The Portland Trail Blazers came into Amway Arena on Sunday afternoon needing a win over the Orlando Magic. Having lost 8 of 11 games, the Blazers were watching their season slip into the abyss. With four games remaining on their current road swing, losing to a less-than-impressive Magic squad would have been discouraging.
In a real back-and-forth affair, both teams enjoyed small leads throughout the game. The largest margin for either team was a very brief nine-point lead for the Blazers in the third period, but the vast majority of the game was spent with one team or the other clinging to a lead of five or less. It came down to the final seconds, but solid free throw shooting down the stretch allowed Portland to hold off the Magic 122-119.
Damian Lillard led the way with 41 points and 9 boards, while Jerami Grant contributed 20 points and Cam Reddish pitched in 16. Paulo Banchero had 26 points for the Magic. No rest for the Blazers as they suit it up again tomorrow in Detroit.
A fast start is always a great sign for a struggling team. How did the Blazers start? Quite well, thank you. Fine ball movement, reasonable defense, and six straight points, including a four point play from Grant... not bad. Portland jumped out to a 6-0 lead, but Orlando answered with physical play on both sides of the court, demonstrating the difficulties the Blazers would have with the Magic’s size. Orlando’s bigs were able to flex their muscles and get to the basket in the early going, earning nine points by the first time out. 12-11 Portland lead.
Orlando continued to score with relative ease after the timeout, but Drew Eubanks kept pace with a thunderous dunk, and then was fouled on another attempt on the following possession. This was challenged by the Magic, something you don’t see too often in the first quarter. Orlando lost the challenge. What Orlando didn’t lose was the ability to score. They also started to hit threes. The Blazers kept pace with aggressive penetration, the extra pass and good shooting. This was turning into an entertaining game with both teams executing well and demonstrating high energy and commitment.
The Blazers did just enough to hold a lead at the end of the first quarter, 31-27, in spite of some difficulties on the defensive end. Eubanks lead the Blazers with 8 points, followed closely by Dame with 7. Banchero lead all scorers with 10.
Five quick points from the Magic allowed them to take the lead, but the game settled into a familiar back-and-forth, with neither team able to establish much of an advantage. Blazers fans should know that the subs more than held their own, and by the time the starters returned the Blazers had a four-point lead.
The lead wouldn’t last, as the turnover bug reared its ugly head for the guys from the Rose City. A 9-1 Magic run turned that lead into a deficit, forcing a quick timeout from Head Coach Chauncey Billups.
The timeout certainly stopped the bleeding...and then some. Mattisse Thybule tied it up with a dunk of a Lillard miss while getting fouled, followed by the free throw. Grant added a tip dunk of his own and Reddish canned a three shortly afterwards.
Just when it looked like the Blazers’ run would last until the end of the quarter, a Bol Bol three and a Portland turnover stole the momentum, allowing Orlando to tie it up.
Lillard would get the last say, getting to the line late and making both freebies, sending the Blazers into the locker room with a narrow two point lead at 58-56.
This wasn’t a masterpiece by any means, but Portland couldn’t have been too disappointed with that half. Interior defense was a problem, but the Blazers more than made up for that by winning the rebounding battle 30-16. The most glaring problem: turnovers. Portland finished with 12 compared to 7 for Orlando. Dame led the Blazers with 14 points, while Banchero still led all scorers with 16.
The third period did not feature a great start for the Blazers, with another turnover leading to a three-point play for Markelle Fultz. The Blazers fought back with a Eubanks hook and a tremendous block from Grant on Banchero. Then the game opened up with both teams flying down the court and scoring at will. When the Blazers called timeout with 8:36 left, the Magic held a 70-67 lead.
The Blazers kept up the pace, but Orlando didn’t. Portland jumped out to a two point lead on five unanswered points, prompting a quick timeout from the opponent.
Things settled down a bit after that timeout in terms of pace, but scoring resumed for both teams. Portland and Orlando unleashed the three ball, and every make seemed to have an answer on the other side of the court. When players started to over-defend the three point arc, both teams found space to drive. No lead was safe. Back and forth they went. A Lillard three got Portland’s noses in front 83-80 as Orlando called timeout with 3:05 to go in the third.
The three point Bat Signal was still on for the Blazers out of the timeout, and Portland started to stretch the lead, getting it as high as nine. But sticking to form, the team on the short end of the scoreboard fought back, cutting the lead to 92-88 by the time the quarter expired.
The good news for Portland was that they only added one turnover for the quarter. The bad news was that they really should have finished the quarter with a larger lead. Thanks largely to the three ball, Damian Lillard led both teams with 31 points.
The Blazers did their best to hold on to their narrow lead. Shaedon Sharpe threw down a massive tomahawk dunk followed by a nasty block on the other end. Those plays helped, but Orlando wasn’t going anywhere. A Cam Reddish turnover followed by a Bol transition bucket forced a Blazers timeout with Portland holding a 103-101 lead, 7:50 left in the game.
After that, neither team could hit a shot. Multiple misses on both ends kept the lead at two until Banchero was fouled with 5:48 to go. He could only hit one of his free throws however, and the Blazers clung to a single point lead.
At that point the lid came off for both teams. A Dame and-one opportunity got the lead back to five, but his third missed free throw of the game couldn’t pad it further. Like clockwork, it was time for Orlando to come back. They got it down to three multiple times, and then down to one.
A Lillard drive with 2:07 remaining was initially called a charge, but thankfully the Blazers didn’t use their challenge in the first quarter, and the call was overturned. That gave Lillard a pair of free throws with 2:07 to go. He calmly drilled them both.
Stout defense by the Blazers gave them a chance to extend the lead, but they were unable to take advantage. Wagner was fouled, but could only convert one. After a Lillard miss on a tough drive on which he wanted a foul call, Fultz found a seam and tied the game on a layup. Good ball movement from the Blazers found Nassir Little with space beyond the arc, and he calmly nailed it. Wagner drew a foul from Lillard, and he was able to cut the lead to 1 with 32.2 seconds to go.
The Magic could not deny Dame the ball on the ensuing play, and he made them pay by finding a sliver of space between two defender to rise up just inside the three point line, drawing a foul. Lillard hit both free throws, giving the Blazers a three point lead with 11.4 seconds to go.
The Blazers decided to foul as long as they remained up three, which they did for the balance of the game. They sent Fultz to line with 9.2 to go. He hit both free throws, cutting the lead to 1. Jerami Grant was then promptly fouled with 8.9 to go, and he drained both free throws. Blazers by three. Now it was Grant’s turn to foul Banchero with 6.2 to go. He made both. Portland inbounded to Dame, and he was promptly fouled with 4.3 seconds to go. Two more foul shots, two more points. One last chance came for Orlando, but Banchero was sufficiently bothered by Reddish and was unable to get off an accurate shot.
Blazers win 122-119.
Jeremy Brener has you covered with analysis up soon!
The road trip continues tomorrow with the second game of a road back-to-back at 4:00 PM, Pacific against the Detroit Pistons.