The Portland Trail Blazers showed up to face the Boston Celtics on St. Patrick’s Day with all their lucky charms: Damian Lillard, recently-returned starters Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic, and high-flying rookie Shaedon Sharpe. It didn’t matter. The Guys in Green feasted against ineffective defense, scoring deep in the paint and deeper beyond the arc with equal ease. Portland got out-sized, out-shot, and out-played on their way to a 126-112 loss.
Jayson Tatum scored 34 for the victors, while Jaylen Brown added 27. Boston put all five starters in double figures.
Damian Lillard produced another amazing game, engineering a big comeback attempt in the fourth quarter, but his 41 points weren’t enough to bring the win. None of Dame’s teammates scored more than 17.
The defeat drops Portland to 31-39 on the season, leaving them with a dead even 17-17 record on their home floor. Their 39 losses leave them behind most of the Play-In Tournament contenders in the West, where 35-36 is the current standard. Portland now owns the sixth-worst record in the league.
Boston made a coordinated effort to keep Damian Lillard out of scoring position at the top of the game. Lillard obliged by moving the ball willingly. Anfernee Simons couldn’t hit deep shots, but Matisse Thybulle dropped one and Jusuf Nurkic scored in the lane.
Meanwhile Portland wasn’t defending well in the paint or at the arc. Celtics dribblers sliced by them like a chainsaw through cheese. Boston missed wide-open threes, else this would have been a blowout early. Even hitting a pair was enough to put them ahead 11-6 at the 8:30 mark. Fortunately Simons hit his first right after and the game was on.
The game was fairly difficult for Portland, though. They threw a zone defense and the Celtics ate them up. Jayson Tatum launched threes while Boston dribblers and cutters continued to treat the lane like a superhighway.
Portland did get a reprieve. Lillard hit a three, then Thybulle scored on a breakaway. Boston also fell in love with the three-pointer. Deep shots came so easily, they just couldn’t pass them up. They attempted nine in the first eight minutes. Hitting four looked good on paper, but they weren’t getting stopped inside AT ALL, plus they drew fouls in there. Portland tried to turn the long misses into quick offense before Boston’s “D” could set up. That helped their offense immensely.
Lillard converting an and-one off of a jumper kept Portland within three, 23-20, at the 4:00 mark. That despite continued questionable defense and a certain amount of cockiness from the Celtics. All things considered, it could have been much, much worse.
But Portland had to put their bench unit in at some point. That was like waving a 5-hour energy at the truck stop. Tatum scored 7 points in 70 seconds and the Celtics were doing 85 before they hit the merge lane. Portland got a couple more quick strikes on the run, but they couldn’t catch the Celtics. Boston led 32-24 after one. Lillard had 6 and Simons 5, but Tatum had 15 already, that despite the Celtics shooting just 4-15 in the period from distance.
Cam Reddish and Drew Eubanks gave the Blazers their first five points of the second in short order, hitting a three and a nice hook from ten feet, respectively. But Portland gave up a three and a layup on the other end, which shows you how the game was going. When you’re shooting perfectly and not gaining ground, what’s going to happen when you start missing? The Blazers soon found out, as their shots became more labored while Boston struck repeatedly.
Portland got a spark at the 9:00 mark when Eubanks blocked a layup attempt then got it to Shaedon Sharpe, who converted a layup of his own. That brought the Blazers back within 8 after falling behind by 12. Half a minute later, Reddish made an nearly-impossible spinning shot and was fouled. He couldn’t convert the free throw, but that still took the margin down to 6, even with reserves in. That felt like a victory unto itself.
Unfortunately Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown hit a couple of those pesky threes that had been eluding the Celtics up to this point. When Head Coach Chauncey Billups called a timeout with 7:08 remaining, Boston was up 12 again, 48-36.
The lead stayed there for a couple minutes, but Boston started forcing turnovers for Tatum run-outs. That baked Portland’s biscuits good. Billups called ANOTHER timeout with 4:05 remaining and his team down 16, 56-40.
At that point, the Celtics had hit 4-5 beyond the arc in the period, Portland 1-7, with zero success after that first Reddish make. The Blazers can’t win without the three, period, let alone come back on an opponent without them.
Nor did the timeout from Billups break the momentum. Boston got an offensive rebound tip from Luke Kornet, then hit him for an easy layup off a pocket pass a play later. I guess Portland stopped the threes, but only by giving up conversions at the rim.
The Blazers did force a couple turnovers late. That allowed them to keep the margin even as the quarter closed. That still left them down 63-48 at intermission.
Portland came out of the half trying to run, force turnovers, and generate offense any way they could. The scrappiness was appreciated and, in a sense, effective. The Blazers got up 8 shot attempts in the first 3:15 against only 4 for the Celtics, with only one trip to the foul line to make up that difference for Boston.
Unfortunately, Portland hit only two of those attempts. In that same span, Boston hit 2 of their 4, plus the free throws. Which meant the Blazers actually went backwards during their big blitz.
The 8:00 mark of the third provided another moment that perfectly summarized the game. Damian Lillard streaked across the lane for a spectacular, extended block on a Jaylen Brown dunk attempt. Though both generated impressive heads of steam, Lillard snuffed the taller, bigger Brown. The Blazers didn’t recover the ball, though. Brown retrieved and tossed it straight to Tatum for an easy three.
Net points resulting from Lillard’s hard work on “D”: -1.
Portland did show a spark during the middle minutes of the third. Kevin Knox hit a three, as did Lillard. Eubanks dunked on the run off of a Sharpe assist following a Knox steal. Yay, Bench!
Celtics Head Coach Joe Mazzulla actually had to call his own, “Tsk! Tsk!” timeout with 3:11 left in the third and the lead down to 12, 80-68. The Blazers even forced a 24-second violation just after.
But Boston was offensive rebounding too hard and Portland’s play-making was way too chaotic to sustain the run. Lillard checked out of the game, which didn’t improve the passing situation any.
The Celtics scored 9 of the last 11 points in the quarter, edging the Blazers 26-22 in Portland’s big comeback quarter. Boston led 89-70 heading into the final frame.
Portland tried to mount a miracle comeback early in the fourth, hitting three threes plus a layup and a pair of free throws in the first four minutes. But Boston hit a three and a trio of short shots of their own in return. Near-perfect shooting and energetic play left Portland down 15 instead of 19...nice, but hardly decisive.
A little over a minute later, a Marcus Smart three put the lead back to 19. Lillard would continue to score, going on one of those, “Aww hell nah.” streaks, mounting a 13-4 run for his team on his way to an incandescent period. The Blazers got the lead down to 10 again with 3:45 remaining. It’d shrink to 8 with 3:00 left off of another Lillard three, his fourth of the period. But all the Celtics had to do was grind out a basic offense, occasionally getting to the foul line in the process, and their “W” was in the books.
Portland would score 42 in the period, but it wasn’t even close to enough.
Stay tuned for our extended analysis of the game, coming soon!
The Blazers welcome the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday evening with a 6:00 PM, Pacific start.