The Portland Trail Blazers dug deep and displayed great stick-to-itiveness en route to a 122-112 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday evening. This marked the Blazers’ first road win since December 17 against the Houston Rockets.
Damian Lillard was the gas in the tank that fueled Portland from the opening tip to the final whistle. When the Blazers started out cold from the floor, his torrid offense provided them warmth to survive. When the Blazers lost center Jusuf Nurkic and forward Jerami Grant, Lillard shouldered extra offensive burden. He produced 42 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds on 50 percent shooting from the floor and 15-16 shooting from the charity stripe.
This was double-double No. 11 for Lillard, who received help from Anfernee Simons by way of a 26-point performance on 10-18 shooting from the field and an 11 point, 11 rebound double-double from Drew Eubanks. They were met with a near triple-double from Ja Morant and an atypical Grizzlies effort that fell short in crunch time.
Here were the galvanizing forces behind such a crucial win for Rip City. But to better understand what transpired in detail, check out our instant recap from Ryan Rosback.
Next Man Up
On a short-staffed night for Rip City, a cliche’d phrase had to come into its fullness, and it did. “Next Man Up” started with the vanguard of the team and Lillard rose to the occasion.
Dame almost singlehandedly carried Portland in the third quarter behind an explosive 17 points that could’ve been 20 had his three-quarter-court heave at the end of the quarter been released a second earlier. The degree of difficulty on his shots was awe inspiring, and Memphis did not do a good enough job neutralizing his attack, especially once Grant went down with a possible concussion.
Trendon Watford is to be commended for his intelligent play throughout the contest. Though he only finished with five points, the Blazers were a +6 in his 22 minutes of action. What was most commendable was his passing. He was aggressive in getting in the lane and making the right reads, finding his teammates for wide open attempts. He was that proverbial James Jones and that Mike Miller that stayed ready and produced.
Shaedon Sharpe was timely with his three-point makes and tactful with his shot selection — aspects of his game that have come and gone this season despite showing tremendous promise.
At the half, both teams were shooting under 28 percent from the three-point line. The Blazers in particular were abysmal from the field at 35.7 percent. They turned the tide by finishing at 47.1 percent from the floor and 38.9 percent from distance. It was quite the turnaround.
Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins must be held accountable for their lapse. There was not enough trapping on Lillard, neither did the big man over-commit on the pick-and-roll defense to completely impede Lillard’s progress. This has been a key recipe for success against the incumbent All-Star guard for some time, even with a healthy squadron behind him, and Jenkins did not go for the throat. Jaren Jackson Jr. may have had 6 blocks on the game — second-most five-plus blocks games in franchise history — but it didn’t send back a Blazers assault that flipped the table late.
Jenkins opted to have Dillon Brooks try to face guard Lillard sporadically throughout the second half to no avail. Lillard was masterful at using his body and his veteran savvy to create space off the ball and let his shot off.
The Grizzlies were cold as well in the first half. However, they only improved their three-point percentage from 21 to 24 percent half-over-half. Desmond Bane and Dillon Brooks seemed to have caught fire from downtown in the third quarter to maintain Memphis’ lead, but both — as well as the rest of the team — reverted back to missing the mark from outside, and it wasn’t even because of exemplary defense from Portland, truth be told.
To Appreciate the Sun, You Have to Feel the Rain
Portland was exceptional in stretches at closing off driving lanes for Morant. All five players on the floor worked in unison to prevent Morant from exploding toward the rim with reckless abandon. This resulted in him breaking a cardinal rule — leaving his feet early. Errant passes were a byproduct of his decision making, and at the half, Morant coughed up three turnovers to a season average of 3.5 TO per game.
To the dismay of the Blazers, the rainstorm on the Grizzlies’ parade was short-lived. Morant got busy doing what he does, and let everyone watching know just how lethal his hesitation moves are. Soon, he was leaving his feet for one reason and one reason only — to score. However, the Blazers’ victory cannot be attributed to a stellar defense, which it was not for at least 43 minutes of play.
The Memphis Grizzlies are No. 11 in the NBA averaging 25.4 assists per game. That stat does little to contextualize just how good they are at moving the ball. Strong side, weak side, hockey assist, give-and-go, pick-and-roll — you name it — Memphis was passing with proficiency.
The Blazers’ defense was no match for the Grizzlies’ ball movement. They were the fortunate recipients of “just one of those days.” Airballs from Danny Green, 3-14 three-point shooting from the bench and a lack of rhythm may have been the biggest saving grace for Portland, who used this to stay in the game and then turn the defense up to where it should have been all night when it mattered most.
That emanating feeling of “maybe, maybe-not” was in the air once the five minute mark arrived and the Grizzlies only had a three-point lead. Simons led the charge with a tough fall away jumper from 17 feet, and Lillard closed the deal. He took the air out of the gym with a fall away three-pointer from the crevices of the right baseline, and got the job done on the other end with a steal on Brandon Clarke, which led to a game-sealing and-1 dunk by Eubanks.
This showed that no matter the defense, the Blazers have the potentiality to go nuclear when it matters most. They scored 22 points in the final five minutes of action and the level of precision on every play on both ends of the floor, if nothing else, inspired hope in those watching that this team can turn the tide and beat anyone at any time.
The Blazers are back in action Friday evening when they take on the Washington Wizards on the road. This will be their second of three games on the road before returning to the Moda Center in Portland next week. The Wizards are 13-11 at home and losers of two straight.