At least Portland didn’t fall just short in another one-possession game, right? Unfortunately for the Blazers, though, a second straight defeat at hand of the Memphis Grizzlies looms extra large when it comes to their playoff hopes.
Portland lost to Memphis 120-113 on Sunday afternoon at Moda Center, a final score that made the game seem more competitive than it really was – an especially dispiriting reality for the Blazers given the increasing likelihood of a rematch from last year in the play-in tournament.
The Grizzlies, suddenly, are just a half game back of Terry Stotts’ team in the standings, and now own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Even if Memphis, surging, finishes with the same record as Portland - let alone a better one - the first game of the play-in tournament will take place at FedEx Forum rather than Moda Center.
Not that the Grizzlies appear to mind where they face the Blazers, of course. They were simply the better team on Sunday, playing with the same activity and physicality Portland failed to meet 48 hours ago while keeping pace from three. Memphis shot a hot 12-of-23 from beyond the arc, nearly equaling the Blazers’ three-point output despite launching 15 fewer attempts.
That equation will always be a losing one for Portland against a foe that’s most comfortable in the paint, but even more so when it struggles so mightily elsewhere offensively. The Blazers labored to 25-of-67 on twos, frustrated by Memphis’ feisty defense at the point of attack and relentlessly active help behind the play.
Damian Lillard, hounded again by Dillon Brooks, needed 27 shots to score 23 points, going an ugly 4-of-17 from inside the three-point line. C.J. McCollum enjoyed a bit more success, leading Portland with 27 points on 10-of-21 shooting. Norman Powell added 17 points for the Blazers, while Carmelo Anthony chipped in 12 points off the bench – all from the fourth quarter, when he briefly brought Portland within a single possession of Memphis by draining three straight triples.
The bright spot for Portland, once again, was Jusuf Nurkic. He had 16 points, a season-high 19 rebounds, five assists, and two blocks, especially encouraging numbers considering Jonas Valanciunas played on Sunday after missing these teams' first meeting. Nurkic even went at his fellow behemoth in the post on occasion, too, bumping Valanciunas off his spot for multiple scores.
Ja Morant dropped 28 points for Memphis, shrugging off a slow start to help keep Portland at bay late. Valanciunas scored 21 points, including three triples, and Kyle Anderson scored an efficient 16 points.
The Blazers and Grizzlies, remember, face off again in this week. Given the way the back-to-back at Moda Center went, Portland is no doubt looking forward to a brief respite from Memphis provided by Tuesday's matchup with the Indiana Pacers.