MEMPHIS -- Portland’s late-game execution wasn’t perfect Sunday night, but even with a number of potentially costly errors, they made enough plays late on both sides of the ball to secure just their second win on the road this season against a quality Western Conference opponent.
After getting outplayed in the fourth by the Grizzlies in a loss at Moda Center just four days ago, the Trail Blazers got some measure of redemption Sunday night, outscoring Memphis by eight in the final quarter while making just enough timely plays late to come away with a 105-100 victory in front of a crowd of 15,977 at FedEx Forum.
“I thought it was incredible,” said Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups. “As we know, (Memphis) is a really good team and they’ve been good pretty much most of the year at closing games. Was in a tough dogfight against them a couple days ago and they beat us, they closed it out and we didn’t at the end. I thought we just showed great resolve in this game. It could have went a lot of different ways but we just kept fighting.”
The Trail Blazers are now 13-18 overall and 2-11 on the road this season. The win breaks a five-game road losing streak and makes for the first time in nearly a month that Portland has won consecutive games.
“We are not going to get too excited and look ahead too much, but I think it is great for us to get a win at home the way we did,” said Norman Powell. “And then come on the road and get a gritty win like we did tonight and learn from it. You can always learn from each and every game, whether you win or lose. I think it is good momentum. It is a good way for us to see how hard we have to play, how tight in we have to be, how physical we have to be, and how focused we have to be for the full 48 minutes.”
A close, physical game throughout, neither team managed to get too much separation throughout Sunday’s contest. The Grizzlies took an early 11 point lead as Portland’s offense sputtered in the early going and then went up by nine midway through the third quarter for the same reason. But whether it was Damian Lillard scoring 17 points in the first quarter or Norman Powell going a perfect 5-of-5 from the field for 13 points in the third, the Trail Blazers were always able to keep contact, something that could not have been said of the majority of their road games this season.
Portland entered the fourth quarter trailing 80-77 before a personal 5-0 run for Anfernee Simons gave the visitors a two-point advantage with nine minutes to play. The lead would then change hands nine times, with the teams trading free throws, threes and tough attempts at the basket.
There was Lillard converting a four-point play, his second of the night, to give Portland a three-point lead with four minutes to play. Then a Desmond Bane three gave the advantage back to Memphis, though Norman Powell would answer with a three of his own on the next possession to reclaim the lead. A Bane dunk off a long tip out from a jump ball tied the game again with under two minutes to play.
But in the next minute, Nassir Little and Jusuf Nurkic each got offensive rebounds to save possessions, including one that Nurkic put back himself to give his side a two-point lead with 1:14 to play. Brooks would miss a three on the next possession, with Lillard getting the rebound, pushing the ball up the court and collapsing the defense before finding Powell on the perimeter for a 20-foot jumper.
“It was a big play,” said Powell. “We knew what they were trying to do, Dillon Brooks was being really physical trying to deny (Lillard). He was able to play through that, collapse the defense. I was just trying to find an opening in case he got in trouble, he saw me, was able to kick it out... Steven Adams was running out really hard, shot-faked him, get to my one dribble pullup I practice every single day with my trainer AJ.”
Little blocked a Bane three-point attempt on Memphis’ next possession, though after a kickball violation, Portland made the grievous mistake failing to get the ball over halfcourt in time, an effort that was then exacerbated by Lillard fouling Brooks on a three-point attempt while up four with 9.4 seconds to play, which he described as “probably one of my worst plays at the end of a game that I can remember.”
Though unlike in recent close losses, the Blazers came up clutch at the free throw line, with both Powell and Little converting their trips in order to secure the five-point victory.
“I thought we did some things that we needed to do to win the game, obviously,” said Lillard. “I think you’ve got to come up big, get a stop, get a rebound, make free throws, make some plays, make some shots. I thought we definitely did that and it’s a lot tougher on another team’s floor, especially a good team like (Memphis). But just like last game, I thought we made it a little bit harder than it had to be in moments and I think that’s a part of growth and growing in those moments. This group is new. We got a lot of new guys and we’ve got to get comfortable with each other in certain situations, but we weathered that storm and got it done.”
Lillard went 9-of-19 from the field, 3-of-9 from three and 10-of-12 from the free throw line to finish with 32 points, five assists and five rebounds in just under 38 minutes. The 6-3 point guard out of Weber State kept Portland afloat early, scoring 17 of their first 22 points.
“Our coaches, they’ve been on me about at the start of games, come out in attack mode, come out and just be super aggressive,” said Lillard. “That’s what’s going to get our team going. I’ve just been trying to come out and be aggressive and do just that and I think when you do that, teams are going to come at me harder.”
Powell scored 20 of his 28 points in the second half to go with four assists, three rebounds and a block in 35 minutes.
“I was just making the play in front of me,” said Powell. “The first half I was a little sped up, losing the ball on cuts. I was just kind of out of it a little bit, just feeling the game out. I just wanted to be aggressive and make the plays in front of me. I was staying in the present and reading what the defense was giving me. Dame (Damian Lillard) draws a lot of attention and he made some great passes out to me for open threes. I was taking my shot and trusting the work that I put in, but just trying to make winning plays in the second half and trying to make something happen on both ends of the ball.”
Nassir Little turned in one of the best all-around performances of his career, playing over 35 minutes while finishing with 12 points, nine rebounds, including four on the offensive glass, three assists, two blocks and a steal.
Robert Covington scored 13 points off the bench on 5-of-7 shooting while also tallying eight rebounds and four blocks in 33 minutes. Jusuf Nurkic came close to a double-double with nine points and 11 rebounds in 33 minutes. Larry Nance Jr. also snatched 11 rebounds to go with two points, two assists, two steals and two blocks.
Dillon Brooks led all scorers with a career-high 37 points in the losing effort.
Next up, the Trail Blazers head to the Big Easy to face the Pelicans Monday night at Smoothie King Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.