Blazers Have No Answer For Russell In Loss To Brooklyn

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- The Portland Trail Blazers fell to 6-6 overall and 4-4 at the Moda Center with a 101-97 loss to the Brooklyn Nets in front of a sellout crowd of 19,393 Friday night.

“That was a game we shouldn’t have lost but certainly Brooklyn deserved to win,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They outplayed us after the first quarter but particularly in the third quarter. They played harder than we did.”

The loss snaps a four-game winning streak versus the Nets and is Brooklyn’s first victory in Portland since March 27, 2013. The Trail Blazers have now lost consecutive games for the second time this season and are 2-4 in their last six games, with all but one of those being played at home.

In the first quarter it looked as though the Trail Blazers might be on track for a relatively easy victory after their last three games were decided by a total of eight points. Jusuf Nurkić had it going early, scoring 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, and Portland held Brooklyn to 32 percent shooting in the first quarter, which allowed the home team to take a 28-21 lead into the second quarter.

A Pat Connaughton three-pointer would give Portland their largest lead of the night at 34-24, but the Nets would immediately counter with a 13-2 run that would flip to take a 37-36 lead after a D’Angelo Russell three-pointer with 6:24 to play in the first half. While the Trail Blazers would answer back before the half to take a 51-46 lead into the intermission, it would not be the last time Friday night that the Nets would go on a game-changing run.

A pair of CJ McCollum free throws with 7:09 to play in the third quarter would once again swell Portland’s lead to 10, giving many in attendance that perhaps Portland really would pull away this time. But the game would go in the exact opposite direction, with the Nets using a 22-2 run to take a 77-67 lead with less than a minute to play in the third quarter.

“They went on a run in the third quarter,” said McCollum. “Defensively, with the way they play, switching a lot and then on offense, smaller free flowing offense where a lot of different shooters, a lot of different lineups, it’s not your traditional lineup out there. So you’ve just got to do a better job of matching up and just figuring out who to find in transition."

Portland would once again answer back, with Shabazz Napier and Evan Turner each providing a lift offensively to tie the game at 84-84 with 7:10 to play in regulation. A deep three-pointer from Damian Lillard, his first of the night, gave the Trail Blazers a 89-84 lead with 5:40 to play, and again, it looked as though Portland would extend their winning streak versus the Nets to five games.

But Russell had other ideas. The 6-5 point guard in his third season out of Ohio State scored 11 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, and all of those within the last five minutes of the game, to tilt the scales in Brooklyn’s favor.

“I thought (Russell) read the game really well and picked his spots,” said Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson. “Seems like the games where we’ve done well offensively, he’s picked his spots, he waits until the end to really go to work in the pick and roll and before that gets everybody else involved. I thought he did a nice job of balancing that out.”

The Trail Blazers were led by Jusuf Nurkić, who went 10-fo-20 from the field for 21 points to go with five rebounds and an assist despite sitting out the fourth quarter. Damian Lillard added 19 points on 7-of-16 shooting, nine rebounds and six assists in 35 minutes.

McCollum added 17 points with both Turner and Napier pitching in 11.

Allen Crabbe, playing in the Moda Center as a visitor for the first time since being traded to Brooklyn during the offseason, added 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting, five rebounds, two assists and two steals in 30 minutes. DeMarre Carroll added 16 points and eight rebounds.

Next up, the Trail Blazers continue their homestand by hosting the Nuggets Monday night at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.