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Hustle, Defense Propel Blazers to Win Over Pacers

Deandre Ayton’s return outweighs Pascal Siakam’s debut.

Indiana Pacers v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers played one of their best defensive games of the season on Friday night, defeating the Indiana Pacers 118-115. It was a team-wide victory, buoyed by a small core of starters and a key contribution or two off the bench.

Jerami Grant led Portland with 37 points on 14-28 shooting, a feat made even more impressive by his opposition: debuting All-Star forward Pascal Siakam. Siakam didn’t guard Grant all night, but Jerami held his own when he was facing down the new apple of Indiana’s eye.

Deandre Ayton returned for the Blazers in this game after missing 12 games due to tendinitis of the knee and ice follies. Anfernee Simons missed the action due to illness. Point guard Scoot Henderson left the game after only 8 minutes of play with a nasal contusion.

If you missed the game...sad! But our quarter-by-quarter recap will bring you up to speed. After you’ve read that, here are other key points from the evening.

Better Rebounding

From the start of the game, Portland played strong on the glass, dominating the Pacers in one of Head Coach Chauncey Billups’ favorite categories. They were boosted by a larger-than-normal starting lineup of the returning Ayton, Jabari Walker, and Grant. Though technically still slightly out-sized by Indiana, the Blazers weren’t out-fought.

The Pacers managed just 3 offensive rebounds in the first half, 6 for the game. Portland won the overall rebounding battle 47-37. Getting the basics right helped everything else go better for the home team.

Ayton Effect

The size difference for Portland was evident the second Deandre Ayton stepped on the floor for starting lineup introductions and the point proved solid for most of the night. There’s just no substitute for a true 7-footer with a little experience and some scoring ability. Duop Reath’s three-point mastery is impressive. Ayton can’t echo or eclipse it. But Ayton gave the Blazers an interior scoring target they’ve been missing for a dozen games. He opened up a whole new third of the floor as a scoring threat, which kept the Pacers defense either honest or beaten...sometimes both. Ayton may not be everything Blazers fans dreamed of when their team traded for him, but he’s better than anyone else Portland has at the position at the moment. That matters.

Ayton finished with 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 30 minutes of play.

Pacers at the Arc

The Pacers countered Portland’s bigger lineup by making the Blazers scramble to defend the three-point arc. Indiana had 27 threes attempted at the half and finished the game with 47, hitting 42.6% of them.

To their credit, the Blazers did a decent job closing out on the Pacers’ initial threat from distance on most possessions. Portland didn’t play flat-footed. But let’s face facts. Ayton and Walker (and most of their substitutes) aren’t going to get around the floor as fast as some of Portland’s small-ball lineups can.

The Blazers had a nice streak of three-point defense to close the first half. They didn’t stop Indiana from shooting out there, but they made them set up plays multiple times, burning clock to get an open look.

For much of the game, though, Portland doubled down on their size, interior defense, and rebounding, hanging close to the rim. When they closed out on a Pacers shooter, one pass yielded an open attempt. That’s why Indiana shot lights out. Thank goodness they didn’t put Portland’s out as well.

The Malcolm Brogdon Effect

The way the season has gone, the Blazers might as well get matching “Next Man Up” tattoos across the locker room. With Anfernee Simons ill, Shaedon Sharpe out for a while, and Scoot Henderson getting Marcia Brady Prom Nose, Malcolm Brogdon provided the “Up” for Portland tonight. His stats were impressive: 30 points on 9-18 shooting, 10-10 free throws, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, a steal, and a block in 37 minutes of play. Beyond the boxscore, he was able to control the ball smartly, shoot effectively, and set up Ayton for good looks...occasionally other teammates as well.

Brogdon has a bearing and vision unmatched by any of his younger, springier court-mates. You can see it as he handles the ball up top. He may not create as dynamic of a look as Sharpe or Henderson, but it’s probably going to be a better one overall. That this happens with his team constantly shifting—and sometimes fracturing—around him is a huge testament to his ability.

Switcheroo

For all the height and lineup shuffling, the Blazers still got caught in a fair number of mismatches against Indiana. The Pacers screened smartly, forcing Portland to switch, leaving bigs on the outside and Brogdon on Siakam or Walker on center Myles Turner. Credit the Indiana coaching staff for prepping their players to maneuver the Blazers into weaknesses, even on one of their best defensive nights of the year.

Guarding the Easies

How good was the defense? The Blazers allowed Indiana only 26 points in the paint and most of those came on the break. For perspective, the Pacers are averaging 57.2 points in the paint per game this season. Portland held them to 31 below their average. That’s a shock for a team that routinely allows 31 paint points in the first 18 minutes of the game.

The Blazers cheated a little bit by shading inside, but who cares? It worked. Bravo for picking up that banner and letting it fly. If the Blazers could do that every night, the season would look a lot brighter.

P.S. The Blazers scored 66 points in the paint themselves tonight. Wow.

Jabari Walker Late

Portland’s coaching staff loves Jabari Walker for his engine, his hard-nosed approach, and his willingness to get his hands dirty defending and rebounding. Tonight he brought all that while playing another crucial role: late-game-saver.

When Indiana made a run in the fourth quarter, trimming Portland’s 13-point lead to just 5, Walker hit a series of interior shots to keep his team alive. He read the floor, got in the seams by the rim, received passes, and converted efficiently. His positioning and demeanor provided counterpoint to an otherwise fractured and messy Blazers squad at that juncture. He also got the game-icing rebound and hit a free throw on a foul right after to close Portland’s scoring.

Walker finished the game with 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 13 points. As it turned out, Portland needed every bit of it to keep Indiana at bay.

Up Next

Boxscore

The Blazers face the Los Angeles Lakers in L.A. on Sunday night at 7:00 PM, Pacific.