The Boston Celtics seemed the perfect opponent for Nassir Little to make his case for a permanent slot in the Trail Blazers' rotation. It's no secret Portland lacks quality point-of-attack defenders, and the length, athleticism and energy Little offers compared to most of his teammates suggested he'd see ample time checking the Celtics' stars.
Jayson Tatum exploded for 25 after intermission on Tuesday night, putting the Blazers away for good with a dagger triple over C.J. McCollum in the game's final moments. Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker weren't super efficient, but their off-dribble verve certainly posed problems for Portland, too.
Little's defense, to be clear, played only a small part in the success of Boston's All-Star triumvirate. They just didn't have all that much time to attack him. Little didn't even get off the bench in the second half, and earned just a single seven-minute stint before then.
That relative lack of burn wouldn't have been surprising if Tuesday's game took place a week ago. But following Portland's romp over the Detroit Pistons on Saturday, a game in which Little played almost the entire second quarter at off-guard, Terry Stotts suggested he'd get more regular playing time going forward.
"We'll be doing it again. Like I said with Nas as a 2, he's got good length, he's got good athleticism," Stotts said after the Pistons game. "He still has to learn some of the tricks of the trade as far as guarding perimeter players coming off pindowns, guarding pick-and-rolls. But I think he's capable of doing that, and I think we have to continue to see how he does in that role."
Little, it bears mentioning, didn't occupy that same spot in the rotation the Blazers' next time out. He played 12 minutes against the Miami Heat – of third of them coming in garbage time – compared to double that a day earlier.
It's not like Portland was making life very hard on Jimmy Butler, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro, either. Stotts, like he clearly did against Boston, just felt the Blazers had better two-way options than Little on the wing.
Portland went eight-deep in the second half on Tuesday, a rotation Stotts could largely adhere to under pressure of the postseason. But the Blazers' schedule only gets harder from here; they'll need young legs to finish out the regular season strong.
Little will certainly get more opportunities for playing time. Whether anything he does with them will be enough to earn Little a full-time spot in Portland's rotation, though, is only up to Stotts – and his proclivity for veterans is already winning out again.