The Portland Trail Blazers may not be fielding recognizable lineups these days, but like the best episodes of Tiny Toon Adventures, they find success by being plucky. On Sunday, Portland stunned the Play-In bound Minnesota Timberwolves. On Tuesday evening, they gave the playoff-contending Memphis Grizzlies more than they wanted to handle. Portland came out on the losing end, 119-109, but not without a fight.
Despite shooting only 43.3% from the field and 33.3% from the arc, the hard-rebounding Blazers generated 97 shot attempts against only 87 for Memphis. That left the scoreboard close through the closing minutes of the fourth until the Grizzlies powered through a huge late-game run that put victory in their pockets.
Shaedon Sharpe scored 20 points on 8-18 shooting despite constant attention from Memphis defenders. He added 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and zero turnovers to his stat line. Skylar Mays led the Blazers with 24 on 9-16 from the field. Portland also put three bench players in double figures. Desmond Bane led the Grizzlies with 30.
The loss drops Portland to 33-46 for the season, still hot in the running for the fifth-worst record in the NBA.
It’s tempting to say the Blazers played poorly in the first period. The results certainly weren’t good. Honestly, they weren’t awful. They got the ball inside, converting well on their attempts there. For the first part of the period, they found reasonable success from three-point land. They moved the ball well too, notching 5 assists on their first 8 buckets.
But Portland’s trick of outrunning the opponent to generate offense wasn’t going to work on the young, athletic Grizzlies, who brought everything to the table that the Blazers brought, plus superior talent.
Every time the Blazers tried to run, they found multiple defenders in their way. Shaedon Sharpe was their first option in the halfcourt. The Grizzlies knew that. Sharpe went 2-7 in the period. Kevin Knox II was a great back-up plan on Sunday versus the Minnesota Timberwolves. Memphis knew that too. He went 0-4.
Absent fast break points and getting throttled at their top two scoring positions, the Blazers had to bail out with three-pointers. They hit a couple early, but by the end of the period, Memphis had that clocked too. Portland finished the period 3-12 from distance.
Also, and just as significantly, the Blazers couldn’t defend. The Grizzlies shot 51.9% in the first, hitting 5 shots right at the rim and 7 more beyond the arc. They also scored 10 fast break points, out-doing Portland at their own game plan. The final result was a 41-25 Memphis lead that looked devastatingly insurmountable.
The Blazers started the second period hot against the suddenly-complacent Grizzlies. Their energy was high and they converted again in the lane. Within a minute, they had closed the lead from 16 to 12.
The problem with trimming down the margin little by little is that a single three-pointer from the opponent can feel like a tidal wave. Memphis hit one and a couple of free throws, and all of a sudden the Blazers were back to square one.
Sharpe got rolling with a couple of hits, a couple of free throws, plus an assist to Jabari Walker, hoping to generate momentum again. Then the Blazers forced a turnover and got the ball to Skylar Mays for a three that cut the lead to 8, 50-42, with 7:00 left. Next Shaquille Harrison hit a couple of free throws off of a fast break layup attempt and the lead got down to 6. A Mays jumper a possession later made it 4. Then Knox cut it to 2 with an even longer jumper.
Many of those shots were spurred by Memphis turnovers. The Grizzlies weren’t just failing to score; they couldn’t even get shots up. Miscues by the opponent gave Portland the crucial quick-offense attempts that they had lacked in the first quarter.
Meanwhile the Blazers feasted on the offensive glass, getting extra attempts even when they missed. It was like someone sprinkled magic pixie dust on the game and everything came up Portland.
All good things must come to an end, though. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson, Jr. both scored at the rim, while David Roddy hit a three. After getting within two, Portland watched the scoreboard go the other way.
Memphis continued to score on the run as Portland’s shots stopped falling. Offensive rebounding remained a strength, but even that was muted when the follow-up attempts missed. The Grizz hitting threes again didn’t help.
But Portland didn’t give up. They forced a couple more TO’s and Mays continued to attack the bucket hard during a late-quarter run. A Sharpe three with 3.0 seconds left put the Blazers back within 4, 66-62, at the half. He had 13, Mays 17 at intermission.
Life turned sunny when the Blazers hit 5 of their first 6 shots in the second half as the Grizzlies went 0—4 on the other end. When Memphis called a timeout with 9:09 remaining, Portland led 73-68. That arena was silent, y’all.
The timeout put the Grizz back in the proper frame of mind. They hit their next five shot attempted, including a couple of easies on the run. Now it was Portland’s turn to call timeout, down 80-75.
The teams traded buckets for the next couple minutes. The Memphis looks were a little more open than Portland’s, though. It felt like the Blazers were hanging on while the Grizz feasted on dunks and threes once again.
But hang on they did. Harrison, Jabari Walker, and John Butler, Jr. all scored. Some of the shots were improbable, but they still counted. Portland also worked the boards impeccably, a theme for the whole evening.
When newcomer (and who isn’t?) Justin Manaya hit a corner three with 1:06 remaining, the score was knotted at 91. The Grizzlies were playing War with an opponent who kept throwing out 3’s and 4’s, but scooped up the cards anyway whether it was cheating or not.
A reverse slam on a straight-line cut by Harrison tied the game at 95 with 4 seconds remaining. Ja Morant got fouled with half a second left, but only converted one of the free throws. That left the Grizzlies up by a technicality after three. 96-95.
Belying their crisp scoring pace through most of the game, the Blazers and Grizz traded misses during the early minutes of the fourth. That benefited Portland, whose chances improved with every second that drained off the clock with the score still close.
The Blazers broke the stalemate as Minaya hit a three and Sharpe a long jumper, causing the Grizzlies to call a timeout once again with 8:58 remaining and Portland up 5, 101-96.
Once again the reset spurred a scoring spree for Memphis. The Grizzlies score 8 straight, going up 104-101 and causing Portland to call their own timeout in return...again.
Portland got a dunk off of an offensive rebound on the next possession, but gave up one to the Grizzlies right after. After a stalled trip led to a gift offensive rebound when the Blazers didn’t try, Desmond Bane hit another three. Portland called one last, “Turn It Around” timeout down 109-103, 4:12 remaining.
At that point, Memphis had their defensive mojo back. They forced three pointers from Drew Eubanks that missed, as did his half-hook the next trip down the court. Meanwhile their own shots found the net. The Grizzlies also took control of the offensive glass, territory Portland had controlled all game. By the 2:00 mark, the Blazers were on the wrong end of a 20-2 run. That ended the game, and Portland’s hope of a second straight upset.
Stay tuned for analysis from the game, coming soon!
Portland’s 80th game of the season comes Thursday versus the San Antonio Spurs. The evening begins at 5:00 PM, Pacific.