Blazers Locked Down By Memphis
By mikebarrett Posted in: Grizzlies
It may not be the most attractive style of play, and I'm sure glad I don't have to watch it every night, but it can be very effective.
The Memphis Grizzlies came into the Rose Garden on Tuesday night ready to show why they have the league's top-ranked scoring defense. Even though they allowed Portland to score 97 points (8 more than the Grizzlies normally give up), their half-court defense was absolutely in control throughout the better part of this game. To Portland's credit, they did come back and to make the Grizzlies a little nervous in the final minute, but it was too little too late, as Memphis posted a 102-97 victory.
The Grizzlies possess a swarming, smothering defense, and they absolutely make you work for everything you get. It turns games like this into slugfests, that resemble two-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football games. Their defense disrupts everything you try to do offensively, and it's very difficult to get into a flow.
The Blazers never really could get much going at the offensive end until a few minor runs turned into a comeback that nearly got Portland to within striking distance in the closing minutes. It didn't have the feel of a game that was decided by only five points (which it was), and that's exactly how the Grizzlies win games. And, they've won a lot of them this way this season.
With the win, Memphis improved to 43-19, and closed to within a half-game of the Clippers for the third spot in the Western Conference playoff race. For the Blazers, the loss made an already-thin margin of error even more razor thin, as the clock continues to tick on their slim chances to make the post season. We said going into the game, given the difficulty of Portland's remaining schedule makes home games practically must-wins, and this was yet another setback.
The Grizzlies remain one of the hottest teams in the NBA, winners of 13 of their last 14 games. The one loss they've suffered during this stretch was a close loss in Miami, a game that saw Zach Randolph suffer a sprained ankle that would keep him out of their next four. They went 4-0 when he was out.
Randolph made his return on this night, and he was effective, scoring 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in his 28 minutes on the floor. Marc Gasol ended with 20 points, and point guard Mike Conley finished with 14 points and 15 assists.
The Blazers were led by LaMarcus Aldridge, who did everything he could to keep Portland in a position to strike late in this game. Aldridge had 28 points and 10 rebounds, and was an efficient 10 of 19 from the field.
Damian Lillard, despite being slapped and clawed at the entire game, made it seven-straight games where he's scored 20 points or more. Lillard had 27 against the Grizzlies, and also dished out 7 assists. It was the 33rd time this season Lillard has scored 20 or more, which leads all rookies by a wide margin. The next-closest rookies to him in that category are Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters, who each have 13 games of 20+ points.
We talked in the pre-game show about how this would be a battle of contrasting styles- Portland's up-and-down tempo and outside shooting, against Memphis' half-court, physical, beat-em-up defensive tone. Clearly, the Grizzlies got the game exactly the way they wanted it, and the Blazers didn't have enough answers.
The one area we said was crucial to Portland's chances was three-point shooting. The Blazers take a lot of long-range shots. When they hit them, they are tough to beat. That would have been the only way Portland could have gotten Memphis' defense to loosen up. But, the Blazers ended the game 5 of 16 from behind the arc, and that just about sunk any chance they had to win this game.
The Blazers shot just 41 percent from the field, and considering the Grizzlies shot 51 percent, it's actually amazing this game was as close as it was.
Even though this isn't a particularly entertaining-style of basketball, the Grizzlies are good enough defensively to give them a shot at a deep playoff run. The question is, do they have enough offense to win a best-of-seven series against an elite team? The next two games for them will be an indicator. They play the Clippers in L.A. on Wednesday night, and then battle the high-flying Nuggets, in Denver, on Friday. That will be the ultimate contrast in styles.
The Blazers return to action on Thursday night when they look to win the season series from the New York Knicks. That game will be available on TNT.