Worn Down in Memphis
Even though nothing was coming easily for the Trail Blazers, they somehow managed to build a 17-point third-quarter lead over the Grizzlies in Memphis on Wednesday night. But, as they've managed to do (with and without Zach Randolph) most of this season, the Grizzlies got scrappy and nasty and willed themselves back into the game. They finally overtook the Trail Blazers late in the fourth and won the game 91-85.
The Trail Blazers were riding a hot offense in the first half, were getting key defensive stops, and held a 12-point lead at halftime, scoring 50 points on the league's best defensive team. We mentioned right before the second half started not to expect another 50 in the second 24 minutes from the Blazers. The Grizzlies allow slightly less than 90 points per game, and we found out how they've earned that average down the stretch of this game.
When we previewed this game, we really thought it would be totally decided in the trenches. That's what Memphis does. They don't take many deep shots, and attempt to pound teams into submission in the paint. And, even though Marc Gasol had an excellent game, scoring 23 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, most of the crucial moments in this game were decided by guard play.
For the Trail Blazers, we saw another very solid game by Eric Maynor off the Portland bench. He continues to look more and more comfortable, and more confident early in his career as a Blazer. I'm comfortable saying that if Portland could have somehow landed Maynor two months ago, we could be talking about different goals at this point in the season. He's totally solidified the second unit, and has taken so much pressure off Damian Lillard. Lillard, who was going up against a very good defensive point guard in Mike Conley, had a very good game himself, scoring 20 points on 7 of 11 shooting.
But, Maynor was the main reason the Trail Blazers were able to build a 17-point advantage. He ran the team efficiently, and provided more of an offensive punch than we expected. He ended with 13 points, and had several huge answers to turn back several Memphis runs in the third quarter.
Jerryd Bayless, the former Trail Blazers, was obviously the star for the Grizzlies on this night. We expected it from Gasol and Conley, but perhaps not from Bayless. As Blazer fans know, he always brings energy, but something he didn't have in Portland was an outside-shooting threat. Even this year he came into the game shooting just 32 percent. But, during that important third-quarter run, it was Bayless who kept the Grizzlies in the game, and fueled thoughts of a comeback. He ended 3 for 5 from behind the three-point line, and had 13 big points.
After Bayless started the rally, the rest of the Grizzlies just seemed to wear the Trail Blazers down. Again, this is what they do.
Portland's two point guards helped the Blazers build the lead, hold on for long stretches during a frantic second half, but couldn't ultimately push them over the top in what would have been a huge win. Nic Batum, Wesley Matthews, and LaMarcus Aldridge all shot below 50 percent as a trio, and Portland doesn't win many games when this is the case. Aldridge, who never could find his touch from the outside in this one, ended just 2 for 13, but still fought his way to 10 points, 10 rebounds, and also dished out 6 assists.
Then, there were some crucial missed free throws by some very dependable free-throw shooters. First, Batum missed both attempts on a trip to the line. Then, the same thing happened to Matthews. I haven't gone through each game to look, but I can just about guarantee that hasn't happened in a game yet this season. The Blazers, as a team, shot just 11 for 18 from the line. A few more converted trips and we're talking about a Portland win.
Back to Lillard for a minute, because with his 20 points, he made it an even 30 times this season he's scored 20 or more in a game. Obviously, he leads all rookies in that category. The next closest is Bradley Beal, who has scored 20 or more 12 times.
The fight we expected. A close game we also expected. And, given that Portland had won 9 of the last 11 at the FedEx Forum, I understand if you also expected a win. But, even without ZBo, this is a very good Memphis team. With their win, they improved to 40-19 on the season.
Next up on this trip, it's a team that's much better- the San Antonio Spurs. Expect a close, hard-fought game again? Of course we do. Even if a trip to the playoffs won't be the end reward for what's been an entertaining and surprising season, this team always makes it entertaining and interesting.
On this night, that just wasn't quite enough.
Talk to you from Texas.