The Portland Trail Blazers hoped to go into the long NBA All-Star Break on a winning note after facing the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night. Though Damian Lillard scored 39 with 10 rebounds in his final regulation game before taking the floor in Salt Lake City this weekend, those were but sand against the waves of Washington’s big-man attack. Kristaps Porzingis scored 28 and added 12 boards. Kyle Kuzma produced 33 and 9 to propel the Wizards to a 126-101 victory.
With the loss, the Blazers’ record falls to 28-30, 16-14 at home at the mid-season break. They currently stand just outside of the playoffs picture in the NBA’s Western Conference.
Here’s how the game went.
The Blazers started the game in a zone, trying to counter Washington’s height advantage by packing more players closer to the paint. Kristaps Porzingis made hash out of that. If he didn’t post up mid-range to put shots over Portland defenders, he corralled offensive rebounds when his teammates missed off of his passes.
On the other end, Anfernee Simons penetrated, taking advantage of his quickness, trying to score with floaters or draw fouls. It wasn’t quite as successful, but Simons did draw enough defenders to free up Drew Eubanks for offensive rebounds to counter Washington’s. With 5:00 elapsed, the Blazers trailed only 11-7, despite the Wizards scoring much easier.
Eubanks also blocked a couple shots on the other end, only one of which was credited, but at least he stood in when the Wizards got the ball right at the rim.
Washington smartly kept feeding the ball to, and then through, Porzingis as the quarter unfolded. His ability to rise from distance forced the Blazers to come out to meet him, leaving the middle of the floor completely open for cutters. When the Blazers shut off the secondary action, they left shooters wide open on the perimeter. It was a classic case of “Can’t Guard Everywhere”. As long as Washington could score from multiple levels, Portland wasn’t going to stop them.
That put heavier pressure on the offense. The Blazers succeeded when they could strike quickly or when offensive boards allowed them to kick out and shoot over the Wizards’ defense. The commonality there: both happen before the “D” is set. In the halfcourt, Washington had enough defense to keep the Blazers in check.
Portland got their share of effort/hustle points. They had an amazing 6 offensive rebounds and 10 fast break points in the first. They also prospered when Damian Lillard started driving the lane like he owned it. When he started hitting threes too...whoo! He also hit another Logo Three at the buzzer, which gave him 14 points for the period. But the rest of the team shot only 1-6 from distance while Washington shot 5-8 collectively. That was enough to stake the Wizards to a 31-27 lead after one.
Kyle Kuzma started the second period hot, just like he ended the first. He scored 14 points in a row, straddling the quarter break. That included a couple of threes and easy scores off of drives. The Blazers couldn’t contain him any more than they could contain Porzingis earlier.
Kuzma’s fireworks extended Washington’s lead—behind 63% shooting—back to the 7-point range where it had stood before Dame’s last-second three.
Portland’s offensive boards and fast break points also dried up like the desert in the second period, as the Wizards locked down. Absent those easy looks, they became more reliant on the three...and proceeded to miss every one. Making headway was near-impossible under those conditions. The Wizards were up by 10, 47-37, with 5:00 remaining.
Anfernee Simons went on a tear as the quarter closed, penetrating hard, ducking Porzingis at the rim, and converting layups. Cam Reddish hit opportunistic shots all through the half, amassing 10 points before intermission. Lillard and Simons hit threes in the final two minutes. Those contributions were enough to keep the Blazers in contact...barely. Kuzma had 21 at the break, besting Lillard’s 19. Washington led 59-52 at the break.
Portland’s starting guards started to take over as the second half commenced. Lillard hit a couple of shots, then Simons duplicated, going solo. The looks were pretty, the moves preceding them even more so. But even great individual scoring was only enough to keep Portland in the Wizards’ wake. Washington still had more options in more places on the floor.
Portland’s passing dying on the vine made the Wizards’ defensive job marginally easier...maybe. It’s hard to guard Lillard and Simons under any conditions. Watching guys named Watford, Eubanks, Thybulle, and Reddish doesn’t evoke the same anxiety. Still, the Wizards could be pretty confident where the shot was coming from, which at least allowed them to rebound misses. The Blazers didn’t get those same rebounding opportunities, as Washington was still shooting near 60% for the game as the third quarter passed the 6:00 mark.
When Lillard and Simons started missing in earnest, the story got worse. Lillard went through a HUGE drought mid-period, finishing the quarter by missing 6 of 8 shots. Porzingis and Bradley Beal did not. The Wizards built a 17-point lead behind their 7-footer and former All-Star. Lillard tried to compensate, passing to teammates. They couldn’t hit either. Jabari Walker made a dunk off a Dame dish. Shaedon Sharpe got fouled and got a couple free throws,as did Trendon Watford. We just covered the entirety of Portland’s output between the 7:57 mark and 2:08 left in the period. Sharpe threw down a MASSIVE dunk (even by his standards) with 70 seconds left, but it didn’t matter in anything more than the moment. Simons rolling his ankle and being helped back to the locker room in the final minute made the story even worse. Kuzma hitting a shot from two-thirds court at the buzzer was icing on the cake. Washington led 97-74 after three.
Damian Lillard led a massive Portland comeback to start the fourth. He scored at will inside and drew free throws. The only thing that he didn’t do was hit threes, as he missed 4 of his first 5 attempts. But that was like complaining about the tablecloth underneath a fantastic wedding cake. The layers of Lillard’s greatness made the Moda Center festive and brought Portland back from 23 down to within 10, 107-97, with 5:14 remaining.
Down that far, though, the Blazers needed everything to go right in order to come back all the way. Bradley Beal definitely did not go right for the Blazers. First he hit a layup, then drew a flagrant foul as Lillard crowded his landing zone on a three-point attempt with 4:11 remaining. Beal hit only 2 of the 3 free throws, but that hardly mattered as Head Coach Chauncey Billups, then Lillard himself, drew technical fouls while complaining on ensuing plays. In 90 seconds, the 10-point margin had ballooned back to 16, courtesy of the foul line.
Lillard continued pushing it after that, but the Blazers ran out of time, the clock pressure made worse with every Washington bucket. Since Portland’s overall defense reverted back to its earlier form, the situation became desperate, then unrecoverable, in short order.
Stay tuned for analysis of the evening, coming soon!
The Blazers now have an extended rest over the NBA All-Star break. They next play on Thursday the 23rd, facing the Sacramento Kings with a 7:00 start.