After going 0-3 in last week’s preliminary scrimmages, the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies in the first of eight seeding games.
In case you forgot how exciting Portland Trail Blazers basketball can be, their 140-135 overtime victory against the Grizzlies was a quick reminder of the electricity this team brings to the court. Now just 2.5 games behind the eight seeded Grizzlies, Portland controls their fate, in the driver’s seat as they fight for a spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament.
Looking ahead, here are a few things we’ve learned from Portland’s first game since early March.
Despite missing Trevor Ariza and Rodney Hood, the Blazers are the healthiest they’ve been all year, giving their second unit talent and depth that has been missing throughout the season.
After starting in each of his 61 appearances for the Portland Trail Blazers, Hassan Whiteside have been moved to the bench, as Jusuf Nurkić and Zach Collins return to their starting big man roles. Whiteside brings both size and experience to a bench that is filled with youngsters such as Nassir Little, Anfernee Simons, and Wenyen Gabriel.
While all three were available, Portland only used Whiteside, Gary Trent Jr., and Mario Hezonja off the bench. Between the three, they earned 32 points, shooting 10-of-18 as a unit.
Coach Terry Stotts is known for his desire to keep rotations consistent, so it will be interesting to see if the young fellows get a chance make an impact. It seems that with Simons slight dip in performance, and Gabriel and Little’s overall greenness, Stotts is looking for stable reliability from his second unit.
While Portland did not play too many youngsters, Memphis certainly brought the youthful energy, with the league’s youngest roster pressing both sides of the floor all night long. While the Blazers executed the pick-and-roll and were often able to find the open man, Portland struggled with Memphis’ full court press, giving up 16 turnovers on the day.
The Grizzlies certainly made things difficult for the Portland Trail Blazers, but a team of the Blazers talent should not fall into double team traps so easily. Take Memphis’ 8-0 overtime run in 1:17 that brought them back within three as a perfect example of Portland’s need for calm and collected play down the stretch.
Especially in a game where Portland made several errors throughout the night, their veteran presence proved crucial to maintaining composure even when Memphis went on runs or came up with big stops. This was exemplified late in the fourth quarter, as Portland rallied to force over time after being down nine with under five minutes to go.
Instead of the iso-centric basketball we’ve seen from Portland throughout this season, the Blazers had faith in each other, picking apart the Grizzlies in their comeback. Carmelo Anthony‘s two late threes, both off assists, was a great display of both veteran confidence and team trust working to perfection.
With one of eight seeding games out of the way, the Blazers have to be feeling confident. After today’s victory, and the New Orleans Pelicans’ loss to the Utah Jazz, Portland has distanced themselves from the other teams in the hunt for the ninth seed. While the first game was not perfect, Portland arguably displayed the most well rounded versions of themselves we’ve seen all year.
The Blazers next game will be on Sunday, August 2, when they take on the Boston Celtics at 12:30 PDT.