The Portland Trail Blazers probably would have been satisfied with a good performance against the Brooklyn Nets, NBA powerhouses from the East walking into the Moda Center with Kevin Durant and a relatively fresh Kyrie Irving in tow. Against those two superstars, the Blazers pitched a lineup of stalwarts who wouldn’t make the best two-thirds of a league reshuffle in NBA2k. But six double-digit players, a nice run of threes in the second half and fantastic play from a changing cast of potential stars gave Portland a victory few expected, but enjoyed by all outside of Brooklyn.
If you missed the promotion, you can find our quarterly overview here. Once you get the hang of that, here are the other factors that contributed to the game.
Both teams played last night, but the Nets also had to fly across the country to make it to this make-up game. It turned out early. Kyrie Irving was the only Brooklyn player who looked even remotely alert, let alone fast. Turnover and clattered shots typified their game.
Portland fared slightly better, being younger and having to travel no further than their respective front doors. Portland’s misses and miscues came organically.
Unfortunately, it was easier for the Nets to get over their fatigue than for the Blazers to get over their lack of talent. As the game progressed, Portland’s lead dwindled. But for a while, it looked like bravery and luck would lead the Blazers to victory. It turned out that they had to find other ways.
big vs fast
The Nets had two advantages over the Blazers: they were generally taller and their top talent penetrated the stratosphere. But the Blazers were faster and more eager. Portland succeeded when they were able to break fast. As the game progressed, they also translated that speed into a cutting and passing advantage on the half court. Because they were one step faster on site, they came in handy. It’s an ingredient that’s been missing for much of the season.
If you’re wondering how Kyrie Irving will adjust after his long free time, in the face of an erratic schedule, he looked just fine tonight. He was visibly faster than anyone on the pitch and his confidence was as strong as ever. He shot 9-21 for 22 points.
Kevin Durant didn’t destroy Portland’s defenses tonight. He just didn’t care that they were there. Until the fourth period, he could take any shot he wanted. The Blazers made sure he didn’t get knocked down. That was their credit. But most of the other shots were Durant’s prerogative. His 20 points in the first half saved a sloppy start for the Nets. He finished with only 28. Hooray for the closing defense in the final period.
Anfernee Simons was not at the level of his more famous opponents, but he did put some moves on the Nets they have to rewind to believe. Simons has developed a legitimate stop-and-go/hesitation repertoire. If his threes keep falling, he becomes a fright with the ball in his hands. Simons led the team with 23 points on 10-24 shooting, though he only shot 2-11 from the arc. He also had 11 assists and 6 rebounds. Those are Damian Lillard numbers. The Blazers couldn’t have asked for more than he gave tonight.
Robert Covington had another great match with three shooting. He went 5-7 from distance and finished with 21 points. His shots played an important role. The Nets capitalized on Portland’s plan to attack through Jusuf Nurkic. It worked in the first half, but by the second Brooklyn sent an extra man to Nurk on the catch, wiping out all his moves. The ball handler was Portland’s next option. The Nets weren’t afraid that someone else would beat them.
When Covington started stroking threes, it pulled a defender away from the ball. That made Simons more dangerous. Once he was loose, Brooklyn was in trouble. The passes flew everywhere and apparently EVERY three-point shooter in Portland was open. That was to Covington and the first spark he gave to the attack from afar.
Covington wasn’t afraid to rough up Durant on the other side, either. He didn’t stop KD, of course, but Durant will be bruised tomorrow because of RoCo elbows.
Ben McLemore rounded out Portland’s Big 3 tonight, scoring 20 and shooting 5-8 from the arc. As the Nets went through their fourth quarter defensive checklist, they said, ‘Nurkic? Have him. He’s ready. Do we have Simons too? OK, that’s most of our work done there. But wait, Covington hits too. You better keep a man with him. Now I think we… have a little patience. And McLemore? Who’s got McLemore?!? Oh shit.” Benny Mac hit a couple of three-pointers in the closing minutes of the game to quell Brooklyn’s furious comeback attempt. Although the Nets made good plays, the margin never narrowed because of those six crucial points.
The Blazers wouldn’t have made it to their margin in the second half if there hadn’t been a major disparity in free throws in the first half. Every Portland starter except Simons made 4 or more fouls tonight. Nurkic started it with his inner game and it just snowed from there. Portland finished the game 19-26 from the charity line. The Nets attempted only 15 free throws and hit 12.
The Blazers have a tendency to play sloppy, a forgivable trait given their cobbled together lineups. Brooklyn matched them miscue for miscue tonight. The Nets made 15 turnovers and tied the Blazers. They also allowed Portland 15 fastbreak points, although it looked like a hundred. Credit Portland’s nasty defenses, but the Nets also looked like they were in second gear most of the evening, running over speed bumps.
The Blazers embark on an extended road trip Thursday, facing the Denver Nuggets with a 7:00 a.m. start time in the Pacific.