clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Trail Blazers Use Tough Defensive Stretch to Down Nets

Portland looked ready to lose this game until one lineup change saved it.

Brooklyn Nets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers and Brooklyn Nets played a back-and-forth affair at the Moda Center on Wednesday night, melting the ice with hot shooting stemmed only by a furious fourth-quarter defensive stand from the Blazers. Portland came back from a 9-point deficit to start the final frame, earning a 105-103 victory courtesy of an Anfernee Simons floater in the lane with 0.2 seconds remaing.

If you missed the action, this was one of the more exciting games of the season! You can pick up the flavor in our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are some notes from the game.

Interchangeable Defense

The Nets present a little bit of a problem for Portland because they feature multiple players who are quick and of similar (decent) size. That allowed them to switch on screens, shadow effectively on drives, no matter who was on the floor. On initial possessions, the Blazers were almost always well-guarded.

The classic counter to this would be fielding either a lightning-fast scoring point guard or a dominant big. The Blazers have neither. Scoot Henderson is not a scorer. Deandre Ayton couldn’t make the game because of weather, and might not qualify anyway.

The Blazers did make good whenever they got an offensive rebound and the Nets were out of position. Brooklyn’s lack of their own towering big or pesky point guard didn’t allow them to challenge those secondary attempts, above or below the rebounder’s hands.

Portland would also counter with Anfernee Simons, rather than Scoot Henderson, at point during key stretches. That gave them some of the offensive separation they needed.

Jerami Grant

Jerami Grant was one Portland player who blossomed against the Nets’ photocopy defenders. Grant is slightly taller, but just as quick, as the Brooklyn Bunch. He also hits shots under pressure better than any of his teammates, and most in the league. That left the door open to hit shots when many of his teammates were bothered. Grant had 14 at the half and finished with 30 points on 14-26 shooting, adding 8 rebounds. He was the star tonight.

Centers

Unsurprisingly, Portland’s taller players also fared well against the Nets. Duop Reath started the game and amassed 17 points on 7-9 shooting in 25 minutes. His 7 rebounds weren’t as surprising as 3 assists. It was probably his best, steadiest overall game of the season. Ibou Badji added 2 points, 2 rebounds, and most importantly 2 blocks off the bench. The combination of height and athleticism served well against a team without much bulk.

Guard Woes

The story for the Blazers guards was almost a near inversion of the centers. They struggled to generate offense off of penetration. Of 38 combined shots attempted by Anfernee Simons, Scoot Henderson, and Malcolm Brogdon, 15 came in the paint. Almost all of that happened in the fourth period. Up until then, the lane was a wasteland for Portland guards.

Simons Saves the Day

For all the struggles Portland’s backcourt had early, Simons saved Portland’s bacon in the final period. He connected on 5-7 field goals, all but two attempts inside the paint, including the game-winner with 0.2 seconds remaining.

The final shot came off of an interesting play. Brogdon inbounded the ball on the left sideline, in line with the top of the key. The Blazers set a down-screen to free Simons, their biggest threat at that point, and the Nets let him go. He caught the inbound pass ludicrously easily, then headed to the top of the three-point arc to face Mikal Bridges, who at that point was frantically motioning to Spencer Dinwiddie for help. Dinwiddie came later than a Tri Met bus in an ice storm. Simons ran past Bridges, pulled up, and sank the floater like he was eating brunch on a Sunday morning.

Shame on Brooklyn’s defense for that last play, but also credit Simons for being one of those players who, given some amount of open space, can create buckets from almost anywhere. Even Grant would have had a harder time getting that great of a look than Ant did.

Play the Percentages

All of that together may not be as damaging as Portland’s defense right now. For perspective, the Nets shoot 45.6% from the field on average, good for 27th in the league. Their three-point percentage is somewhat better, 36.1%, 17th overall.

Tonight the Blazers let them shoot 47.9% overall, 39.5% from the arc. Those numbers were much worse at the end of three quarters too. It looked for all the world like Portland was handing this game to Brooklyn on a platter.

As we’ve said in a couple of analysis pieces lately, it almost doesn’t matter how the Blazers fare on offense and in all the little categories they love to massage. Allowing a steady leak of buckets to the opponent prevents them from making good. They just don’t have the horses to run that strong, that long.

The one time the defense really seemed to work came early in the fourth period, when Head Coach Chauncey Billups put in a defense-heavy trio of Matisse Thybulle, Toumani Camara, and Duop Reath to play with Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant. That unit got after it and frustrated the Nets for a while. That keyed a strong Portland comeback just when they needed it. The problem with that five-some long term, of course, will be offense. Simons ran the point. Only he and Grant could be trusted to score. But for this stretch, it really worked. That move saved the game for the Blazers.

Up Next

Boxscore

The Blazers face the Indiana Pacers on Friday night at the Moda Center with a 7:00 PM start time.