The Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks opened up an all-offense, all the time Superstore in the Moda Center on Friday night. Jerami Grant returned for the Blazers. Luka Doncic stepped up for the Mavericks. Each team put up a couple of side players in duels that would make any Pokemon trainer gasp with delight.
But Dallas hit on all cylinders offensively. The Blazers missed three-point shooting and had lulls in their attack during critical stretches of the game. That led to a 131-120 Mavericks victory despite the impressive scoring performance from Portland.
If you missed the action, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are some other things to note.
Passing (or not)
Portland’s offense looked absolutely brilliant tonight when the ball moved among them. Dallas just couldn’t keep up laterally, as Portland shooters and cutters made them pay. The first quarter stood as evidence. Portland scored 39 points, hitting 7 buckets in the lane and 4 threes besides.
That all dried up when the second unit came in, followed by starters who never picked up the thread again. Isolation offense worked fine; the full-strength Blazers have too many scorers to go mute for long. But buckets came slower and more covered once the passing stopped. Just as critically, threes stopped falling. Instead of catching and shooting off of action against a scrambling defense, the Blazers fired over outstretched arms. These two things are not the same. Having hit 4 threes in the first quarter, the Blazers would connect on only 3 more the whole game.
It’s hard to know how much to credit the Dallas defense and how much to cite Portland’s own effort. Ancillary scorers missing open opportunities encouraged stars to shoot more often, regardless of coverage. But it also seemed like Portland slipped into iso ball too easily.
Jerami Grant returned to the lineup for the first time in a week and a half tonight, coming back from NBA concussion protocol. He had 27 points on 12-20 shooting in 38 minutes of action.
Grant was also the exemplar of the exact phenomenon we just talked about. His mere presence opened up the floor for Portland passers and shooters. Dallas’ defense got stretched thin from the opening tip and never fully recovered, including and especially against Grant himself. He ate up single coverage most of the evening.
But Grant also became a focal point of Portland’s scoring. He was the bail-out option when nothing else was working. Fair enough. But the pilot light never re-lit on the team furnace in part because the Blazers just kept striking the lone Jerami match without ever getting near the actual apparatus again.
Simons and Henderson Too
Anfernee Simons and Scoot Henderson mimicked the Grant story in their own ways. Simons displayed an impressive scoring game at the start of the third quarter and forevermore after. Knowing his team was in trouble, he did everything he could to keep them afloat. Henderson did the same straddling the third and fourth periods. Each looked impressive.
But their scoring didn’t connect, if that makes sense. Simons had 6 assists, Henderson 2. Along with 33 and 13 points, respectively,it was impressive. But Dallas’ team approach to offense overwhelmed Portland. No matter how many points the stars scored, they couldn’t return the favor.
Maybe I’m biased in this. On a normal night, Portland’s offensive output would have looked spectacular. But the Blazers spent the night trying to force the ball out of the hands of the other team’s star (to middling success). The Mavericks almost seemed like they were allowing Portland to do whatever they wanted in isolation as long as dunks and kick-outs for open shots remained limited. One of those schemes worked better than the other.
Role Player Threes
When the Blazers did find open shooters, they might as well have had blindfolds on. Toumani Camara shot 0-4 from distance tonight, Duop Reath 0-3, Malcolm Brogdon and Matisse Thybulle 1-4 each. A 7-32 clip from the arc just wasn’t survivable.
The Blazers did have one super active defender tonight. That was Thybulle. At times during the second half he seemed on a one-man mission to disrupt Dallas passing lanes. Portland is lucky to have his intensity and instinct every night.
Thybulle helped Portland score 20 points off of turnovers. His defense and those opportunistic buckets were, at times, the only thing keeping the Blazers from going down 20.
The Blazers scored a whopping 72 points in the paint tonight. Their lane attack was everything anyone could dream of, from Simons and Henderson (as mentioned above) to Grant whirling and twirling to the rim, to run-outs.
...All for Naught
But no-good very-bad defense took away all the benefits the Blazers earned in the lane and a hefty tax besides.
The Blazers were trying to force the ball out of Luka Doncic’s hands. He took 28 shots, hitting 15, on his way to 40 points. They utterly failed at their primary goal.
Doncic also had 10 assists. The Mavs got 27, filling up their season average and a tad bit more. Portland paid the price for their defense while getting little or no benefit from it.
It wasn’t just Luka either. Dante Exum shot 8-11 from the field on his way to 18 points, may scored while Doncic sat. Tim Hardaway, Jr. hit 5 threes (only 2 less than the Blazers as a team) and scored 25 points off the bench.
The Mavericks had the offense going every moment of every quarter. They had 74 points by halftime, an astonishing 110 by the end of the third. They loved the high-volume game. Portland looked really good in it, they were all-world.
(P.S. Doncic got 12 rebounds as well, completing the 40-12-10 triple-double.)
The Blazers welcome the Golden State Warriors on a back-to-back, Sunday night starting at 6:00 PM, Pacific.