The Portland Trail Blazers cruised past the Detroit Pistons 110-104 on Monday evening. It wasn’t exactly a win to hang your hat on. Portland allowed 22 fast break points while scoring only 1 themselves and they allowed 56 in the paint. They also allowed 16 offensive rebounds. Those are troubling numbers. But Portland made up for it with 44 points in the paint themselves, the vast majority in the halfcourt offense where they hammered it inside with dedication. With the already-potent Blazers offense producing points coming hot and plenty, the Pistons needed extras like three-pointers or free throws to make up the difference. They got neither.
Damian Lillard scored 31 with 13 rebounds and 12 assists in the game, a potent triple-double. Jerami Grant woke up for 26 against his former team. A balanced attack from everyone else led to 48.7% shooting from the field, 45.5% from the three-point arc. That was plenty enough to top the struggling Pistons.
Isaiah Livers led Detroit with 17 points on 7-12 shooting. They put seven players in double figures but nobody got 20.
The Blazers went away from their usual form, jumping ahead of the Pistons 7-0 via a couple of Lillard strikes and a two-pointer from Jerami Grant. It would begin a blistering period for Lillard, in which he would score 16 points, including a quartet of triples. The Pistons were late or lackadaisical covering screens. Dame will not tolerate that sort of behavior. He made them pay in spades.
On the other end, Portland had a fairly easy job. Detroit’s three-point shots came about as close to the rim as middle schoolers at their first dance. All the Blazers had to do was crowd the middle to keep the Pistons’ scoring in check. They may not be great defensively, but even they can do that. The second unit slipped a bit defensively, but by then Portland had already built a significant lead, which they nursed to the buzzer. The Blazers led 31-18 after one.
Scoring stalled at the top of the second as both teams played sloppy. Detroit got a couple of buckets inside but still couldn’t hit deep to save their souls. Portland just didn’t hit at all.
Lillard and Shaedon Sharpe hit a couple buckets mid-period, but those were buoys in the sea of offensive mediocrity. Ultimately, Drew Eubanks (of all people) pulled Portland out of the muck with a short shot and a bunch of free throws. Another Lillard three helped too. But Detroit forced turnovers, ran, and got their offense going in the lane. Apparently the teams were in sync. When one scored, both scored. When one dried up, both did that too. Detroit generated more outright momentum, but they just didn’t have the scorers to back it up when they couldn’t get easy looks.
The Pistons broke out of that pattern late, though, embarking on an 11-0 run to cut the lead to six, 50-44, with a little over two minutes remaining. The lead stood at eight, 59-51, at intermission.
Two Trail Blazers came out hot in the third quarter. Jerami Grant provided scoring while Drew Eubanks was a monster in the paint on defense, shutting down the Pistons’ funnel of inside points for a few minutes. Eubanks had a HUGE block on a Marvin Bagley III dunk, the kind that can make a guy reconsider his career choices. Drew’s active defense helped the Blazers push the lead back to double digits.
Portland kept it there courtesy of paint scoring from almost every player on the floor. Lillard, Eubanks, Grant, Nassir Little, Trendon Watford...all of them and more scored right at the cup. Not having to rely on the three-pointer kept Portland’s side of the scoreboard from yo-yo-ing the way it often does. Normally the Blazers seem only half interested in playing defense. Today it was the other guys, and that was way more fun.
The paint opened up again for the Pistons as Eubanks tired and sat, but even converting easily inside, they still weren’t doing more than keeping pace with Portland, who was doing the same thing on the other end. Grant continued to feast, scoring 17 in the frame. Without any outside shooting to speak of on the Detroit end, that was more than enough.
Even with a mini-run for the Pistons at the end of the period, the Blazers led 89-74 heading into the fourth quarter.
Detroit’s Little Caesar’s Pizza arena sponsorship seemed apropos at the start of the fourth, because their scoring came cheaply and there was a lot of it. (And if you’re a Blazers fan, it also turned your stomach.) A couple of layups and a three, and all of a sudden the lead was back to 10 again.
But a couple of Cam Reddish assists—one to Lillard for a three and one to Watford for a layup—helped push the Blazers back ahead. With 7:01 remaining, Matisse Thybulle hit his only shot of the game to that point, a three that put the Blazers up 17 again, 101-84. 90 seconds later, James Wiseman fouled out, costing Detroit one of their big mismatch advantages. Though the Pistons’ defense stiffened after Wiseman exited, their offense didn’t have much of a chance. Detroit put a little scare in the game with a late run, but a Grant corner three put an end to that. The Blazers had some turnover follies, but Lillard led them into reasonably stout defense and mostly it was an easy cruise to a win for the Blazers, a welcome relief against a backdrop of close wins and big losses.
Stay tuned for analysis of the game, coming up soon!
The road doesn’t get any easier for Portland, as they travel to Boston to face the Celtics on Wednesday at 4:30 PM, Pacific.