The Portland Trail Blazers keep finding ways to win despite poor starts during their current streak of five wins in six games. That certainly held true tonight as the Blazers emerged with a 124-116 victory over the Washington Wizards despite falling behind 36-19 after the first period. If you haven’t heard the story of their latest comeback, you can find it in our quarter-by-quarter recap. After you’ve perused that, you can find deeper analysis of the game right here.
Portland was back on their [bullstuff] again tonight, getting behind 34-14 in the first period. Mismatches explained part of the problem. Portland didn’t have anyone within 5 inches of Kristaps Porzingis’ height. Nor Daniel Gafford’s, nor Kyle Kuzma’s as you went further down the chart. Washington blew them away inside, then merched that into wide open threes. Not having your only starting center will create that mismatch spiral.
But let’s get serious. 52 games into the season, the Blazers still aren’t reading defensive situations right and still aren’t running recognizable schemes. On one play near the end of the first, all five Blazers got back in transition, but then lined up across the court horizontally as if they were playing Red Rover and not NBA Basketball. Nobody draws up defenses with zero coverage at the rim and zero coverage at the three-point arc, yet there they were. Unsurprisingly, Washington scored easily.
Saying the Blazers aren’t coming out ready to play doesn’t cover it. They aren’t doing anything even remotely resembling playing on the defensive end early. Digging yourselves 20-point holes against weak teams isn’t a recipe for success.
As is maddeningly typical of Portland, they turned on the defense when they needed it, going with a largely-center-free lineup in a tight fourth quarter, forcing a half-dozen turnovers from Washington while shutting down the inside and covering the arc. The Wizards helped, to be sure. They spent most of the final period chucking and staring instead of driving and dishing, but Portland’s energy was WAY up and they held Washington to 22 points in the decisive frame.
Comebacks like this are a mix of fun and frustrating. On the one hand, excitement! On the other hand, the carryover to the first quarter of tomorrow’s game isn’t guaranteed. Also, this tactic won’t work against talented, focused playoffs teams the same way it works in Game 52 against the Wizards in February.
But hey, you don’t make the playoffs if you don’t win. The Blazers did win, so, YAY! AWESOME! Big finish! [mutter mutter half-heard pragmatic warning] RIC FLAIR WOOOO!
Portland’s matchup disadvantage wasn’t limited to the first period. All night long, the Blazers faced a 7’3 nightmare capable of scoring at the rim or on face-up midrange jumpers. Neither Jerami Grant nor Josh Hart had the length to bother Porzingis when he shot. Drew Eubanks didn’t have the range to go out with him, nor to make up distance on screens. The Blazers had about as many answers for Kristaps as for a blindfolded calculus test. Kristaps had 32 points on 9-15 shooting, 11-12 from the foul line, 3-6 from the arc. Every time Portland surged ahead, the Wizards went to their big guy and weathered the storm...except the last one.
When the Blazers were losing, they got plastered on the boards. Every once in a while, they’d get a spurt of energy under their own backboard, earning a couple of offensive rebounds and a nice put-back. They didn’t have the same energy under Washington’s glass.
When the Blazers were winning, though, their board work was awfully nice. Jerami Grant had 8, Josh Hart 9, including 3 offensive. That hard work on the glass late by the forwards and the bench paid off big.
In the end, Portland lost the rebounding battle only 41-38...no small feat against a big team.
Throughout the first three quarters of action, Washington passes floated across the court like a spy balloon, completely unfettered. Portland never got anywhere near a smart rotation once they sent help, and they had to send help on many plays due to the above-mentioned size differential. Watching the array of over the head, behind the back, through the lane, or out to wide-open shooter passes was astonishing. At some points, they were Harlem Globetrotter-esque, earning revenge for years of losses by Washington teams. The Wizards ended up with 27 assists on 42 made shots, but almost all the gap between those two numbers came in the fourth quarter. Prior to that, approximately 108% of their makes were assisted.
This was a low-turnover night for Portland. They committed only 7 all evening. That’s often a quarter’s worth for them. It kept the ship from sinking entirely.
Turnovers were rare for the Wizards too, up to a point. They committed only 4 in the first three quarters. But 6 in the final frame sealed their doom, leading to Portland breakaways and damaging fouls...also to Washington’s lack of shot attempts. Stopping shots from getting up was crucial to Portland’s defense on a night when they allowed the opponent 50.0% from the field.
After the poor first half showing, Anfernee Simons did everything possible to bring the Blazers back at the start of the third period. He hit five three-pointers in four minutes, single-handedly cutting Washington’s 20-point lead in half. Up to that point, Lillard struggled because of extra defensive pressure. Simons provided a huge and welcome relief valve. Once he became unstoppable, everybody else found their shots freely. Simons finished the game with a team-high 33 points on 9-12 shooting from distance.
When all else goes wrong for the Blazers, what do they do? Shoot threes, of course. They pared away all nuance tonight, using the three-pointer to crawl their way out of a gloomy pit and into the light. Simons took the lead, but Lillard and Jerami Grant followed suit, then everyone else. After a futile shooting display in the first half, the Blazers hit an incredible nine threes in the third period alone, pouring a tidal wave of points past Washington’s interior scoring. They finished the game 17-41, 41.5%, as a team.
We haven’t mentioned Trendon Watford’s name much this year, but he did a fantastic job in this game. 9-12 shooting from the field with 5 assists in 29 minutes tells part of the story. Watford made several smart passes and, at 21 points, outscored the far-more-heralded Kyle Kuzma by 9. Just as importantly, Watford was one of the few Trail Blazers players giving energy from the moment he stepped on the court. He followed through too, hitting a three with 4:10 remaining and the game tight, then grabbing a late steal for a transition pass to Simons, then nabbing and a crucial offensive rebound putback with 1:41 remaining. Every bit of it preserved Portland’s lead against Washington’s late comeback attempt.
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.