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Trail Blazers Guard Play Can’t Overcome Doncic, Mavericks

Portland defended Luka Doncic well, but the other Mavericks got them.

Dallas Mavericks v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers ran all kinds of guards at the Dallas Mavericks as the two teams collided on Friday night. Portland countered 32 points and 10 assists from Luka Doncic with 30 from Anfernee Simons and 24 from Shaedon Sharpe.

The real story of the game happened among the players surrounding the stars. When Doncic wasn’t scoring, he found teammates capable of catching alley-oops, hitting threes, and grabbing offensive rebounds to give his team a second chance. Portland’s guards might as well have been tossing the ball into a wood chipper. Rasheed Wallace would have been proud, as everyone on Portland’s side played hard. Really hard. But Dallas busted open a lead early and the Blazers didn’t have enough firepower or defense to counter. The Mavericks finished the game up 125-112, giving Portland their 15th loss in 21 games this season.

First Quarter

The Blazers started the game sending an extra defender against Luka Doncic up high, trying to force the ball out of his hands. Good news: it worked. Bad news: the ball traveled from Doncic straight to teammates for easy layup attempts. At the same time Toumani Camara and Duop Reath bricked threes. Indeed, 5 of Portland’s first 8 shots came from distance, and 2 of the remaining 3 came off of offensive rebounds. The emphasis on the long ball was troubling, particularly when Portland hit only a single attempt of those first five.

After that the Blazers settled down a bit on defense. Camara proved a serviceable defender on Doncic, staying tight on him on or off the ball. It worked well enough; Doncic had to work hard for points and passes. But the lid remained on the bucket for Portland too, as they proved utterly incapable of hitting shots beyond rim range. (And only half of them, at best, at the cup.) With 6:45 remaining, the Mavericks led 11-8.

Portland continued to lay bricks like they were going out of style as the clock unwound on the first. They couldn’t hit anything, anywhere. Fouls began to pile up for defenders against Doncic or any Maverick on the break. Free throws and an increasing diet of made threes put the Mavericks up 24-10 with 3:56 remaining. When offensive rebounds started going the Mavs’ way too, things got really ugly.

Shaedon Sharpe, owner of two of the aforementioned fouls, came off the bench deep in the first and turned on the torch for a couple of threes. His late 8—plus a couple layups from Scoot Henderson—helped make the score a little more respectable, but not much. Dallas led 37-22 after one. Saved by their guard run in the final three minutes, the Blazers ended up shooting 32.1% for the period. (Yes, it was much worse than that before they got hot.) Dallas doubled them up, shooting 63.6%.

Second Quarter

The Mavericks began the second quarter outrunning the Blazers down the floor...another insult to Portland’s already-injured pride. Henderson and Sharpe were trying to out-quick everybody at every moment, Watching Dallas streak for break-aways was a painful waste of their talents.

On the other end, the Mavs backed their defense WAY back against all of Portland’s non-shooters, which meant pretty much everybody but Sharpe and Anfernee Simons. That made it easy to defend lane looks. To that point, Portland’s jump shooters hadn’t done anything to make them pay for it.

Then Sharpe and Simons, immune to the Mavericks’ scheme, started stroking their shots. They reminded Dallas that, between them, they’re a handful no matter who else is scoring (or isn’t). Tickling the twine via quick possessions helped bring the deficit back down to 6, 45-39, at the 6:54 mark after it had soared near 20.

Simons’ personal scoring streak would reach 13 in a row before he picked up a third foul with 5:36 remaining and had to sit. At that point, the Blazers trailed by 8, 49-41.

Absent their big scorer, the Blazers rode active defense, offensive rebounding, and an “at least some of these have to go in” approach to three-point shooting to stay even as the second period closed.

The Blazers got a break with 3:50 remaining as Kyrie Irving left the game after getting his leg landed on by a teammate. That took away a big weak-side threat for the Mavericks, allowing the Blazers to hawk the ball harder.

The referees also started seeing things Portland’s way as the half came to a close. Sharpe and Henderson were rewarded for their hard work. They even whistled an offensive foul on Doncic. Free throws helped the Blazers keep the lead under 10.

There was a shadow side, though. Duop Reath already had 3 fouls along with Simons. Sharpe would pick up his 4th before the period closed. That boded ill for the second half.

Dallas entered halftime up 71-60. The Blazers had defended but not scored, then scored but not defended. They’d need to do both at the same time to come back in this one.

Third Quarter

Anfernee Simons and Matisse Thybulle stroked threes at the start of the third period. That was a good sign, both for the much-needed long-distance connection and the assurance that the lead would not balloon as it had in the first quarter. A forced turnover would lead to a Sharpe three, with 9:20 remaining, bringing the deficit down to just 4. When he hit another with 8:15 remaining, something was brewing.

That whole “offense OR defense” thing plagued the Blazers once again though. Even as Sharpe made the Moda Center tremble with daggers and hammer fists, Dallas got layup after layup, then hit a couple open jumpers as seasoning. The flurry of offense from Portland resulted in an 84-74 Dallas lead at the 6:45 mark, shaving just a single point off of the halftime margin.

Simons took over the offense again at that point. The Mavericks couldn’t stop him one-on-one. Given the scoring ineptitude of most of his teammates, iso ball was more than justified.

Towards the end of the period, though, Portland’s short lineup began to disadvantage them. “Short” can be taken either way. They were missing half of their rotation, causing active players to play more minutes, and expend more energy, than they wanted. As soon as Reath sat—and he did, due to fouls and the need for offense—Portland was also short of stature. Dallas’ shots came clear, their offensive rebounds increasingly easy against an undersized and flagging opponent.

As the tread wore off the tires for Portland, their offense became more perimeter-based, their defense a half step slower. Once again, any guard flurries they managed got counterbalanced by easy shots given up. Simons struck from distance one more time in the closing seconds, allowing a small ray of hope. But Dallas still led 97-90 after three.

Fourth Quarter

Scoot Henderson and Anfernee Simons struck quickly as the fourth period started. Both hit short shots in the lane, Simons adding a three. That brought the lead down to 4, then 3.

That woke up Luka Doncic, though. Aside from break-aways. Doncic took the offense into his own hands. hitting a layup and a three.

Portland suffered when guard drives and scores turned into drives and dishes. With Matisse Thybulle out of the game, the Blazers had no sideline shooters to speak of. They came up empty on multiple possessions after earning perfectly good open looks.

At the 7:00 mark, despite yet another impressive display of scoring by Portland’s guards, the scoreboard read 109-100, Dallas...two points further away from tying the game than the Blazers had stood at the start of the period.

A near-constant leak of Mavericks paint points as the game closed ensured that the outcome would not change. Doncic may not have continued scoring, but he assisted on easy shots. Sweet shooting from Sharpe and Simons didn’t turn out to be enough to counteract the Dallas tide.

Up Next

Stay tuned for extended analysis coming soon!

Boxscore

The Blazers head back on the road to face the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night with a 7:30 PM start.