The Portland Trail Blazers tried to achieve back-to-back wins against the Memphis Grizzlies at the Moda Center on Sunday evening. Memphis was winless coming into the game, courtesy of a thrilling overtime victory for Portland on Friday night. They were bound and determined not to let this one get away from them.
The Blazers made some big runs during the first and third quarters, spurred by surprising facility with the three-point shot. But the long ball abandoned them in time of need, and Memphis ended up pick-and-rolling them into oblivion in a decisive 30-14 fourth quarter that was all Grizzlies.
Despite 27 points from Jerami Grant and 11 steals as a team, the Blazers still fell 112-100, giving Memphis their first win of the season.
If the Blazers have offensive problems, they sure didn’t show in the first couple minutes of the first period. Jerami Grant hit a pair of shots, while Malcolm Brogdon and Matisse Thybulle added a three-pointer each. That forced Memphis to call an, “Oh crap!” timeout with 9:53 remaining, Portland up 10-2.
Fast offense and three-pointers continued for the Blazers as the quarter continued to unfold. Memphis scored, of course, but Portland made it tough. The Grizz did not defend well on the other end, especially after Portland passes. By the 5:25 mark, after a couple of nifty passing plays, Portland led 22-11, uncharted territory for this team so far this season.
The Blazers did have trouble keeping the Grizzlies out of the paint. That was a small flaw in their otherwise pristine period. Fast break points and three-pointers more than made up the difference. Until they didn’t, that is. The bench unit had trouble keeping up the offensive momentum. They also allowed the Grizz to hit threes that they’d missed up to that point. That opened the door for Memphis to come almost all the way back after being down double digits. Portland led 32-30 after one.
It’s not so much that the Blazers missed shots at the start of the second period. They just didn’t get many. Turnovers and botched plays took away opportunities they needed. With their three-point shooting returning to norm at the end of the first through the second, the extra, easy points just weren’t coming either.
The three-point shooting never recovered. The Blazers managed to make the Grizzlies defense run to the arc in respect, but Portland didn’t connect on anything out there. At the 3:00 mark they were 1-8 from distance in the period.
Portland was able to translate that scrambling into points along the baseline and at the cup. That sustained them, especially when they did a good job of defending the arc themselves. They couldn’t stop Jaren Jackson Jr. when he got rolling, though. Memphis kept pumping their offense through him, mostly in the lane, as the quarter closed. Jackson had 16 at the half, Jerami Grant 14. Memphis led 63-55 at halftime.
The Blazers started the third period as they had started the first. Grant hit a pair of threes. Shaedon Sharpe sank one of his own, adding a conversion at the rim. Portland went 4-4 in the first 2:30 of the period, cutting the Grizzlies lead to 1, 67-66.
Portland also stiffened the defense, blocking a couple shots, forcing steals. They wanted to get a track meet going. Memphis stayed calm, though, slowing down in the halfcourt and feeding Desmond Bane for a couple threes. The scoreboard went accordion. Unfortunately for the Blazers, the top of the accordion was a 7-9 point Memphis lead, the bottom Portland trailing by a bucket or so.
That all changed as the quarter closed and Grant decided to turn the scoreboard around all by himself. A trio of threes from Jerami spread the floor for Sharpe to do more damage. Then Skylar Mays and Toumari Camara hit triples of their own. With the floodgates opened from range, Portland regained the lead. The Blazers led 86-82 at the end of three.
Shaedon Sharpe opened up the fourth period with a sweet step-back jumper and a three-pointer. Soon after the Blazers got a couple of tip shots. When Grant hit another three, Portland led by 8, 98-86, with 8:13 remaining.
But Memphis was not going away. Instead, they threw screens on nearly every play, forcing Portland’s young defenders to make constant decisions and adjustments. Mental attrition set in. Marcus Smart and Desmond Bane erased Portland’s lead in just about 5:00, leaving them uo 102-100 with 3:10 remaining,
Portland tried to make a run at it, but the Grizzlies topped 70% shooting in the fourth, while the Blazers struggled to approach 30%. Portland hit just 5 field goals in the quarter, none after the 8:13 mark. Nothing else you do is going to overcome that kind of deficit.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of the game, coming soon!
The Blazers will travel to California to face the the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night, with a 7:00 game start.