The Portland Trail Blazers scrapped for three quarters, but couldn’t hold on late in an ugly 93-84 home loss to the New Orleans Pelicans Saturday night.
The Blazers welcomed Deandre Ayton back to the lineup after missing Thursday’s contest, but lost Anfernee Simons, who is nursing a bum ankle he suffered in that same game. Ashton Hagans, who has been on the team all of two days, got the start in his place, marking what might as well be the billionth lineup composition Head Coach Chauncey Billups has been forced to piece together so far this season.
Portland didn’t entirely play like a team that met each other in the locker room right before the game, but there were obvious and expected problems that come when trying to fit in new pieces on the fly. The team shot only 43% from the field and turned the ball over 17 times.
Jerami Grant led the way with 24 points and 5 boards. Ayton added 18 points and 17 rebounds.
The Blazers’ early game plan was to put pressure on the paint, or at least around it. New Orleans boasts a trio of uber-rangy defenders out on the perimeter and Portland wanted no part of challenging that size in a straight-up jump shooting battle. Instead they settled for a probably larger than recommend dose of mid-range isolations and post-ups, primarily by Ayton and Grant.
The result was a lot of work without much to show for it. While Portland plodded their way to hard-fought 18-footers, the Pelicans answered back with easy transition dunks and threes. Brandon Ingram and Trey Murphy III combined for 13 points combined for a pair of triples as New Orleans claimed a 29-24 lead after one.
New Orleans left the door wide open, going scoreless for the first two and half minutes of the period, but the Blazers only managed a pair of Ayton middies during that span. Both teams struggled mightily throughout the quarter, culminating in the rare if the opponent weren’t also so bad, the game would already be over scenario - an sure sign of bad basketball.
Over a six-plus minute stretch, Portland’s only field goals were a pair of dunks by Ibou Badji and a mid-range pull-up by Grant. But after Grant sank a running floater in the lane with two minutes to go, the Blazers only trailed 43-40.
It seemed whenever Portland stumbled, the Pelicans would graciously return the favor as if it were just being polite. New Orleans somehow had worse shot selection in the period (although they were bailed out by a few threes) and gave back just about as many turnovers as they forced.
Still, with everyone but CJ McCollum personally holding the door open and waving a red flag, the Blazers couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity. Portland want 0-6 from the field to close out the half, including a pair of attempts right at the rim in the closing seconds from Ayton and Grant. New Orleans was able to extend their lead to 47-40 heading into the locker room.
Coming out of the break, it was the team’s other new acquisition - Dalano Banton - who would make an impression. After another six minutes of the Ayton & Grant Midrange Experience, and with the Blazers continuing to tread water at 59-50, the former Celtic checked in and provided a spark.
The lanky guard was able to put pressure on the perimeter defense and create movement in an offense otherwise about as stagnant as a middle school dance. Banton scored 5 points down the stretch and assisted on a pair of Toumani Camara buckets as Portland closed the gap to 64-63 heading into the final frame.
Similarly to what happened coming out of the first quarter, the Blazers’ second unit failed to capitalize on any momentum and came out flat. Portland went scoreless for the first two and a half minutes and quickly found themselves trailing by double-digits. After two lackluster offensive periods, the Pelicans finally found their shooting stroke and were able to keep the Blazers at arm’s length the rest of the way.
Stay tuned for extended analysis next!
The Blazers will get a couple days off before hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. Pacific.