The Portland Trail Blazers played a mind-numbing first half against the Washington Wizards on Friday night, falling behind by 20 points in the first period can carrying an 18-point deficit into intermission. But Anfernee Simons hit a half-dozen three-pointers in the third period to wake up his team, allowing space for Damian Lillard and Josh Hart to shine.
When the smoke cleared, Portland took the game 124-116. Simons had 33 points, shooting 9-12 from distance. Lillard added 29 and Hart 21 in the victory. Bradley Beal scored 34 for the Wizards and Kristaps Porzingis a nearly-overwhelming 32.
The victory pulls the Blazers even at 26-26 for the season.
The Wizards leapt ahead at the opening tip by taking advantage of their size mismatches inside. If they weren’t posting up or tipping in misses, they took advantage of confusion on Portland’s end in pick and roll coverage. Basically, the Blazers defense stunk. Washington jumped out to a 10-2 lead.
And then Bradley Beal hit a three. And THEN Head Coach Chauncey Billups called his standard, “OK, guys, are we going to start to play at some point?” timeout.
On the next play, Portland triple-jumped the dribbler on a screen play (a tad much), then tried to recover but ended up leaving Josh Hart on 7’3 Kristaps Porzingis. That resulted in a layup right over Hart’s head. That probably wasn’t drawn up in the huddle.
It didn’t help that, apart from a single Hart jumper, the Blazers were rimming out every shot and layup. When Damian Lillard hit a three with 7:57 remaining, it was like a breath of fresh air. But at that point, it was blowing through a room soaked with cat pee.
Lillard did his best to propel his team on offense. He drove hard into the lane, but was surrounded by Wizards defenders on each attempt. That left kick-outs to the perimeter open. His teammates didn’t hit a single one.
Jerami Grant got the scoring going as the midpoint of the period passed, diving to the bucket quickly by himself and/or hitting jumpers over bigger Washington defenders. But Portland was unable—completely unable—to stop the Wizards on the other end. With 4:00 to go, Washington led 25-12.
Then the Wizards started dropping threes like they were ALL Damian Lillards. Ugh.
Washington led 34-14 with 2:00 remaining and 36-19 after one. The Blazers had work to do.
Portland’s second unit slowed down the pace and did a better job controlling the paint—defensively and on the glass—as the second quarter started. They didn’t prosper, but at least they stopped the tidal wave of Washington offense. Trendon Watford played big: rebounding, putting it off the glass, hitting pull-ups in the lane, and even stroking a three.
The Blazers made a dent in Washington’s lead until the first unit checked in again for the Wizards. Then Daniel Gafford and Bradley Beal made hash out of Portland’s defense inside, either scoring or getting offensive boards and converting on the second attempt. Either way, Washington’s point production was constant again.
At that juncture Damian Lillard went into, “Aw, Hell No...” mode. He took over the scoring himself, driving to the hole repeatedly, either converting twisting layups or drawing fouls. It worked, offensively. The problem was, every random make for Washington canceled out one of Lillard’s strikes. Portland’s defense was still bad enough that the Wizards didn’t get dinged that badly despite Dame’s resolve.
Portland did get the lead down to 15 with 3:45 remaining. They needed one of their patented blizzards to close the half and give them momentum. Instead Monte Morris hit a three and Kyle Kuzma escaped on a breakaway and the scoreboard went the other way.
Damian Lillard had 17 for the Blazers at the half but Washington still led 69-51. That perfectly summarized the story of the game to that point.
Porzingis starting the third period with a three-pointer after a pair of uncontested passes from his teammates did not bode well for the Blazers. Fortunately Anfernee Simons made it back right away with a three, then hit another on Portland’s next possession. Beal hit a triple right after, which seemed to signal Washington’s willingness to get into a shooting duel with Portland. Since they had waxed the Blazers’ collective fences in the lane in the first half, that was a good sign. Things got even better when Simons hit a third three on the next trip down the floor, then a fourth on the possession right after. Beal scored in the lane, then Simons hit a FIFTH. For those counting, that’s 15 points in just barely over 4 minutes. Sustained over a game, that would be...ohhhh...180 points or so. That’ll bring you back right quick.
Simons’ fifth strike from deep brought Portland back within 10, 79-69. At that point the Wizards called a timeout, huddled up, and recommitted to taking the ball inside instead of fighting fire with fire. Unsurprisingly, they began to succeed.
The Wizards pushed the lead back to 15 at the 6:00 mark when a trio of possessions unfolded, emblematic of the action. Lillard hit a three, then Porzingis canned a foul-line jumper over a hopelessly over-matched Hart, then Lillard hit another three. The Wizards kept giving body blows while the Blazers swung with haymakers to the head. When Grant hit ANOTHER three, the Blazers were within 8, 86-79, with 4:39 remaining.
Simons hit a sixth three with 3:54 remaining, peeling the lead back to 7. But Washington kept going to Porzingis, scoring just enough to stay afloat.
But Portland would not be stopped. When Simons and Shaedon Sharpe both hit short shots inside the final two minutes, Portland had the lead down to two, 92-90. The scoreboard read 94-90 when the period closed. The Blazers had a chance.
Portland started attacking the rim in earnest at the start of the fourth, sending Lillard into the lane, daring the Wizards to collapse so he could pass out to his red-hot comrades. Washington stayed home, which allowed Dame to score himself. The Wizards tallied enough to hold onto their lead, but barely. With the margin within a single basket, it felt like the next team to make a run would take the game.
That run was stalled for a couple minutes as the teams traded turnovers and offensive fouls. Shaedon Sharpe hit a three with 8:00 left to tie the game at 99. That was enough for the Wizards to bring Porzingis back in. But not before Hart hit another three to finally give Portland the lead, 102-101. Beal scored on the other end, but the Blazers whipped the ball around to Simons for another three, pushing the lead to two. Then Hart scored on a semi-break, giving him 9 points in the period, making the score 107-103, Portland, with 6:00 left.
With the game on the line, both teams went to their stars. Lillard and Beal both took plenty of shots, making most. But the game really took a turn with 3:55 remaining when Simons stole a pass from Beal and got fouled on a transition take possession, allowing two free throws, then two more from Grant on the consecutive possession. That silenced the crowd and pushed Portland’s lead to 116-107.
Throughout the remainder of the game, Portland’s defense sparkled. They forced Washington into tough shots, created a half-dozen turnovers, and generally made nuisances of themselves...finally. The Wizards helped by settling for outside shots against a packed paint. No three-point hits and no free throws took away Washington’s scoring power. The clock ran out with them looking more confused about how they lost this game than how they could come back and win it.
Stay tuned for extended analysis, coming right up!
The Blazers get no rest at all, facing the Chicago Bulls tomorrow with a 5:00 PM, Pacific start.