The Portland Trail Blazers shook off a rusty first half to defeat the Brooklyn Nets 134-127 in overtime. The Blazers were led in scoring by Anfernee Simon’s 38 points and Jerami Grant’s 27 points. All together, the Blazers had six players in double figures and shot a scorching 53% from three-point range.
Mikal Bridges led all scorers with 42 points and orchestrated the comeback for the Nets in the fourth quarter to force overtime.
Both the Blazers and the Nets have had rough offensive starts to 2024. The first half of today’s game would look no different. There was a stretch in the second quarter where both teams seemed like they would never score again. To put it in the words of the Blazers past radio play-by-play announcer Brian Wheeler, “If it was a fish, they would have thrown it back.”
Then the third quarter started, and it seemed like each team remembered they can actually shoot the ball. And shoot they did. The Blazers and Nets would trade baskets the rest of the way in an exciting finish to regulation, with Bridges hitting a jumper over Toumani Camara, who seemed to lose his footing, in order to send the game into overtime. The Blazers would seal the deal in OT thanks to “tried and true” Malcolm Brogdon, who hit back-to-back three-point shots to help the Blazers pull away for the much-needed win.
If you missed the game, you can find a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of the action here. After you’ve read that, here are the details that defined the contest.
Simons Was on Fire
What hasn’t been written about Anfernee Simons this year? Since he has come back from his early season injury, Simons has put the entire league on notice. Damian Lillard’s apprentice is showing flashes of becoming a Jedi Knight. It’s not just the point totals that jump out, but the efficiency with which he scores. Not quite at the 50/40/90 club yet, but he’s making strides. Simons is shooting 44% from the field, 38% from long range, and a blistering 93% from the free throw line.
Today’s game would have easily been a loss for the Blazers if it wasn’t for Simons saving them in the fourth quarter. He’s always been a good shooter, but now he has the handle and the craftsmanship around the rim to complete the total package. He has also become a much better passer, making him more lethal and forcing defenses to pick and choose what to defend. The Nets threw every long and athletic defender at Simons today and it really didn’t matter. In a season full of more downs than ups, it’s good to see Simon’s perform at such a high level.
Defending the Paint
Same story, different day for the Blazers’ interior defense. The Nets outscored the Blazers 62-38 in points in the paint. This has been the trend all season. Now, some of this has to do with the Blazers’ defensive schemes and injuries to key Portland big men, but it is also an overall weakness for the squad. They struggle to rotate on the defensive end to clog the middle. Communication is getting better, but good teams still abuse the poor rotations by making the extra pass and cutters getting easily behind their man.
Rim runners like Day’Ron Sharpe tend to have decent games against the Blazers because Chauncey Billups likes to keep the defenders home against shooters. Teams in the first half will settle for the dunks, but as the game progresses, opposing teams like to rely more on the three-point shot, so it makes sense to tighten up on the perimeter. That was on display today against the Nets and worked pretty well down the stretch of the game. This strategy works very well when the opposing team doesn’t have a dynamic scoring big man or Luka Dončić. Kudos to the Blazers’ “bend but don’t break” defensive scheme.
Sharpe Minutes on the Rise
I don’t think it was a coincidence to see the Blazers offense come alive the same day Shaedon Sharpe was able to actually play some minutes in a basketball game. The past three games, Sharpe has played 18, 22, and 24 minutes. Today against the Nets, Sharpe logged 40 minutes and scored 21 points on 7-14 shooting, and 3-6 from three-point range.
The Blazers needed Sharpe’s scoring in order to bring balance back to the offense. Both Simons and Sharpe are most effective when the other is a threat. I also just love watching Sharpe play when he’s not worrying about an injury. Today he almost had two highlight reels. One on a dunk attempt that turned into a foul, and the other with 1.7 remaining on the shot clock, attempting a lob play that only Sharpe could have completed. It’s good to see him back and healthy. Lets just hope it stays that way.
Reath, the Lone Big Man
Doup Reath played the biggest 41 minutes today in the win, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds. The Blazers continue to be shorthanded at the center position, so it was imperative that Reath stay out of foul trouble, but also remain active on the defensive. Reath did both and then some against the Brooklyn front line. He may not be Dikembe Mutombo out there, but he does affect shots at the rim.
I was also impressed with his boxing out today. Instead of trying to just use his length to get rebounds, he forced guys out of the paint and drew three loose-ball fouls for his trouble. These little things go a long way in an overtime game. At this point, as the season moves into the second half, I want to see Reath develop on the defensive side of the ball. We all know he can shoot the three and has some touch around the rim, but if he can become a decent-to-good defender, the Blazers will have someone they can trust moving forward.
Good Ole Brogdon
Malcom Brogdon looks like the guy at work who has put in his two weeks’ notice. He’s trying to stay in the game and remain effective, but he is distracted by other things and possibly the future of the next workplace. I would say Brogdon was going through the motions for most of the game today until the 1:30 mark of the fourth quarter. The Blazers were clinging to a small lead after being up 7 points just minutes before. Cam Johnson pulled up for a three over the outstretched arms of Brogdon. The ball fell short of the rim, but the refs called a foul, giving Johnson 3 free-throws.
It was then a fire was lit. Brogdon ran over to the coaching staff, demanding a challenge. After a quick look at the replay, he was correct. He did not touch the arm of Johnson. The call was reversed and from then on, it was the Brogdon show. He carried the Blazers in overtime and was back to his old self, leading the young Blazers to a rare road victory.
Brogdon has been the center of trade rumors all season, but it now seems the time is close. He should be traded. He can be valuable to any team trying to win a championship. He has proven that throughout his career, and we have seen it firsthand this season. With Brogdon gone, that will allow the young Blazers guards more playing time to develop. The team will also get back more assets (still being collected from the Lillard trade). Still, it has been fun to see him lead a young Rip City team.
The Trail Blazers play the New York Knicks next on the road, with tipoff scheduled for a little after 4:30 p.m. PST on Tuesday.