The Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies played a back-and-forth, see-saw 48 minutes in the first NBA In-Season Tournament Group Play game of the year for each. Memphis brought Desmond Bane and a young, athletic group of wings. Portland countered with Shaedon Sharpe, Jerami Grant, and a commitment to running. With each team alternating brilliant and painful basketball, they ended up tied at 102 at the end of regulation. Sharpe stepped forward with a game-saving block to send it to OT, then scored or facilitated enough Portland points in the extra frame to provide a 115-113 Portland win.
Desmond Bane led all scorers in this game with 33. His teammate Jaren Jackson Jr. added 30. But Sharpe went for 22, Malcolm Brogdon 24, and Jerami Grant a team-high 26 to put the Blazers over the top.
Portland now has one win under their belt in the quest for the inaugural NBA Cup, the trophy awarded to the winner of the In-Season Tournament.
Both teams tried to push the ball inside to start the game. Both were also prepared for the other’s semi-predictable attack pattern. Blocks and deflections abounded. When those things didn’t happen, though, scoring was smooth. The Blazers sliced down the lane, freeing Matisse Thybulle and Jerami Grant for threes. Around them, every Blazers player scored inside on cuts or short jumpers. But Memphis also had cutters. Marcus Smart and company made good use of slow dribbles into the lane, drawing defenders then kicking to suddenly open drivers. Portland led at the halfway point of the first, but only 16-15, despite 50% shooting.
Stopping Memphis’ passing remained an issue for Portland throughout the first period. Individual defense was stout, better if they could send a second defender. When the ball moved, though, the Blazers couldn’t recover. That was true whether passes sliced inside or went around the horn.
Running faster than the Grizzlies and 9 added points from Malcolm Brogdon, starting in place of the injured Scoot Henderson, kept Portland ahead of their on-and-off defense. The second unit also did a fine job passing the ball and cutting the same way the Memphis starters had. That led the Blazers to a 33-26 lead after one.
The bottom fell out for Portland at the start of the second, an unusual development this season. Their defense disintegrated, allowing shot after shot at the rim, plus some threes on top. Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson, Jr. took turns playing like they were back in AAU, scoring ridiculously easily. Meanwhile the Blazers played slower, laboring in their offense like it was an English assignment over Thanksgiving break. No joke, they went 1 for their first 20 or so attempts in the period. The result was a Memphis lead that peaked at 48-37 at the 5:24 mark, a 17-point turnaround in less than 7 minutes.
But darned if the starters didn’t check back in and turn the game around. Again, this was the opposite of Portland’s traditional pattern. It might also be explained by Brogdon and Thybulle starting now that Henderson and Anfernee Simons are out. Those two—singularly and together—help the defense stiffen. Shaedon Sharpe did his part defensively in the second quarter as well. With the “D” finally producing, the pace quickened and the Blazers started scoring again, mostly inside.
After falling off a cliff, Portland scaled it heroically, coming back to lead 54-53 at the half.
Toumani Camara got the start at the top of the third quarter, homage to the importance of defense to the Blazers, also testimony to his height at the small forward position. Portland struggled on offense from the outset. They tried to strike with deep threes. That’s not their game. Jerami Grant hit one but everybody else missed.
Memphis also did a fine job against Portland’s pick and roll. That kept the Blazers on the perimeter for a while. But Portland responded by shutting down the interior on Memphis, with defensive exclamation points provided by Deandre Ayton. That became the engine driving the offense down the floor quicker. All of a sudden the game opened up again.
Memphis took a 7-point lead in the first three minutes of the third, but the Blazers surged all the way back before much more than 5 minutes were gone. The on-again, off-again night continued.
When Portland’s offense sputtered, Shaedon Sharpe stepped up again. When he sees a one-on-one opportunity on the run, it might as well be unopposed. One-on-two, he’s calculating how to score anyway. After his surge, though, he ended up taking it too hard, too often against a defense that saw him coming from a mile away. The respite was brief.
Around that, both teams missed a host of three-pointers. Memphis’ inability to hit when wide open beyond the arc saved the Blazers. Those bad misses also led to run-outs, helping Portland’s cause. Jerami Grant tried to take over Sharpe-style, going hard at the hoop. He had mixed results, but any port in a storm would do under these circumstances.
The good news was that, despite their inconsistency, the Blazers exited the third period down onoy 77-76. The bad news was that this happened with Desmond Bane contributing only intermittently and the Grizz missing wide-open threes that most seventh-graders could sink. The fourth quarter needed improvement if Portland was to prosper.
The teams battled back and forth during the opening half of the fourth period. Portland took the ball inside and drew foul shots. Those extra points were the good news. The bad news came in two forms: Memphis finally struck from deep and Desmond Bane came back alive. If either of those things got out of control, the Blazers would have a hard time keeping up. A Bane layup and a Xavier Tillman dunk put the Grizzlies up 91-87 at the mandatory timeout with 5:41 remaining in the game.
Try though they might, the Blazers couldn’t control the lane defensively. Whether the Grizzlies cut baseline or straight through, Portland didn’t stop them. A 6-7 point lead headed down the stretch was their reward.
At the 4:21 mark, an and-one for Sharpe got erased when the refs overturned the call after a Memphis challenge. That was a big momentum-turner, as three points would have erased half of the Grizzlies’ lead. Instead Bane hit a layup at the other end, pushing the lead to 8. A block on an Ayton layup on a semi-break right after led to a Grizzlies dunk, and a 10-point lead with 3:18 remaining. Portland had four potential three-point shots over the next few possessions, but hit only one. No worries. The Blazers got a couple of run-outs to close the gap.
Grant had a wide-open corner three to give his team the lead down 102-100 with 16 seconds remaining. Predictably, it rimmed in and out like most of the other triples the Blazers attempted in the quarter. Sharpe came to the rescue with two free throws to tie it with 8.3 remaining. Memphis would have the last shot to tie it.
Pressured on the inbounds, the Grizz got it to Luke Kennard in the corner for a three. Once again, defense told the tale. Shaedon Sharpe came skying out of nowhere for the block, Into overtime we went.
Both teams had trouble scoring at the outside of overtime. Ayton got Portland on the board with a one-footer. Then Sharpe got the roll going for real with a layup and a three. Grant followed up with another three after the Grizzlies over-committed to Sharpe and left Jerami open. Memphis managed just a layup and a couple free throws in that same period. Portland led by 4, 112-108, with 39 seconds remaining. Ayton bumped Tillman into a turnover on the ensuing play and that was the ballgame.
Stay Tuned for analysis of the game, coming up soon.
The Blazers will take on the Grizzlies once again at 6:00 PM, Pacific on Sunday at the Moda Center.