'Next Man Up' Mentality Makes For Another Win Versus Nets

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- It’s tough to imagine too many figured the Trail Blazers would get a win versus the Nets Monday night at Moda Center. Sure, the Nets were playing on the second night of a back-to-back after besting the Spurs Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn, but the Blazers were playing their second game in as many days as well, even if they didn’t have to fly cross country to do so.

And while their commute to Monday’s game was much shorter, Portland was once again down four starters. Granted, the Nets didn’t have their full complement of players either -- few teams do these days -- though Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin and Patty Mills would generally be considered more than enough talent to best a team that had won just five times in their last 20 games.

But that, as the saying goes, is why they play the game.

The Trail Blazers had all five starters finish in double figures and were able to overcome a halftime deficit to defeat the Nets 114-108 in front of a crowd of 16,379 Monday night at Moda Center in easily their most improbable victory of the season.

“In the NBA, you can never underestimate anybody,” said Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups. “These guys are here for a reason and obviously everybody has different roles. And when your stars are playing, a lot of the guys that have been playing well will play, but it won’t be a lot and then their role will be different. When stars are there, you know you have everybody obviously deferring to the better players, but now, we just hooping. We just hooping so I’m not surprised because I see the work that these dudes put into it every day, every game.”

The Trail Blazers are now 16-24 overall and 14-11 at home this season. They have now won two-straight, something they’ve done just one other time in their last 22 games, and are 1-0 versus Brooklyn this season.

It wasn’t as if the current iteration of the Trail Blazers, with a starting lineup of Anfernee Simons, Ben McLemore, Nassir Little, Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic, entered Monday’s game without confidence after securing a comfortable victory the night before versus the Kings. But considering the Nets, currently the second-place team in the Eastern Conference, are a considerably tough challenge, the prevailing opinion, both among fans and the oddsmakers, was that the Trail Blazers would be in for a long night.

And after holding a 33-26 lead after the first quarter, thanks in large part to 15 made free throws, the Trail Blazers were outscored by 14 in the second quarter to enter the half trailing 62-55. At that point, one might be forgiven for assuming that, after putting up a valiant effort in the first half, the Trail Blazers would lose contact in the second half, something they’d done on more than a few occasions this season.

But rather than folding up, Portland regained their footing. They’d shoot better than 52 percent from both the field and three in the third while holding the Nets to 40 percent shooting from the field and just 1-of-8 shooting from three.

"They scored 36 points in the second quarter, so we wanted to slow them down a little bit,” said Anfernee Simons. “Kevin Durant had a good last few minutes (of the second quarter), he started to get going, but we were able to slow him down a little bit. Robert (Covington) did a good job defending him in the second half... We were playing good team defense, playing hard and making fewer mistakes on defense so that helped us. We were playing together and as one.”

That defense, coupled with their own shotmaking, allowed Portland to outscore Brooklyn by 13 in the third to take an 87-81 lead into the fourth. And while Brooklyn would shoot 52 percent from the field in the fourth, Portland would never relinquish the lead in the final 12 minutes of play thanks to timely shooting from Ben McLemore, Covington’s defense on Durant, Simons’ playmaking and minor but necessary production from the bench.

“I liked everything about that,” said Billups. “Just loved our fight, we competed so hard. On the defensive end, they got two guys there’s nobody in the world can stop so we’ll have an issue with those guys, we’ve got to do a really good job on everybody else. And offensively, just share the ball. Everybody touch it, everybody moving, just sharing."

Simons went just 2-of-11 from three but 8-of-13 from two for 23 points and a career-high 11 assists for just the second double-double of his career. What’s more, he grabbed six rebounds and turned the ball over just three times in 38 minutes.

Covington went 6-of-9 from the field, 5-of-7 from three and 4-of-4 from the line for 21 points, his most ever scored as a Blazer, four rebounds, three steals, two blocks and an assist in 34 minutes.

“Just doing what I always said I'm going to do,” said Covington. “Now that we're short-handed and a lot of guys are out, it's just doing a little bit more. My approach has come a little bit more because like I said, I have to lock in a little bit longer because with so many people out I got to be the vocal point of this team.”

McLemore, getting his second-straight start in place of Norman Powell (health and safety protocols) finished with 20 points -- he scored seven points in the final minute and a half to help ice the victory -- five rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 30 minutes.

Nurkic added 14 points, eight rebounds, three assists and a steal in 32 minutes while Little went for 13 points, five rebounds, three blocks, two assists and a steal in 38 minutes.

Now, after playing 16 of their last 20 games at home, the Trail Blazers now hit the road for a six-game, nearly two week road trip starting Thursday night versus the Nuggets in Denver. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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