The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Indiana Pacers 114-110 on Monday evening, pulling their overall record to 5-12. Stout defense typified the effort, along with offense from Portland’s three most senior players.
If you missed the game, you can read our quarter-by-quarter recap here. Once you’re done with that, here are some of the factors that preserved a narrow victory for Portland instead of sending them to a narrow defeat as has so often happened this year.
The single biggest factor typifying Portland’s run of almost-success in recent games is their ability to contest shots consistently. This showed up most prominently tonight at the three-point arc, where the Pacers shot only 8-33, 24.2%. But the Blazers also did a reasonable job contesting in the mid-range and even in the lane occasionally. The latter category is their Achilles’ Heel, of course. But they’re doing well enough elsewhere that it’s no longer a game-swamping weakness.
Granted, the Pacers shot 47.7% from the field overall, but they wanted to go fast and run away with this game. Even matching that desire for their own offense, the Blazers were able to make Indiana work hard enough for their shot attempts that they couldn’t generate the quick points they craved. Once Indiana was taken out of the fast break, Portland’s speed and athleticism allowed them to get hands in faces of shooters.
Nobody expects a young Trail Blazers team to be perfect on defense. Maybe not even good most nights. But this is the kind of effort fans and coaches expect out of a team that, if nothing else, can run faster, cut quicker, and jump higher than most of their opponents.
Jerami Grant Outlet
Three-point shooting has been a sore spot for the Blazers all season. They did better tonight, shooting 9-18, 50% beyond the arc. Jerami Grant was their rock. He’s one of their best shot creators, but he’s become the ibuprofen for their distance-shooting headache simply by being ready to convert catch-and-shoot threes. That one factor opened up enough space for Deandre Ayton to work in the middle, also to keep Portland’s point guards driving one-on-one instead of one-into-oblivion.
Grant hit all three of his triple attempts tonight.
Portland’s power forward uncorked the entire rest of his arsenal as the Blazers and Pacers battled in close quarters in the fourth period. As Damian Lillard used to do, Grant took over the team offense in the most critical stretch of the game. He scored at the rim, 10 feet from, and again from the arc. He ended up with 17 in the final frame alone, 34 for the game.
Portland didn’t have to second guess how to start their offense or finish it. Jerami calmed their anxiety, taking away nearly 100% of the young-team-itis that has cost the Blazers so many close games this season, including yesterday’s contest versus the Milwaukee Bucks.
Malcolm Brogdon Robins
If Grant was Portland’s Batman, Malcolm Brogdon played the sidekick role to perfection. He not only set up Grant, he scored himself whenever the defense allowed. Brogdon hit the game-icing shot with seconds remaining in the fourth. He also kept Portland’s offense churning when Indiana took them out of their pace attack in the final period. Normally putting the Blazers in the halfcourt is a recipe for success. Tonight Brogdon and Grant were enough to counteract the trend. MB finished with 24 points on 9-20 shooting, 7 assists, and only 1 turnover.
Normally this is the place where we rant about the Blazers turning over the ball like crazy. Technically, we still could. Portland committed 16, 4 coming from Scoot Henderson alone. But the Pacers committed 20 for 20 Portland points. The Blazers gave worse than they got. It was enough to make the difference.
Ayton and then Not
Once again the Blazers fed Deandre Ayton in the first period. Once again he responded well, scoring a dozen points before the horn sounded on the frame. Ayton finished with 22. As usual, his offensive significance dwindled as the game went along. But he did have 13 rebounds to go along with the points. To be fair, Brogdon and Grant were providing enough veteran scoring to make Ayton a side option late in the game anyway.
The Blazers can go short stretches without Ayton in the middle, but it doesn’t take too long to see holes develop in the rebounding and lane defense categories. This was a good game for DA. Whatever the Blazers need to do to keep it rolling, they should do.
One of the things keeping Ayton from the stratosphere are his missed connections with Portland’s guards. Brogdon has trouble getting him the ball in traffic. Ayton and Shaedon Sharpe make a running pass-and-catch look like airborne calculus while being tickled by an octopus. It may be Deandre’s hands. It may be in the inability of two-thirds of Portland’s playmakers to put a pass into a 2 foot x 2 foot target, causing their center to reach, stoop, and lunge. Either way, it’s an evolving source of frustration in what appears to be an otherwise-decent relationship.
Sharpe Going for It Again
After struggling for the better part of two weeks while fitting into the team concept, Shaedon Sharpe seems to be getting a bit more aggressive with his 1-on-1 offensive game again. He took a couple of his patented turn-around jumpers tonight. He also attacked the rim for defense-be-damned layup attempts. The bad news: he didn’t shoot very well, finishing just 4-15 for the game with 11 points. Still, it’s nice to see Shaedon being Shaedon, adding a few skillful passes, than watching him play like someone he’s expected to be, showing up as a semi-anemic copy of himself.
Offensive aggression appears to be translating to the defensive end as well. Sharpe had 3 steals and 5 personal fouls tonight. Even with the whistles, the extra activity on that end is gold. The young guard is certainly not shying away.
Toumani Camara may be starting at small forward because of his defense, but Matisse Thybulle was the quiet defensive hero of this game. Thybulle played 29 minutes off the bench and didn’t score a point, but he got BUSY against Indiana’s wings, particularly after the first period when Tyrese Haliburton made the Blazers into turkey soup. The Pacers had to slow down their offense because Thybulle was either hounding at the point of attack or cutting off openings to the first and second options. Bravo.
Portland’s midwestern road trip continues on Thursday as they face the Cleveland Cavaliers at 4:00 PM, Pacific.