3 Takeaways: Blazers come up short after soaring comeback vs. Celtics

After falling behind by as many as 24 points in the first half, the Portland Trail Blazers made an impressive comeback vs. the Celtics, but came up just short in the end. Here are 3 takeaways from the impressive performance from the Blazers.

While I was holding on to some hope that the Portland Trail Blazers might make a second half comeback when halftime hit, I was also preparing my game notes for this article. At the time, my main points were that Damian Lillard hasn’t looked like himself so far in the restart – whether due to his nagging injury or just poor play – and that Hassan Whiteside should be let go this summer. One of those points was further solidified in the second half, and the other completely scrapped.

Hassan Whiteside Needs to Be Let Go This Summer

Hassan Whiteside is a great dude with great character. He is a tremendously skilled rebounder, and an effective shot-blocker. The problem is, he doesn’t seem to be able to keep his focus when he isn’t playing 36 minutes a night.

Before Jusuf Nurkic‘s return, Whiteside seemed to play well in 80 percent of his minutes, and poorly in the other 20 percent. However, now that he is coming off the bench, those numbers appear to have flipped. When Hassan is engaged, he is well worth the $8-12 million that I think he’ll get this summer. However, when he isn’t, he’s hardly worthy of a contract at all.

Late in the third quarter of today’s game, Whiteside secured a defensive rebound with two Blazers streaking down the floor unguarded. Instead of throwing a simple pass up the floor to bring the game within 4 points and successfully complete a 2 for 1 opportunity, he threw the ball straight to a Celtics player 5 feet from the rim, resulting in two points for the Celtics, and a successful 2 for 1 for them instead.

It’s plays like this that really make me think that the Portland Trail Blazers should let Whiteside walk this summer. It’s no secret that Jusuf Nurkic is a better player than Whiteside, and Whiteside simply is not reliable enough to be a backup center in this league. In today’s game, teams need someone who is reliable and trustworthy to play backup center and to fill in when their main center is in foul trouble. Whiteside is neither of these things, and finds himself in his own foul trouble too often to be relied upon.

Unless he turns things around in the next few games, the Blazers should look to bring in a reliable backup center like like Ed Davis, Aron Baynes (UFA), or Robin Lopez (Player-Option).

Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Trent Jr. Are the Real Deal

Jusuf Nurkic finished the game with 30 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and a block. Gary Trent Jr. finished with 21 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal, and block, shooting 7-11 from three and hitting big shot after big shot down the stretch.

While both of those stat lines are amazing, neither do the players justice as to how well they played. Gary Trent Jr. played vicious defense all night and spaced the floor tremendously in crunch time. At this point, he’s really the only player giving Portland anything off of the bench, as only 7 points were scored off the bench outside of his 21.

It looks like he is going to be a great player for the Blazers for a long time, and someone that can do a great job filling in for CJ McCollum when he misses time or gets in foul trouble.

As for Nurkic, I simply cannot comprehend how he is playing so well coming off of the injury that he is. It seriously looks like he is a better player now than he was a year ago. This is something that the Blazers had been alluding to during his rehab, but not something that I, or likely anyone, really believed.

Nurkic has been so patient in his post-ups, and has taken advantage of smaller players every time he has been switched onto. He has shown some efficient three point range thus far in the restart, which will really open up his game down the road should he continue to do so.

While I would once worry about Nurkic making questionable plays down the stretch in big games, he seems to be a smart and trustworthy decision maker now, besides the late game turnover that he made tonight, but it’s hard to blame him in that situation. This improvement probably comes from the plethora of time he had to watch film over the last year and a half.

Portland Trail Blazers Need Defensive Help on the Wing

While I can confidently say that Rodney Hood is a better basketball player than Trevor Ariza, I think that the Blazers miss Ariza more than Hood right now. The way that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown destroyed the Blazers in the first half shows that having Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Carmelo Anthony as your primary perimeter defenders is going to come with a lot of defensive consequences.

The Portland Trail Blazers will have an efficient offense no matter who they play at small forward and power forward, as long as they have Lillard, McCollum, and Nurkic in the game. That trio is just too lethal to stop on offense. While Zach Collins gives them a little bit of defense and offense, the Blazers simply don’t get enough from Carmelo Anthony on offense to make up for he and the other guards’ defensive struggles.

While I have loved what Anthony has done so far in the Orlando restart, I think he needs to either play backup small forward or move over to the four in crunch time so that Gary Trent Jr. can play small forward. He just isn’t fast enough to guard first string small forwards like Ariza can.

Whether it means retaining Trevor Ariza this summer, developing Nassir Little, or signing a defensive small forward in the summer, it is no secret that the Blazers need defensive help on the wing if they want to continue to grow into contenders.

Box Score

Other Notes

  • Despite his great play in the second half, I’m still not sure that he is 100 percent healthy, or even 80 percent healthy for that matter. However, it was great to see that he is healthy enough to be really effective when the Portland Trail Blazers need his scoring.
  • While Zach Collins did have a decent outing today, he desperately needs to work on biting at pump fakes and picking up cheap fouls.
  • I’d like to see the Blazers trap like they did tonight more often. Doubling Jayson Tatum was one of the big sparks for their second half comeback.