The Portland Trail Blazers survived a back-and-forth affair to secure win No. 27 of the season in a 125-122 victory over the Golden State Warriors.
News of small forward Josh Hart being traded prior to tip-off visibly shocked the Blazers roster, but was not a hindrance in team morale, as Portland produced a much-needed win against a top caliber team.
Damian Lillard continued on his scoring tear, boasting his first triple-double of the season to the tune of 33 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. He was the recipient of favorable whistles, as he made 16 trips to the free throw line, attaining perfection in that category. Jerami Grant offered 22 points on a mere 12 shots and the Blazers played great team basketball.
The Warriors back court got theirs despite earning road loss No. 22 — tied for the second-most road losses in the Western Conference. Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson combined for 69 points and were aided by 18 points a piece from Andrew Wiggins and Donte DiVincenzo, who comprised of the lion share of Golden State’s offense.
For comprehensive play-by-play analysis, read our instant recap from Dave Deckard.
Not once were the Blazers in the clear until it came down to the wire. Here’s how it went.
Owning the Inside
The Blazers were only 8-27 from three-point range on the night. They compensated for unspectacular outside shooting with great inside work. They won the points in the paint battle 66-42 and complemented that with a plus-15 rebound margin.
Dame got going downhill. He (like Nikola Jokic a night ago if anyone watched the Denver Nuggets decimate the Minnesota Timberwolves) found success going baseline and making the right reads.
Shaedon Sharpe was able to reel in alley-oop dunk after alley-oop dunk, invoking salivation and frustration from Blazers fans over what could’ve been an upcoming dunk contest to remember. Sharpe went 5-7 from the floor and finished as a plus-11 on the night.
When it comes to the coordination of their offense, Rip City was superb in beating their men off the dribble, rotating with synchronicity, finding the strong side man in the corner, who would either shoot when open, or kick to the strong side wing who would proceed to find cutters making a beeline for the middle of the paint. This, in addition to Lillard’s baseline play, were two major determining factors in the success of the Blazers’ inside execution. Not to mention Lillard expediently finishing with flair inside.
To Foul or Not to Foul
A byproduct of owning the inside was the plethora of foul calls given to the Blazers. They made it to the line 32 times — one of 11 times this season they’ve attempted 30 or more free throws. In remarkable fashion, they remained disciplined, sending the Warriors to the line only 10 times — a season-best for the Chauncey Billups-led team.
Grant and Lillard did much of the dirty work, catching the Warriors gwith their hands in the cookie jar.
Doing What the Warriors Do Best
The Warriors ran their game plan with crisp execution tonight. It starts from the top down. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr put his troops in motion in accordance with their usual modus operandi. Their bigs — Draymond Green and Kevon Looney — lined up at the top of the key or at the elbows. Their guards — Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson and Donte DiVincenzo — ran the baselines, curled off of off-ball screens and made quick decisions with the rock, and their wings — Andrew Wiggins and Jonathan Kuminga — attacked the rack and operated in the midrange.
Nearly all of the Warriors were able to get to their spots. While the Blazers got the win at the end of the day, it was not pretty on the defensive end.
Thompson putting the ball on the floor and muscling his way inside for easy finger rolls at the rim is never a good sign. Wiggins invoked marvel with his post play as well as his God-given ability to explode off of the second jump for offensive rebounds and put-backs. Poole was cooking with fish grease, as Mark Jones would say, for 43 minutes.
It’s easy to forget that the Warriors are the defending champions, especially with Stephen Curry out of the lineup. Their ability to make Portland’s defense scramble around the arc was on full display.
Learning the Hard Way
Getting a hand up from outside of 23 feet has been a problemfor Portland this season. It was no different tonight. Poole and Thompson were able to walk into three-pointers all game long.
When Grant was on Thompson, he elected to go under the off-ball screens sometimes. Thompson burned him. When Nassir Little got the assignment on the four-time champion, he went over the screen in attempts to put the clamps on. Thompson broke free with ease.
A pass can be given to the defenders, given that Thompson just so happens to be one of the five greatest shooters in the history of the NBA. But without Curry, the Warriors only had two lethal shooters on the floor, and a better defensive scheme should have been implemented to take one of the two out of the game, and force the supporting cast to do much of the leg work.
In the Midst of a Renaissance
Returning from injury, Thompson was not the same player last season (though the Warriors won the championship and he was integral to that). He celebrated with a boatload of strong drink and dance moves to follow at their championship parade. But anyone watching could tell, he was not the same guy. His shot selection was vexing, and his defense was diminished.
The same cannot be said this season. Even though his efficiency numbers in 2022-23 are similar to last season, he showed in this game against the Blazers that the old Klay is back. He looked spry with his defensive slides. His slot selection was impeccable and his connection with the bottom of the net was clear. While he only shot 12-28, many of the shots he missed were rim-outs, off the mark by a hair.
The Blazers waited too late to seriously commit to trapping Thompson (three minutes into the fourth quarter). But when it counted most, they slowed him down.
A Quiet Night for Anfernee and GPII
Anfernee Simons scored 11 points on 4-12 shooting. He didn’t look like himself. Perhaps it was just one of those nights that does not need to be read into, especially on the heels of a win. Gary Payton II was also rather quiet. He had nine points, but committed more fouls (2) and turnovers (2) than steals (1) or blocks (0). It remains to be seen if GPII will remain in the starting lineup once the newly acquired Cameron Reddish joins the team, but if he finds favor in the eyes of coach Billups, nights like this may need some correction.
Showing up When it Matters Most
Portland ended the game on a 15-8 run. Their defense stepped up. They closed out with more urgency and got their hands on passes for deflections. They did almost commit an eight second violation when leading 123-119, when Wiggins got the steal and passed to an open DiVincenzo on the left wing instead of going up for the lay-up. Other than that gaffe, many positives can be extracted in film tomorrow to build on for future crunch time moments.
The Trail Blazers will host the Oklahoma City Thunder at home on Friday night. Lillard will have the opportunity to separate himself from first-time All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the scoring race, as both point guards average 30.8 points per game. Only half a game separates the two franchises.
Oklahoma City is 10-17 on the road this season. They have come away with an even 5-5 record over their last 10 games. The Thunder are 7-11 when Gilgeous-Alexander is held to under 30 points, and 16-16 when he suits up and tallies 30 points or more. Neutralizing the burgeoning star will be important to yielding a win.