The Indiana Pacers faced the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night with a shiny new All-Star forward in Pascal Siakam, a returning superstar in Tyrese Haliburton, and every expectation that they would win the game, probably in easy fashion.
The Blazers, returning center Deandre Ayton but missing scoring guard Anfernee Simons, stepped right into Indiana’s collective faces and said, “No, I don’t think so.” Behind a slightly bigger lineup, lots of hustle on defense, and fine playmaking from Malcolm Brogdon, Portland sent Indiana away on the wrong end of a 118-115 loss.
Jerami Grant scored 37 on 14-28 shooting to lead the Blazers. Ayton had 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks in his return. Brogdon provided a very nice line of 30 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. Siakam scored 21 with 6 rebounds in his Pacers debut. Myles Turner led the Pacers with 29 while Haliburton added 21.
Here’s how one of the best games of the season for the Blazers went.
Deandre Ayton wasted no time getting involved, making himself available in the middle and scoring two quick buckets in succession to start the game. Portland’s rebounding went up a notch automatically with him and Jabari Walker in the game. The inside work was nice, but the Pacers outran the Blazers going the other way, getting up shots in the halfcourt almost instantaneously, including four threes by four different players. Malcolm Brogdon threw his team a lifeline, canning a couple of triples of his own. That left Portland down only 14-13 at the first timeout with 7:15 remaining, despite Indiana’s barrage.
The Pacers’ shooting did not cool down as the quarter unwound. Buddy Hield got in the act, hitting a couple more. The Blazers were ok closing against initial attempts but they utterly failed to follow the pass to a secondary shooters. Pascal Siakam picking up two fouls brought some good news. Portland keeping pace with 55% shooting—same as the Pacers—through the bulk of the period also helped.
Portland’s defense picked up when the second unit checked in, while their scoring continued unabated. When the dust of a frantic period cleared, the Pacers had attempted 15 three-pointers in the period, hitting 8, but the Blazers led 34-31.
Jerami Grant helped the Blazers off to a good start in the second, hitting a mid-range jumper and a chip shot. The Pacers got almost all of it back in a single trip down the floor when Scoot Henderson was called for a flagrant closeout against Siakam, then Myles Turner scored on a conventional three-point play against Jabari Walker. A three by Turner a play later tied the game at 40. No matter how hot either team got, their opponent refused to go away.
Portland surged ahead again midway through the second by puncturing Indiana’s defense inside. Walker, Grant, Ayton, Malcolm Brogdon...all of them got in the paint for conversions or fouls. On the other end, the Blazers crammed defenders inside, seemingly willing to cede threes to Indiana even when the Pacers were feasting on them. The Blazers did a better job closing out after the first pass, though, often forcing secondary penetration to set up another three, later in the clock. Indiana started missing. That allowed Portland to get ahead 50-43 with 5:00 remaining.
The Blazers also did an impressive job getting back on defense against a team that badly wanted to run. The Pacers passed into turnovers and found themselves in traffic every time they tried to break.
Buddy Hield continued to stroke from deep as the half came to an end. He and his teammates hit enough from distance to keep their team within closing range. But that was about the only thing going right for the Pacers in the second period. The Blazers led 64-53 at the half.
The Pacers went crazy as the second half began, hitting a couple threes, accompanied by two short jumpers from Siakam, escorted by a Myles Turner dunk, all within the first three minutes. Portland missed six shots in the same span, riding a three and a layup from Jerami Grant like a life raft. By the 8:00 mark the Pacers, down 11 at intermission, were within 3.
25 seconds later, they tied it. And Portland called a timeout.
Portland’s offense came back to life, at least a little, after they calmed down. Their forwards got the inside scoring going, which helped as Indiana continued to score. The Pacers also started missing more from distance, which kept things interesting. If they had shot as well from distance in the third period as they did in the first half, Portland would have been down 8 instead of up 2-4 for most of the frame.
Nothing was going to disguise the fact that the Blazers, who had scored 30+ in each of the first two periods, were going to end up in the mid-20’s in the third. But as it had in the second quarter, Portland’s defense remained strong. It was as impressive of a stand as we’ve seen all season.
A three from Hield late—his sixth of the game—threatened to make the score close despite all the good “D”, but free throws from Toumani Camara and a looper from Kris Murray in the final two possessions of the quarter overbalanced the big Hield shot. Portland led 88-81 after three. Optimism reigned in the Moda Center.
Malcolm Brogdon started the fourth quarter with an impressive drive for a layup in traffic, but Jalen Smith made a wide-open corner three right after, providing an “Uh Oh” moment. That lasted about 5 seconds until Murray—showing new confidence—hit a “Neener Neener” three in return.
But Indiana wasn’t going away. They turned up the heat defensively and the tempo on offense, running for buckets that they couldn’t manufacture in the halfcourt. To their credit, the Blazers kept attacking, including and especially in the lane. They didn’t convert, but they drew fouls, making points at the foul line and driving the Pacers into the penalty early. By the 8:00 mark the Blazers had pinned Siakam with his 5th personal foul and scored 8 points on free throws. They led by 10, 101-91.
Indiana had another run left in them, though. They keyed it by amping up the defense, not letting the Blazers penetrate and (finally) not fouling. Portland missed a series of looping, awkward shots, allowing the Pacers to run out and gather some of the transition buckets they had been missing all game long. It was a dangerous juncture for the Blazers. The Pacers closed the gap to 6, 106-91, with 3:30 remaining. Portland needed someone to steady them.
With their team in need, Jerami Grant and Jabari Walker stepped up, converting inside shots to keep the margin sustainable despite Indiana’s churning offense. Siakam helped by missing a pair of free throws, allowing another two points to drift Portland’s way. Siakam would make up for it with a conversion on Indiana’s next play, but Walker scored inside again off of a Deandre Ayton pass. That put Portland up 9 again. Free throws from Walker a play later would push the lead back to double digits, giving Portland enough cushion to take away the win.
Indiana made a late run, but they needed everything to go perfectly. It didn’t. The Blazers bled clock, Indiana committed a crucial over-and-back turnover with less than a minute remaining, and that was the ballgame.
Stay tuned for extended analysis following the game.
The Blazers face the Los Angeles Lakers in L.A. on Sunday night at 7:00 PM, Pacific.