The Portland Trail Blazers played a spirited game against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night. Portland’s guards dominated and their three-point shooting was superb. But while the Blazers were shining up the windows and decorating the eaves, Dallas snuck in the kitchen and raided the cookie jar repeatedly. Interior scoring and veteran savvy held the Mavericks in good stead during a 125-112 Portland loss.
If you missed the action, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. Once you’ve got that, here are a few factors that influenced the outcome.
First Quarter Blues
The Blazers returned to an old, familiar habit tonight, getting obliterated in the first period, leaving themselves a huge hole to dig out of. Dallas led 37-22 after one, shooting 64% against only 32% for the Blazers. Dallas beat Portland on the boards, on assists, and forced as many turnovers as the over-active Blazers did. They also outran Portland, robbing the Blazers of any chance of catching up.
Naturally, the Blazers played much better in ensuing periods. But staying even doesn’t cut it when you’re down double-digits to start with.
What a Drag
Portland started the game showing two men against Luka Doncic. They didn’t keep it up forever, leaning on Toumani Camara to defend the super scorer. That didn’t stop them from engaging in Roscoe-P-Coltrane-like hot pursuit on the defensive end. When the ball hit the lane, a minimum of two Trail Blazers followed it. Dallas didn’t get many easy looks on the initial penetration. As soon as they recognized the coverage, though, they drove out the side of the lane, dragging defenders along with them. That left the middle wide open for cutters. One pass from the Mavs opened up layups aplenty.
This isn’t just a reminder that every defense has a weakness, but that the Blazers are doing everything they can just keeping their initial schemes integral. Adjusting and making up for weaknesses are a little beyond expectations right now.
If you want to know how the Blazers feel about Toumani Camara, note that they looked at him and said, “You. Luka Doncic. Go.” Yes, Portland doubled Doncic as described above, but when they went single coverage, Toumani was the guy. Folks, he’s a rookie. And not a point guard. That’s just ridiculous.
Doncic ended up with 32 points and 10 assists but he also shot 11-28 with 5 turnovers. He scored big, but not easily.
Someday Camara will be telling young NBA players, “Look, dudes. I was guarding Luka Doncic and Devin Booker when I had fewer than 20 games in this league. I don’t know what you’re waiting for. Get out there and defend.”
This guy is the dude. Don’t miss the chance to see his growth.
Anfernee Simons: Super Scorer
In case anybody forgot during his absence this season, Anfernee Simons reminded us all that his offensive game is off the charts tonight. With his team floundering and down big, Simons rattled off 13 points in a row in the second quarter, willing the Blazers back to a reasonable margin. He kept it going in the third too, on his way to 30 points on 10-21 shooting, 4-10 from distance.
Simons’ three-point shot is both quick and accurate. He can drive. He can also pass. And, as we’ve mentioned previously, amid young and aggressive defenders, Simons fits in better than he ever has. Whether he’s the answer for Portland long-term remains to be seen, but he’s an oasis in the desert for the Blazers right now.
Shaedon Sharpe brought the thunder to the Moda Center tonight, but not in the usual way. Instead of rim-rattling dunks, Sharpe struck repeatedly from the three-point arc. Simons was more of the lead option, but when the Blazers needed hope, Sharpe brought it. He amassed 24 while shooting 5-10 from distance. He also grabbed 9 rebounds and had his hands in plenty of defensive plays. Sharpe’s development as an all-around player was only lightly forecast this season. His play should have Blazers fans hopping up on their couches.
Speaking of three-point shooting, Matisse Thybulle gave the Blazers a sideline outlet on both sides of the court, putting up a very nice 3-5 from distance. It’s impossible to overestimate how important those edge threes are. Without them, the defense never opens up. Thybulle’s steadiness is a welcome sight.
Active Bodies, Terrible Touch
Outside of those three guards, Portland’s offense was pretty spotty. The Blazers were blessed with a ton of close shots, plenty of open looks from mid-range and beyond too. Their active bodies, rebounding, and willing passing provided such. But “open” and “close in” do not equal “made”.
The number of Portland attempts between 3-5 feet that hit rim and bounced off was astonishing. Their shot chart looks like someone took an eraser to a Jackson Pollock piece...pretty ugly.
If the guards were on the run straight towards the bucket, they could usually convert the layup. Outside of that, interior attempts from the Blazers made you flinch more than cheer. Three-point shots from players outside the “Big Three” of Simons, Sharpe, and Thybulle equally so.
The cumulative result was Portland sneaking close again and again via backcourt heroics, then ceding their progress back to Dallas as every option outside the top two went cold.
Painting by the Numbers
Nowhere did that phenomenon show up more clearly than in the lane. Dallas scored 62 points in the paint tonight, Portland just 30. The Blazers had shots. They just couldn’t connect. Portland’s inability to rein in the Mavs left them running up a sand dune, trying to outscore them. They just didn’t have the horsepower to do it.
Missing Deandre Ayton, Robert Williams III, and Jerami Grant didn’t help Portland’s interior defense, of course, but that was survivable. The Blazers gambled on the perimeter, allowing Dallas free rein inside. It was a calculated risk and, as Doncic’s number showed, not a bad one. Portland just ended up 6 short shots behind the curve out of approximately a billion taken.
If there’s a ray of light, it’s the Blazers having yet another decent game from long distance. They finished 18-53 from the arc, an impressive (for them) 34.0%. This is starting to become a trend, not just an aberration. If it holds, it’ll plug one of the holes that’s been sinking the ship most of the season.
Stay tuned for extended analysis coming soon!
The Blazers head back on the road to face the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night with a 7:30 PM start.