DETROIT – Well, let’s start off by saying basketball can be played much better than it was Saturday night between the Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers. But it couldn’t be played much worse, particularly in the first quarter.
The Trail Blazers, playing without Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum, of course, were certainly due what happened to them in a 99-90 loss to the Pistons. It was the second of back-to-back road games and third of a four-game road trip. And on this night, both the injured starters were missed.
Damian Lillard's shoulders are only so broad.
And even though Detroit played without injured Blake Griffin, the Pistons were a bit too physical for the Trail Blazers.
But let’s start at the beginning – the first quarter – when the Pistons missed their first 13 shots, made just two of their first 20 and missed all seven of their three-pointers.
The Trail Blazers ended that quarter with just a 14-11 lead. Talk about not being able to take advantage of a golden opportunity.
“That was a rough game,” Coach Terry Stotts said, in a mild understatement. “The first quarter was brutal. Neither team really had it going. We had a lot of opportunities in the first quarter to have a bigger lead than we did. We weren’t able to take advantage of it.
“After that, we just struggled offensively. We didn’t have a lot of rhythm. Give Detroit credit – they were really aggressive, defensively. They showed a crowd in the paint. We took the ball to the paint a lot and didn’t shoot a lot of free throws.”
Lillard, who has been carrying an enormous load on his shoulders with Nurkic and McCollum out, played 35:35 minutes and hit eight of his 25 shots. He was 3-for-8 from distance but was foiled on many of his drives to the basket by the physical play of the Pistons, who jostled him around all night at the basket and on pick-and-rolls.
“It was a crazy game, honestly,” said Evan Turner. “It was just wild, in general. Taking 67 shots in the paint and only getting four free throws from that … you feel me?”
Lillard was battered all night and went to the line only four times.
“It was a junked-up game,” Lillard said, “Physical. We didn’t shoot the ball well. I thought, defensively, we were pretty good. We just lost.
“It’s tough. With a lot of misses, it means you’re going back and forth – and it’s physical. But when you’re not making shots, you have to get stops and try to get to the line.
“We weren’t able to do that at all tonight (and then he rolled his eyes in frustration).”
Make no mistake, even though Lillard has been churning out high-quality games night after night, this has been tough on him. He’s got this team on his back.
The Pistons sold out on Lillard on the pick-and-roll, pushing it out further and not worrying so much about Kanter being able to make the next pass to a cutter the way Nurkic did.
“When you are allowed to do certain things, whether it’s legal or illegal, it’s going to make the game harder for any offensive player,” Lillard said. “Especially when they’re having that kind of attention on the ball.”
Kanter played well at the basket, hitting 9-of-17 with 15 rebounds, two steals and 20 points.
But the Blazers ended up shooting just 19 percent from three, with 17 turnovers. And after a 3-for-21 first quarter, the Pistons made 34-of-65 the rest of the game.
Portland meets the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis Monday night to conclude the road trip.