It’s not often the Portland Trail Blazers are favored against their NBA opponents, but their Thursday night game against the Detroit Pistons certainly qualified. The Pistons have earned only 7 wins all season. They gutted major portions of their team at the NBA Trade Deadline. A victory in Portland would have been a surprise.
Somebody cue Monty Williams jumping out of a cake, because the Pistons downed Portland 128-122 in overtime despite a career-high 49 points from Jerami Grant
Hot three-point shooting kept Detroit within shouting distance through three and a half quarters, but they won it with size and dominating play from center Jalen Duren, who finished the game with 27 points and 22 rebounds.
Anfernee Simons scored 29 points in defeat. He sprained an ankle and couldn’t finish the game, exiting in the third period. Portland’s lead appeared safe nonetheless, soaring as high as 23 in the middle quarters. But Simons’ absence, coupled with the lack of Scoot Henderson, Deandre Ayton, and Shaedon Sharpe, left Grant as the only scorer down the stretch. He produced amazingly, but Detroit sent the house against him to put a stop to his heroics. Portland failed to respond, failed to rebound, and failed to run as the fourth period flowed into overtime. The 9-man roster of the Pistons, on the second night of a back-to-back, outhustled the Blazers in crunch time and beyond. That proved the deciding factor.
Here’s how the game went.
This game started about as you’d expect from two teams averaging about 10 wins apiece. Neither hit a field goal in the first two minutes of action, despite plenty of trying. When Portland finally converted a layup at the 9:45 mark, the score stood 4-2 in their favor. Ouch.
Then Jaden Ivey went on a huge scoring run (read: hit a three and a layup) with 8:45 remaining, Detroit took a lead, 7-6. Whee.
After that, scoring took off. The Pistons started draining threes like they were going out of style. Portland kept running and made their inside scoring tell. The kick-outs Detroit got off of simple penetration were kind of discouraging—yay broken zone defense—but the effort on offense was impressive for the Blazers.
Forced turnovers and strong rebounding stood the Blazers in good stead as the quarter wound to a close. They were just out-efforting the somewhat-discombobulated visitors. Honestly, the whole affair looked like a series of disconnected plays rather than a coordinated game, a pile of basketball ingredients instead of a whole meal. Portland led 30-25 after one.
The second period began the same way the first had ended, with Jerami Grant trying to bludgeon the Pistons inside, driving and drawing fouls on almost any shot attempt. 10-Day signee Ashton Hagans did a reasonably good job moving the ball. but the plays to Grant were the most successful.
Portland couldn’t get farther ahead, though, owing to their continued issues defending the lane. They played small, without real centers. Coupled with inexperienced or non-defending guards on the perimeter, that spelled a near-constant loss of containment. Detroit couldn’t capitalize fully, though, as they treated the ball like a Crisco-covered Rubik’s Cube. Handing Portland easy possessions after turnovers foiled any plans to close the gap.
A break-away foul on Jabari Walker and a corner three by Kris Murray put Portland’s offense in high gear at the midpoint of the second. Detroit started missing long jumpers, stalling their production while the Blazers soared. At the 5:00 mark, Portland led 53-40. They were headed towards escape velocity with the Pistons apparently carrying the gravity of a gnat.
Simons got his scoring going as the second period waned. Grant continued attacking strong as well. Playing off of the two big scorers allowed teammates open looks. Detroit had no such luck. They held the ball instead of moving it, bailing out into tough attempts against coverage no matter who shot it.
Portland’s lead reached 20 in the final minutes of the half. As intermission commenced, the Blazers found themselves up 71-56, a rare and significant lead at that point in the game. Jerami Grant had 23 points, hitting 10 of 11 free throws.
Detroit hit a couple of threes to start the third, giving them a false sense of hope. But they couldn’t take care of the ball and couldn’t control the paint when the Blazers had it. The energy was up on their side, down on Portland’s, but whenever Detroit got momentum, it was like a duck being handed the keys to a Mercedes. Looks awesome, no idea what to do with it. The lead bounced between 15 and 17 for the first part of the period.
Somewhere around the middle of the third, it became apparent that the combination of Grant and Simons was going to be too much. Ant penetrated and hit long jumpers. Jerami put his back to the basket and took the Pistons inside. Either way, Detroit wasn’t stopping them. Portland’s margin grew past 20 once again.
