The Portland Trail Blazers found themselves on the right side of a blowout on Monday night, defeating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-104 at Moda Center. The Sixers were playing without reigning MVP Joel Embiid and budding all-star Tyrese Maxey. Still, these types of games have proven to be tough for a Blazers team looking towards the NBA draft lottery instead of the NBA Playoffs.
Jerami Grant decided it was his turn to carry the Blazers in the first half, scoring 20 points to give Portland a rare halftime lead. Portland would smother Philly in the third quarter with defense and transition buckets en route to a double digit advantage. Scoot Henderson and the rookies would put on a show in the fourth quarter, extending Portland’s lead to bring home the big victory for Rip City.
If you missed the game, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After you’ve read that, here are the details that defined the contest.
Fast starts for the Blazers have been few and far between this season. Some of this has to do with the youth of the team and some of this has to do with their style of play. Whichever way you want to cut it, the Blazers need to find ways to improve in this category.
Tonight against the shorthanded 76ers, Portland had a golden opportunity to get out to an early lead simply because they had more talent on the court.
Typically your best player sets the tone for the game. Enter Anfernee Simons. The only problem was that Ant picked up two quick fouls and left the game at the 7:44 mark of the first quarter. Fortunately for the Blazers, the 76ers were not able to capitalize. Grant saved the day by scoring 20 points in the first half.
The Blazers’ defense locked in on Tobias Harris, keeping him to 2 points in the first half.
It’s a Monday night game in January, but mindset and perfect practice matters. This Blazers team can’t waste anything from this season. Focusing on fast starts is something completely in their control, and at least for tonight there was improvement.
Anfernee Simons is a certified flame thrower from the three-point arc. His quick release resembles the splash brothers in Golden State and his range reminds us all of Dame Time. But I want to spend a moment on his growing strength to finish at the rim with both hands. Simons has a thin frame, but that doesn’t keep him from challenging bigger and stronger guys at the basket.
In a flash, Simons can get the paint and instantly draw the attention of all five opposing defenders. Being able to finish with both hands is a skill some NBA players still haven’t developed and good defenders will make you go to your weak hand. Simons is starting to show no weaknesses in this area.
This newfound ability for Simons was on full display towards the end of the third quarter. With the clock running down, the 76ers were defending the perimeter, anticipating Simons to take a step-back three at the buzzer. Instead, with 2.9 seconds left, Simons made a hard dribble to the middle of the paint, then absorbed contact from Danuel House and finished with the left hand, drawing a foul and earning a trip to the free-throw line
Glad You’re Back Deandre Ayton
Deandre Ayton has missed 16 games this season. It feels like a lot more. A former first pick in the same NBA draft as Luka Doncic, Ayton has faced stiff expectations in the NBA. After watching him play, I can see why he was selected so high. It’s more than his length, rebounding, and shot making. Ayton has a high IQ working around the basket.
The 76ers employed a 2-3 zone for parts of the game, and Ayton was ready to break that zone. He’s really good at finding the holes and making the correct pass out of it. He can also square up and hit the 12 foot jumper, which opens up passing lanes.
At the 10:00 mark of the fourth quarter, Ayton flashed his passing ability. Scoot Henderson found him on the low block. He instantly fired a pass back out to a wide-open Matisse Thybulle, who nailed a three. This applied one of the nails in the coffin for Philadelphia tonight.
I want to see Ayton stay healthy so he can continue to get comfortable in the offense and make things easier for the other Blazers.
Play to Your Strengths
The Blazers rank third in the NBA with 15.6 deflections per game and eighth with 7.8 steals per game. Hustling defense was key in catapulting them to their largest win of the season.
Again, Embiid and Maxey didn’t suit up for the 76ers, but the Blazers have played lesser teams this season with results that didn’t resemble tonight. Portland was able to convert their deflections and steals into 21 points off of turnovers. They got easy buckets, which translated into improved confidence. Whenever this young team can get out and run, they will be in good shape.
Scoot’s Big Quarter
Scoot Henderson’s up-and-down season continued tonight with a big high. During the first three quarters of the game, it was easy to forget that Scoot was even on the court, let alone contributing to the game. Then came the fourth quarter.
With the Blazers ahead, pressure for a win not a factor, and the 76ers playing their deep bench, Henderson went off. He scored 20 points in the fourth, going 3-4 from the three-point arc and drawing foul shots too. Scoot’s long-range shooting looked good and his speed in the open court was electric.
It’s hard to score 20 points in a preseason game, let alone in a single quarter during the regular season. The rookie is coming along. It’s easy to find all the things Scoot is doing wrong, but it’s okay to celebrate the good moments too.
Attention will be focused on Henderson during Portland’s next game against the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s good to see him build confidence when the lights aren’t so bright.
Shakespeare Said It Best
“To be, or not to be, that is the question.” Blazers fans will be quoting this line, or something similar every day as we get closer to February 7th, the NBA trade deadline.
Malcolm Brogdon and Jerami Grant looked really really good tonight against the starless 76ers. It was fun to see Grant work his defender in the post and Brogdon finding Ayton for alley-oop dunks.
Grant finished with 27 points, leading the Blazers tonight. Brogdon chipped in 24 points and 9 assists. They are easily two of the team’s top four players and have kept their squad respectable all season. Games like tonight will make Joe Cronin’s job even tougher. His phone might blow up with trade offers. The correct move in response will be imperative to setting the Blazers on the correct rebuilding path for the rest of this season and into the offseason.
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.