Portland’s guards were outplayed, and at times, probably a bit embarrassed, in consecutive losses to the Grizzlies at the Moda Center last week. They struggled to contend with physical defending, turned the ball over consistently and were ineffective shooting from three.
And then there was the trash talk. While the Trail Blazers might not have appreciated some of the things the Grizzlies had to say both during and after the first two games, they couldn’t deny that Memphis had earned the right to talk.
But in the third and final meeting, the Trail Blazers, especially the guards, got some measure of redemption.
Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Norman Powell combined to score 54 points in the first half, but more importantly, set the tone defensively to lead the Trail Blazers to a 130-109 victory versus the Grizzlies in front of a crowd of 3,427 Wednesday might at FedEx Forum.
“We saw the quote that Dillon Brooks put out about wanting to sweep us and we couldn’t allow that to happen,” said Norman Powell. “They got two on our home floor so we had to come out with an aggressive mindset, defensively and offensively. I thought we were able to sustain that throughout the course of the game.”
The Trail Blazers are now 34-28 overall and 17-12 on the road this season. The win ends a two-game losing streak to the Grizzlies, though Memphis already secured the season series, and the tiebreaker that comes with it, by winning the first two meetings. Portland is now a half game behind Dallas for sixth and 2.5 games up on Memphis for eighth with 11 games to play.
After Portland ended a five-game losing streak by blowing out a shorthanded Pacers squad in Indianapolis on Tuesday night, the question was whether they could turn in a similar effort against against a healthy Grizzlies roster the next night. The Trail Blazers haven’t had much success this season against teams over .500 and have struggled throughout the month of April, so following up a good performance with another was in no way a guarantee.
But between needing a win to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff race and not wanting to lose three-straight games in less than a week, the Trail Blazers, and particularly the three-guard starting lineup, looked sharp on both ends from the opening tip Wednesday night.
“I thought our guards were very good but with Memphis, the way they play, obviously Morant is very important, I thought we did a good job with our pick and roll coverages,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We rebounded the ball well. To me, it’s a five-man defense, so everybody has to do their jobs. I thought the guards worked on the ball, I thought our bigs did what they’re supposed to do in their coverages.”
With Portland playing connected on defense and sharing the ball on offense, they went on a 23-10 run in the final 5:50 of the first quarter to take a 38-23 lead into the second quarter.
The Trail Blazers blew the game open in the second quarter by holding the Grizzlies to just eight points in the paint, 35 percent shooting from the field and 0-of-7 shooting from three. Meanwhile, CJ McCollum scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field and 3-of-3 shooting from three, Powell added eight points and Portland shot 58 percent to go up by as many as 33 before taking a 74-46 lead into the intermission.
Memphis put up a better fight in the third quarter, but after playing so well in the first half, Portland wasn’t about to let the game get close in the second half. The Grizzlies outscored the Blazers by nine points in the third and got the lead down to as “few” as 17 late in the third, though Portland pushed the advantage back to at 20 early in the fourth and were never in danger of falling victim to late-game collapse.
“Some of those younger guys, they don’t know no better,” said McCollum. “They excited, they played hard, they kicked our ass so they had a right to talk, to say some of the things they said, do some of the things they did. And we came on they court and kicked their ass, so that’s what it is.”
McCollum led all scorers with 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from three, six assists and four rebounds in 35 minutes. Powell went 8-of-14 for 24 points to go with five rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal in 37 minutes.
Damian Lillard finished with 23 points, five assists, three rebounds and two steals. Jusuf Nurkic came a rebound away from a double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds and Carmelo Anthony put up 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting in 23 minutes off the bench.
Jonas Valanciunas led the Grizzlies with 19 points. Dillon Brooks added 18 and Jaren Jackson Jr. contributed 13 off the bench.
Next up, the Trail Blazers reach the midway point of a six-game trip with a tilt versus the Brooklyn Nets Friday night at Barclays Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.