Free throws and a couple opportunistic plays on Detroit’s side allowed them to slice a little bit off the lead as the third period closed. Miscues kept the effect measured, and Portland still led 97-84 after three.
The Blazers got some bad news at the start of the fourth, as Anfernee Simons was ruled questionable to return with a left ankle sprain. Then they got more, as the Pistons drained a couple of threes to cut the lead down to 10. All night long, hot shooting from distance was the only life support for Detroit’s thready chances. Stroking a couple right away in the fourth was a bad sign.
Free throws kept the Blazers from falling too close to their charging opponent. But Detroit started drawing them too. They got Portland in the penalty with their fifth team foul with a full 9:00 remaining in the period.
When the Blazers needed a boost, Grant was there once again. The Pistons still couldn’t stop him. Steadily, without hesitation or panic. he took defenders inside and torched them. Face up, spin move, it didn’t matter. They couldn’t stop Jerami. When he wasn’t hitting shots, he was sinking charity tries.
The sheer number of foul shots made the fourth period crawl like a banana slug in liquid nitrogen, but no quick bursts of scoring also meant no sudden comeback for Detroit...for a while, at least.
Eventually the Pistons got the memo and started doubling Grant before he could get into scoring position. His trips down the lane started to look like those college fraternity paddling lines, with five defenders taking swings and JG saying, “Please sir, may I have another.” At that point it got scary. Detroit defended, rebounded, ran, and scored with new-found tempo. They got the lead to 6 at the 5:00 mark, 111-105. Portland’s interior defense was a distant memory, their offense Grant or Nothing.
Deep into crunch time, Jalen Duren began to take over, using size in the lane to score repeatedly. Grant’s once indomitable offense became a counterpunch, at best. The Pistons closed it to 4, then 2, 115-113, with 2:25 remaining.
Just when the sweat started to pour, Grant—already having scored 9 straight—backed into the lane and hit an improbable, twisting turn-around for an and-one. That put Portland back up by 5.
It didn’t seal the game, though. as Marcus Sasser hit a three in return. Grant got fouled and hit two free throws, making the score 120-116, Portland, with 1:11 left.
The Blazers needed a stop, but couldn’t get one, as Cade Cunningham hit a step-back at the foul line, leaving Portland up 120-118 with the ball, 53 seconds left.
On the ensuing possession, Grant got doubled and the ball slipped out of his hands, but Portland retained on the out-of-bounds call. Jabari Walker got in Grant’s way on the inbounds play, forcing Grant into an impossible attempt in the corner against the buzzer. It missed badly. Detroit ran it back and dunked. The score was tied, 120-all, with 14.8 seconds left.
The Blazers inbounded to Grant, who was doubled. With no trustworthy point OR scoring guard on the floor, he went to Matisse Thybulle for the bail out. Thybulle tossed the ball back to Grant like it was poisoned. The Pistons stripped it immediately, then ran it back for a wild layup attempt that missed at the horn. Overtime awaited.
Grant opened the scoring in overtime with a mid-range attempt. But on the next possession he was whistled for an offensive foul against a double-team. Then Duren got fouled on an inside attempt where the defense covered late. Portland was beginning to slow down, a bad sign given their relative size disadvantage versus the opponent. Speed was in their favor, bulk in Detroit’s. It started showing up on boards, blocks, and loose balls, to Portland’s peril.
Marcus Sasser hit a three with 3:08 remaining, putting Detroit up 124-122. The Blazers kept going to Grant. Detroit tied him up for a jump ball, then forced a shot clock violation after the tip when Ashton Hagans missed a three, hitting only the backboard.
Matisse Thybulle stole a Cade Cunningham pass on the next possession, but couldn’t score on his own end, one of the rare non-Grant attempts of the last 10 minutes of play.
When Jalen Duren flushed back a Jaden Ivey miss on the next play, Detroit led by 4. Grant missed his next attempt, then the Pistons ran it back for another dunk against the flagging Blazers. Portland’s last-ditch attempt at a win would have to overcome a 128-122 deficit, 1:24 remaining.
It was not to be. Grant missed a mid-range jumper on his next possession, followed by a missed three by Walker, and the clock ran out on the dispirited Blazers.
Stay tuned for extended analysis following the game.
The Blazers will face the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night with a 7:00 PM start.