Everyone in AT&T Center and the many more watching at home knew who the San Antonio Spurs were going to with the game on the line. Good thing for Terry Stotts, then, that the Trail Blazers have a player intimately familiar with DeMar DeRozan.
After Derrick Jones Jr. and Robert Covington spent a lot of time checking the four-time All-Star, Powell shouldered that heavy defensive burden for the Blazers in the final two minutes of Friday's game. The results? DeRozan went 1-of-2 with Powell as his primary defender, hitting a tough floater in traffic with a minute left and missing a well-contested, go-ahead turnaround on the Spurs' last possession.
There were a couple other San Antonio trips where Powell – with the help of Anfernee Simons – forced the ball out of DeRozan's hands, too, none more crucial than the one that ended with a Robert Covington steal.
Needless to say, Powell fared quite well guarding DeRozan as the game hung in the balance. Not that anyone should have been all that surprised given their time spent together up north, of course.
"Down the stretch coach made an emphasis on making sure I guarded DeMar," Powell said after the game. "I always have a lot of fun guarding DeMar in the summer. All the history with being on the same team and him being my vet. Knowing his moves, his tendencies, staying down on his shot fake and things like that. So I take the challenge to guard the best players, and that's definitely guarding him."
The pair were teammates with the Toronto Raptors for the first three years of Powell's career, before DeRozan was traded to San Antonio in summer 2018. In his must-read farewell to the Raptors at The Players' Tribune, Powell calls DeRozan one of his childhood idols and a "big brother," paying him special tribute for sage advice DeRozan gave him when Powell was sent to the G-League as a rookie.
The connections between Powell and DeRozan run deep, clearly, and no doubt played a part in the former's success checking the latter. Unfortunately, Portland won't be able to count on that dynamic when Stotts designates Powell as his team's stopper against other teams.
But if his postgame attitude is any indication, Powell will continue relishing the opportunity to guard the opposition's best player when it matters most, a mindset bound to serve he and the Blazers well going forward.