The Portland Trail Blazers have one of the best offenses and one of the worst defenses in the NBA. That combination means that they are never out of any game, but they are also not sure of winning one, regardless of the opponent’s quality. The case in question was tonight’s game against the Miami Heat, which did not feature Jimmy Butler and only had nine players. In theory, the Blazers should have handled Miami easily. In practice, the game went back and forth, with Portland scoring a great score but absolutely unable to stop the Heat at the other end. The team with the ball in hand in the last possession was going to win it. It turned out that that team was Portland. The Blazers went away with a 125-122 victory after a small touchdown in the fourth quarter by Damian Lillard and many offensive rebounds from center Enes Kanter. Those sat atop the base of CJ McCollum’s score. McCollum had 35 on the game with 14-25 shooting.
CJ McCollum got off to a great start, hitting three 3-pointers and a mid-range jump shot to put Portland ahead of their exhausted foes. 11 points in the first four minutes is not a bad performance. He would go on to score 14 of Portland’s first 16. Unfortunately, Portland’s defense was the usual soft. Miami shot better than 50% from the floor … no small feat considering their offensively challenged lineup. Fortunately, Portland’s second unit hit 3s, which, as usual, gave them a margin of error. Bam Adebayo had 9 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in the quarter, but CJ’s 21 in the period applied Portland to a 31-24 lead.
Miami sped up from distance to start the second period, a move that causes the Blazers endless trouble every time it happens. A trio of 3-pointers from the Heat brought Portland’s defense to the perimeter, leaving them heavily exposed on the inside. Balloons, dunks, fouls and open shots followed. Portland didn’t stop a tray across the room. Miami took the lead without breaking a sweat. McCollum added 8 points to his total, but Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro were all in double figures long before halftime. Portland still led at halftime, 59-58, but nothing seemed certain.
The Heat were all over the paint in the third period, scoring inside like a layup line in warm-ups. Portland’s defense changed from permissive to shameful monstrosity. On the other hand, when you run lineups that include McCollum, Damian Lillard, Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter, some of that will happen. Portland’s real sin was losing three with a 25% success rate for most of the quarter. But Dame, ‘Melo and Anfernee Simons (twice) hit 3-pointers late to put Portland in close contact after the Heat had gone ahead. A Herro three on the bell gave Miami a measure of revenge, tying the score at 91 heading into the fourth.
The opening of the final period featured both teams exchanging shots, without anyone getting ahead. But then the Heat didn’t hit one, not two, not three, but four triples, which was more than the Blazers could match. Miami opened a 10-point lead – the first double-digit margin for any team – with just over six minutes remaining. Then the initial Portland guards got back on track. Lillard scored inside and out. McCollum took to the lane to lay a layup, immediately followed by Dame. Suddenly, the Blazers led by one again with just under four minutes to go.
The Heat took a three-point lead thanks to Herro, but Kanter regained it with a three-point play after a setback. Miami scored, then Kanter set up Robert Covington for a triple off another offensive rebound. Miami scored again, then Kanter bounced off a McCollum float and scored himself. Every time Miami had the initial defense, Enes denied them the defensive shot. That put Portland up 119-118 with 41 seconds left. Portland never gave up on a possession, but it also failed to defend one.
The game concluded when McCollum hit Derrick Jones, Jr. for a dunk and one, putting Portland ahead 122-120 with 13.9 left. Miami got the last look, but it was early for an Adebayo layup that tied the game at 122. The Blazers had 10.8 to put points on the board and win.
Damian Lillard took that possession, a triple with a single second left. He missed, but former Trail Blazer Trevor Ariza barely marked him on the shooting arm. The whistle blew and Dame took free throws. Hit all three. Miami had no timeouts and was unable to get the ball into the field of a shooter. The game ended with the ball sailing out of bounds on a Lillard lead and Portland secured the victory.
McCollum finished with 35 points, Lillard 22. Anthony had 20 from the bench.
Miami shot 56% from the floor, 47.1% from the arc and scored 52 paint points in the loss.
Stay tuned for the Marlow Ferguson, Jr. review coming soon!
The Blazers travel to Orlando to face the mostly traded Orlando Magic tomorrow night at 5:00 pm Pacific.