The Trail Blazer’ first game of the NBA restart was only fitting for Disney World. It was a rollercoaster ride but for Portland fans, it had an ending worthy of the Magic Kingdom.
The Trail Blazers overcame foul trouble and spotty defense to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies 140-135 in overtime.
“All in all, I thought it was a good game,” said CJ McCollum, who hit 14 of his 21 shots to lead his team with 33 points. “Especially for our first time playing together.”
This was a big win for the Trail Blazers, given the fact that it pulled them within two and a half games of the Grizzlies in the Western Conference playoff race. And the Portland players and coaching staff did not shy away from the idea that this was pretty close to a must-win game for them.
“In that situation, everybody knew how important this game was,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “To try to sugarcoat it and say, ‘We don’t need this’ -- this is playoff basketball for us. And you need that pressure. And the pressure is going to continue. So you can’t shy away from it.”
The Grizzlies shot 30 free throws in the first half and 50 for the game, which would undermine any defense. Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic fouled out and Carmelo Anthony finished with five fouls,
“We kind of fought foul trouble throughout the game,” Stotts said. “We kind of slowed down in the third quarter, where we were turning the ball over, kind of forcing some things and gave them momentum.
“Give them a lot of credit. They are a really active young team. I was pleased with the way we kept competing. We made some big shots. We didn’t necessarily play with the lead real well in overtime, but it was nice to have an 11-point lead in overtime.
“We finally made some shots. I thought we made some good passes. Spread the court a little bit.
“But to get through that game with Hassan and Nurk and Zach all in foul trouble, Melo had a little foul trouble but we were still able to keep making plays. I thought Dame and CJ, late in the game, obviously made a lot of good plays. Not just scoring the ball but making good reads.”
Portland jumped to a 13-point lead in the second quarter, led by eight at halftime and then fell behind by 11 in the third period. The Blazers still trailed 108-101 with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter.
But the Trail Blazers sent it into overtime with a couple of clutch corner threes from Anthony inside the final 1:23.
Portland then rattled off the first 11 points of overtime and held off a late run by the Grizzlies to record the win.
It was a taxing night for the Portland guards. Damian Lillard played 45 minutes and scored 29 points and McCollum played 46 to get his 33 points.
Lillard was stretching his legs on the sidelines frequently and was fighting off pain most of the game.
“At the beginning of every season, I always have a little bit of issues and soreness with not my groin, but right above it, where the muscle that attaches my pelvic bone to my abs,” Lillard said. “In the first quarter, I kind of exploded and got around somebody and he bumped me and I kind of caught my balance and I jumped to let a ball in. I think I just overextended, so it was just irritating from the first quarter on.”
And the pain didn’t go away.
“It was pretty much the same the whole time,” Lillard said. “On the sideline, I was doing stretches and riding a bike to try to keep it as loose as possible. If I had just sat in my seat I think it would have tightened up a little too much. I wasn’t going to sit out.”
But he was satisfied with how his team played, especially with the game on the line.
“We all knew coming in it was going to be a battle,” he said. “They are really a high energy young team that plays fast. They play hard.
“We just let our experience take over down the stretch and kept trusting each other. We kept our minds in it. And once it came down to it, I think we were the team that wanted it more.”