The Blazers were missing multiple starters and rotation players due to injuries, but in the void of those absences, Jerami Grant was simply amazing. The veteran scored 49 points to set a new career high. Unfortunately he ran out of gas down the stretch of the fourth quarter and into overtime. Anfernee Simons played a great game of his own, but had to exit after spraining his ankle. This left the Blazers even more shorthanded and forced players out of their normal positions.
The young Pistons, led by Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, and Jalen Duren smelled blood in the water and took advantage. They would lead the Pistons in scoring tonight but it was the play of rookie Marcus Sasser that undid the Blazers. Trade deadline games are often hard to predict, and tonight was no different. The Blazers had a 20-point lead in the third quarter, but the Pistons played like they had nothing to lose and the Blazers couldn’t rely on their normal veterans to close out the game. Even though this was not the result the team wanted, there is always a silver lining. We’ll try to find some of that silver lining in the observations below.
If you missed the game, you can find a quarter-by-quarter recap from our captain Dave Deckard. After you’ve read that, here are the details that defined the contest.
The Defender and the Scorer
The Blazers received multiple phone calls from other teams interested in Matisse Thybulle and Grant. Whatever the asking price was for Portland, other teams refused to match it. Thybulle and Grant are veterans that have contributed all season long, and tonight was no different. Thybulle recorded 5 steals and easily forced 4-5 additional turnovers and deflections. Thybulle is always looking for ways to disrupt the other team and that trait alone makes him a valuable player on a rebuild or in a future trade in the off-season.
On the other side of the ball, Grant can roll out of bed and drop 25 points. Tonight he had that by the end of the third quarter and would finish 1 point shy of 50. I’m assuming every team contending for a championship this season inquired about the long forward, but the Blazers said no. Grant doesn’t fit the timeline of the current team, but he does fill a need at the forward position, particularly with his ability to score the ball. Tonight he literally used every trick in the bag to score, the bag just needed to be a little bigger.
Grant is a professional and seems to genuinely enjoy playing for the Blazers. The team is lucky to have him.
The Forgotten Man
Against the Pistons, Jabari Walker didn’t score 49 points. Walker didn’t record 5 steals and 4 deflections. Walker didn’t connect on multiple threes. Walker didn’t even lead his team in minutes played. Walker may not have led the team in these categories, but he was the reason the Blazers were in a strong position to win the game in regulation.
He is quickly becoming the straw that stirs the Rip City drink. Walker always keeps his head up when driving or when he catches a pass. He is quick to make decisions, and more times than not it’s the correct one.
The offense is coming along, but his defense and hustle have been his super power all season long. Tonight he posted 17 points, a team-high 11 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal. He can also guard 1-5 on the other team, which allows him and his teammates to switch on most possessions. His block in the fourth quarter on Duren after rotating off his man in the corner was a prime example of his defensive awareness and abilities. The Blazers fielded a lot of calls at the trade deadline. If any of them involved Walker, I am certain Cronin hung up the phone.
Who Can Rebuild Better?
The Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers are playing for something different this season and currently Detroit has the inside track. Of course, I am referencing the race to see which team will get the 1st pick in the 2024 NBA draft. There is a lot of season left, and the ping pong balls have to fall your way, but it’s very likely the Pistons and Blazers will each be in the top 5 of the draft.
Games like tonight could be mentioned years down the line as a night where young players like Cunningham, Ivey, Simons, and Walker started their journey toward championship contention. Detroit has been a bad team for awhile now, and our hope is that this rebuild for the Blazers only lasts for a short time. You can start to see the identity form for both teams and it centers around young guards. Both Cunningham and Simons will be cornerstones for each franchise as they navigate this upcoming off-season. The turning point will be the development of Ivey for Detroit and Scoot Henderson for Portland.
Who Wants that 10-Day Contract?
Games played on trade deadline night are always weird. There are so many players being traded that teams are forced to give extended minutes to rookies and G Leaguers. This was the case tonight for the Blazers. Ashton Hagans signed a 10-day contract about 3 hours before the game started, then was asked to run point for the Blazers down the stretch and into overtime.
Before he got to the extra period, Hagans opened the game with hustle, fight, and energy; the calling card for this year’s Blazers squad. Hagans picked up full court and forced a turnover at the 47.9 mark of the 1st quarter. He would score his first points in the NBA on a well-executed Euro step to the hoop in the second quarter. Overall, Hagans logged an unexpected 28 minutes in the game. It was a rough outing, but it’s nice to see a fresh face.
No More Iso
The Blazers are dead last in the NBA with 22.6 assists per game. The low total is a result of young players playing heavy minutes and so many different lineups due to injuries. Ball rotation and hitting the open man comes with chemistry and familiarity. That made tonight’s passing performance standout. The Blazers recorded 29 assists and that doesn’t take into account the hockey assist, the pass leading to the pass. Portland’s improved passing was on display at the 3:13 mark of the second quarter. All five Blazers touched the ball ending with Walker hitting an open Grant for three. It’s this type of unselfish play that is unique for a team sitting toward the bottom of the standings. Grant, Walker, and Simons have been starting several games together and the chemistry is growing. The unfortunate part of the game tonight was that once Simons went out, the passing stopped and the team relied on Grant to go one-on-one. This made the Blazers very easy to defend and wore the Blazers leading scorer out. I won’t say the loss was caused solely by isolation plays, but it certainly played a huge role.
Give This Man More Minutes
Joe Cronin and the Blazers front office decided to stand pat and hold on to their veterans. The contracts of Malcom Brogdon, Grant, and Thybulle go beyond this season, so the Blazers did not need to move them now. This strategy can prove to be worth it down the road, but one of the drawbacks is less minutes for the younger players this season.
Kris Murray is one of those younger players, and it’s time to see what he can do with increased minutes. Tonight he scored 12 points on a very efficient 5-6 shooting. Murray has a natural feel for the game and is active on the defensive end of the ball. His length causes problems and he used that gift to block Ivey on a drive to the bucket and then in the same quarter create a turnover in the backcourt. Murray has potential be a force coming off the bench or a complimentary piece in the starting lineup.
He won’t be able to grow as a player getting 10-13 minutes a game. My fear with keeping all the veterans is that it’ll hold back his development. Murray showed tonight that he can play, and I just hope the coaching staff gives him time to spread his long wings.
The Blazers get Friday off and then are back at the Moda Center to take on old friend CJ McCollum and the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for a little after 7 p.m. PST.