Opponent: Boston Celtics (34-30 overall, 6-4 last 10 games)
Offensive Rating: 113.1 (12th)
Defensive Rating: 111.6 (14th)
Net Rating: +1.5 (11th)
Where: TD Garden (Boston)
When: 4:30 p.m. (PST)
Broadcast: NBA TV
Point Spread: Boston -1
Moneyline: Boston -116, Portland -102
- Boston: Jaylen Brown (questionable), Kemba Walker (out)
- Portland: Zach Collins (out)
Primer: Jayson Tatum exploded in the second half of Portland's meeting with Boston on April 13th, scoring 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting, three triples and six free throws after intermission. His final score, a dagger step-back triple over the outstretched arms of C.J. McCollum with just under eight seconds remaining, put the Celtics up four, ending any realistic hope of a Blazers victory.
As recently as 10 days ago, when Portland's season was on the verge of unraveling, Terry Stotts pointed to that game as evidence his team's quality of play didn't align with mounting losses. He wasn't wrong. The Blazers looked like a different team offensively against Boston, playing with constant movement and pace in the halfcourt en route to racking up 31 assists, an easy season-high. Their defense was far from perfect, of course, but at least made life hard on Boston at times, especially in the first half.
The problem for Portland after that was how Brad Stevens further weaponized Tatum as a pick-and-roll ball handler and isolation scorer. He might as well have been unguarded on that game-winning three; McCollum, half a foot shorter than Tatum, had no chance to get an effective contest. It's not like Damian Lillard, guarding Tatum before Kemba Walker set a ball screen to goad a switch, could have done any better.
Whether Stotts dusts off Derrick Jones Jr. or even Nassir Little on Sunday to best matchup with Tatum and Jaylen Brown, expect the Celtics to continually target the Blazers' most vulnerable individual defenders. That meant McCollum and Lillard for stretches of these teams' previous game, but even more so Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter.
Switching 'Melo onto wings with the shooting talent and physical gifts of Tatum and Brown is an objectively losing proposition. Same goes for tasking Kanter with hedging ball screens all the way out to the arc.
Kemba Walker's absence rids the Celtics of not just their best drive-and-kick option, but another ball handler capable of abusing mismatches. The potential sidelining of Brown is just as significant. Though Marcus Smart is an improved shooter and underrated passer, he hardly strikes fear in defenses as a scorer.
Tatum, coming off a 60-point game, is the hottest player in basketball right now, and Portland doesn't have a viable matchup for him in its current rotation. Running double-teams at Tatum is the Blazers' best bet to cool him off, especially if Brown joins Walker on the bench for good.
Can Portland confidently count on back-line rotations being consistent and sound enough to prevent easy scoring opportunities behind the play? Its improved recent defense suggests as much, and Tatum, while making strides as a passer, is still no high-level table-setter.
Bottom Line: If Brown proves unavailable, the Blazers should have the horses to win in Boston. Otherwise, don't be surprised by another close game that comes down to the whims of shot-making in its final moments.