Vintage Melo saved the day, as the Portland Trail Blazers came from behind to beat the Grizzlies in OT this afternoon. Here are three takeaways from the important victory.
The Portland Trail Blazers played well when it mattered on Friday afternoon, as they toughed out Memphis in overtime, 140-135.
Here are three takeaways from the win.
Do not underestimate Nurkic’s influence
I apologize for banging this drum anytime I write here, but it’s almost impossible not to. The impact Jusuf Nurkic has on this team is absolutely astonishing.
All over the court, too. The Portland Trail Blazers have struggled with ball movement all season. Today, they ended the first quarter with nine assists, shooting 13-of-21 from the field as a team. CJ McCollum was superb, but did anyone notice how much space he was working with? That’s Nurk.
Nurk can hold the ball at the top of the key, and open up so many options with his passing. He specializes in the back-door cut, he can palm like Michael Jordan, and lob a pass over the top, and if Dame or CJ want a hand-off, Nurkic is also an elite screener.
The Bosnian’s line today was stacked: 18 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 6 blocks. I mean, come on. Granted, he fouled out towards the end, but this was a ridiculous performance from Nurkic. Offensively and defensively he’s the key, and the Blazers look a completely different team with him out there.
Carmelo Anthony. That’s it. That’s the heading.
While writing up my notes with the game ongoing, Carmelo Anthony was down as ‘solid defensively, disciplined offensively’. He was fine through 3 quarters, but nothing special, with Dame, CJ and Nurkic doing most of the damage.
The final minute though? Oh. My. Word. Melo hit two threes in the final minute, to drag the Blazers right back into the must-win affair. In my ‘X-Factor’ article a week ago, I highlighted Anthony as a player who could potentially throw it back and win a game or two for Portland. Not magically turn into 25 year-old Melo, but a few moments, a few shots, that looked like the Melo of old.
Boy, did we get it. Both in the same corner, both down without not even a shade of rim. Melo is a BIG-TIME basketball player, and in difficult, pressurized situations like that, he knows what he’s doing. This factor can be huge for the Blazers, especially with some bigger games on the horizon.
The Gary Trent Jr. legend just continues to grow
I found it tough nailing this down to just three takeaways. Zach Collins was superb in the final stages, CJ and Dame both showed out when needed, even Mario Hezonja was solid in parts.
But Gary Trent Jr., my word. What a player he’s turning into. He was superb all game, but the guard excelled in particular late on, when Jusuf Nurkic fouled out. The expected substitution was Whiteside, but Terry Stotts went small, and moved Trent Jr. to the 3.
He hit shots (17 points on 5-of-8), and was a defensive stud, finishing with a game-high +20. His defense seems to be getting better and better, and he absolutely locked up Ja Morant in the closing stages, highlighting his dominance with a ridiculous OT chase-down block.
In a year, GTJ has gone from fringe player to critical playoff player, and that sort of development arc needs to be talked about again and again and again. He gives the Blazers that flexibility with lineups, as he’s a plus on both ends of the floor. Guarding Morant is no easy feat, but Trent Jr. seems to make it look that way.