrese Haliburton did not take over the game. He scored zero points in the first five minutes, allowing the Blazers to overcome their own turnovers and missed shots. At the first timeout of the period with 6:34 remaining, Portland led 96-94.
The Blazers had a mini-run just after the 6:00 mark as Jerami Grant scored on a contested step-back in the lane, Matisse Thybulle got a poke-away to Shaedon Sharpe for a break-away dunk. Then Grant scored again for his 12th point of the period. That pushed Portland over the 100-point mark and left them in the lead heading past 4:00.
Despite Haliburton showing signs of life, Grant proved he was more than mortal by hitting an impossible, well-defended, splayed-legged three-pointer with 3:58 remaining. Suddenly the Blazers were up 5, then 6, headed into crunch time.
Indiana would close the deficit to 3 with 1:53 remaining on an Aaron Nesmith three, but Grant converted a layup for his 16th and 17th points of the period on the very next possession.
Portland had a seemingly-comfortable 6-point lead with 38 seconds remaining, but Haliburton scored, then the Blazers turned it over for an easy dunk. Suddenly the lead was just 112-110 with 18 seconds remaining. But Malcolm Brogdon would break down the defense one more time with 6 seconds left, converting a pull-up in the lane to put the game away.
Stay tuned for extended analysis, coming up next!
Portland’s midwestern road trip continues on Thursday as they face the Cleveland Cavaliers at 4:00 PM, Pacific.