The Portland Trail Blazers haven’t had many happy moments in their 2023-24 season, but beating the Philadelphia 76’ers on Monday night may qualify as one. Portland opened up a lead in the second half, then ran away with a 130-104 victory. Passing and hot shooting typified the outing. The Blazers produced 29 assists and 54.8% shooting from the field, 42.9% from the three-point arc. It was one of their best offensive performances of the year.
Interior play from Deandre Ayton (18 points on 9-14 shooting) provided momentum. pushing Portland over the top when they needed it. Malcolm Brogdon (24 points, 9-14 shooting, 9 assists, 5 rebounds) played a huge role setting up Ayton. The inside-out play opened the floor for Portland’s shooters. Three-pointers, in turn, spread the floor for offensive rebounds. 1-2-3, the Blazers had the recipe for victory.
Neither Joel Embiid nor Tyrese Maxey played for Philadelphia in this game. Jerami Grant led the Blazers with 27 points, shooting 7-13 from the field, 12-13 from the foul line.
Here’s how the action unfolded.
For the second night in a row, the Blazers gave up a shot right at the rim to open the game. Kelly Oubre, Jr. drove on a switched-off Anfernee Simons and converted for two easily. Tobias Harris went at Simons on the next possession and drew a foul. Simons almost picked up his second foul seconds later, but the call was overruled. Everyone on Portland’s side was praying that this wasn’t going to be the way the night went.
After that the Blazers got forced into Jerami Grant shooting awkwardly over double-teams and Simons turning over the ball. Portland’s offense was like cutting a cement block with a butcher’s knife.
As he did versus the Chicago Bulls last night, Deandre Ayton came to the rescue. His seven-foot height gave him an inarguable advantage over defenders. He hit a straight-away shot and a little chippy at the rim to provide Portland some scoring at least. Forced turnovers allowed the Blazers more opportunities. In the absence of Embiid, Philadelphia seemed a little confused on offense. The Blazers capitalized as they could.
Cumulative...ummmm...semi-competence kept the scoring low on both sides, The tally read 10-10 with 6:00 remaining in the period.
The offense didn’t pick up much when Scoot Henderson and the reserves checked in, but the defense stayed fairly strong. Philly remained stumped on offense. Each team got an alley-oop, but play was otherwise sloppy throughout. Philadelphia led 28-20 after one.
Jerami Grant decided enough was enough as the second quarter began. He hit three shots and a free throw in the first 2:20 of the period, singlehandedly breaking the Blazers out of their slump.
Just as the Blazers got close, Philly streaked away again courtesy of KJ Martin and a pair of layups. Two steps forward, two steps back was the order of the day.
Duop Reath hit a three and a layup mid-quarter and Malcolm Brogdon twisted inside for short shots, but the Blazers never quite solved the interior game Philadelphia was putting forth. Either they found Simons helplessly defending forwards inside or Grant matched up against guards on the perimeter. Neither worked. Even though Portland’s offense had resurrected, Philly’s advantage didn’t close that much. It accordioned between 2 and 6 most of the period.
Despite a lack of rebounding, the Blazers made a surge in the final two minutes of the half. Ayton got a couple of jams off of entry passes while Brogdon hit a three. That gave Portland exactly enough points to overcome Philly’s perpetual six-point advantage. At the half, Grant had 20 points and Portland led 58-55. Not bad for a not-great display to that point.
The Blazers force-fed Ayton to the Sixers as the second half began, to good effect. His interior offense opened up the floor for the guards. Suddenly, Philadelphia couldn’t stop Portland inside or out. Malcolm Brogdon was the catalyst, passing and shooting both. The hot start put the Blazers up by 10, 73-63 with 7:23 remaining in the third.
With a lead in hand, it proved a boon to the Blazers that both teams went cold from three-point land. Normally that’s a disaster, as they often play from behind. But scoring being stalled, or at least limited to two points at a time, played into Portland’s hands this time. A lone triple from Jabari Walker at the midpoint of the period put Portland up by 15, 78-63.
Philadelphia made a bit of a run as the third period wound down, scoring inside as they had at the start of the game. But their reform didn’t make enough of a dent on the scoreboard to scare the Blazers yet. The occasional conversion from Portland was enough to keep the lead intact. When the offense got back on track, it soared near 20.
Even Anfernee Simons got in the act, acquitting himself well down low on defense by stripping Sixers inside instead of getting dominated on the drive. Basically Simons’ friends held down the interior opponents while he beat them up with his quick hands. Surprising? Yes. But it worked.
All good things must come to an end, though. Philly put on one more run at the end of the third, scoring inside with abandon. They cut the lead back to 14 before Simons converted a conventional three-point play with 3 seconds remaining to leave the score at 94-77 after three.
Any hope of a Philadelphia comeback died in the first four minutes of the final period. Malcolm Brogdon and Matisse Thybulle each stroked threes from the right side of the floor. Those six points alone outweighed Philly’s entire point production during that span.
By the timeout with 6:52 remaining, Portland led by 22, 105-83. The benches cleared at that point, and fun was had by all. Even the Sixers! They made an extended, but fruitless, run but couldn’t trim the lead for long. That’s usually Portland’s role. It was good to see the other team have to play it for once. The streak was ended when Scoot Henderson hit three (3) triples to shut it, and the game, down.
Stay tuned for extended analysis coming soon!
The Blazers have a night off before welcoming Damian Lillard and the Milwaukee Bucks to the Moda Center on Wednesday night at 7:00 PM.