Blazers go home down 0-2 after backcourt gets dominated again, 97-82
It was done in a different way. There was hope at the beginning. But the Memphis Grizzlies still whooped the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 2 to take a 2-0 series lead to the Pacific Northwest, 97-82.
The Blazers will search for answers. And the questions are the same.
Will their backcourt hit a jump shot in the next game? Is there something wrong with Damian Lillard? Will Meyers Leonard break 20 minutes against a defense that continues to put their offense in a vice-grip?
Portland scored 82 points tonight. They scored 86 in Game 1.
It must be said that Robin Lopez played much, much better in Game 2. And their starting line-up scored much better, scoring 112.9 points per 100 possessions. Yet they gave up 115.4 per NBA.com. The offense was better, their defense was worse after swapping Allen Crabbe for CJ McCollum.
Lopez was active on defense and made his shots. He was miles better than he was in Game 1. And yet, down the stretch, when Portland was trailing by double-digits, it was a bit confusing why Leonard was taken out in favor of Lopez down by 12 with 7 minutes to go. Leonard had hit a few 3-pointers in the game and it looked like he was starting to open things up. Then he got taken out.
The Grizzlies went straight to Gasol on the block against Lopez as soon as Lopez returned and it led to four points on back-to-back possessions. The notion that playing Leonard is some how more of a risk than playing Lopez because of defense does not hold water anymore. Portland has to change the game on Memphis and if living with the occasional mistake on defense is the price to pay for having some 3-point shooting, so be it.
In a game when they did not have Chris Kaman I don’t understand, logically speaking, why Leonard did not get more minutes against the Grizzlies starting line-up. Leonard played 18:28, had seven rebounds (1 more than Lopez) and 10 points. Joel Freeland was the first big off the bench in the third quarter after Leonard had the honors in the first half. And in the first three minutes of Freeland’s short-lived 4:17 stint, the Blazers went 1-for-7.
Memphis’ small units did damage when Leonard was on the court and he may not be the threat that Robin Lopez is on the offensive glass, but Portland’s shooters can’t hit anything, so it doesn’t matter. I’m doubling down on my statement since the end of Game 1 that Leonard should start or at least 25 minutes. And when Portland’s perimeter shooters can’t hit, they desperately need a 3-point shooting threat.
Portland’s backcourt has simply not shown up and the player with the most concerning disappearance is that of Damian Lillard, once again. Lillard was better, but marginally so. He got to the line more, made a few more lay-ups and even got a 3-pointer to go.
Again, Lillard did not make the same shots that he normally makes. He dialed back the bad shots in Game 2 and got to the line more. But he was ineffective everywhere else, grabbing just two rebounds and dishing one assist. Lillard is 1-of-11 from 3-point range in the series and 2-for-12 combined in the paint outside the restricted area and from midrange. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that Lillard is 0-for-9 on his signature above-the-break 3-pointers where he shot 34 percent on the season per NBA.com. His percentage around the rim is also down.
The backlash Lillard is experiencing and will continue to experience if this continues is unfortunately a bi-product of the success that he had so early in his career.
He dropped 31, nine rebounds and five assists in his playoff debut. But this is the price that comes with fame and having the game’s biggest moments become your calling card.
The #LillardTime clock is broken and it’s unclear why. He gets beat up all the time. His back has also acted up multiple times this year during games. I don’t know how much this is affecting him. But it also could be that he’s just having bad games at the time everyone has expected him to rise to the top. But he ain’t the only one on the perimeter for Portland who is second or two behind.
CJ McCollum is bricking midrange shots and lay-ups that were coming easy in his fantastic close to the season. Steve Blake? Veteran leadership? Toughness? He’s getting abused by Beno Udrih at every turn and he has been relegated to the role of a spot-up shooter because he’s been ineffective setting up the Blazers like he was earlier in the year. The diet Steve Nash possessions where he dribbles around the court aren’t working anymore and he’s yet to make a field goal in the series. He didn’t even take one in Game 2. Though putting him on Jeff Green may be a worthy strategy to bait them into trying to go after that match-up (Green was 1-for-3 when Blake was on him in Game 2).
Batum has been Portand’s best playmaker in this series but he can’t buy a bucket either. He also had four turnovers, but at least made some things happen. Aldridge tied Batum for the lead in turnovers with four, which can be considered an anomaly. Aldridge routinely takes care of the ball. Portland had 14 turnovers.
Memphis’ backcourt might as well be the late-80’s Detroit Pistons starring Beno Udrih as Vinnie Johnson.
McCollum, Lillard and Batum were 13-for-44 (29.5 percent). Meanwhile, Memphis’ combination of Courtney Lee, Mike Conley and Udrih were 18-for-31 (58 percent). And if we extrapolate to include both games, the Memphis trio is 35-for-61 (57.3 percent) from the field while Portland’s is 24-for-85 (28.2).
It also doesn’t help that Memphis is abusing them on second chances.
Memphis had 12 offensive rebounds to 11 for Portland. And Memphis had 29 second-chance points compared to 12 for Portland. That’s over two points per possession for the Grizz! Insanity! The conversion rate is reminiscent of what the Spurs did to the Blazers last year. And this series looks like it’s headed for a similar, if not worse, result.
Lillard has to be better. But the same goes for every other perimeter player. And it’s worth wondering that if Blake is out there as a spot-up shooter mostly, whether it’s worth going with Alonzo Gee or more Crabbe in those minutes so that you can adequately switch more on defense. Having Afflalo back will help. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Blake doesn’t play at all in Game 2.
But I thought Meyers Leonard would crack at least 25 minutes tonight. So what do I know?
Portland out-rebounded the Grizzlies. They had more blocks than the Grizzlies. They outplayed their frontcourt. They shot more foul-shots. And what did it get them? Less than 90 points and a double-digit loss for the second game in a row.
The Grizzlies beat the Blazers at their own game. And Portland is still caught up trying to play Memphis’.
Will they change the game on them or will they continue to get caught up being a team they’re not?
Down 0-2, it’s desperation time. A home crowd should help with the season on the line. But the Blazers need a lot more than red LED tube lights and projections of themselves hanging down from white banners. And the Aldridge noise is only going to get louder.
They need to get weird. Because trying playing straight up basketball against the Grizz just ain’t working. We’ll re-watch and analyze again. But at first glance, Game 2 leaves me saying the same thing:
¡VIVA LA REVOLUCION!