The toughest losses aren’t usually the ones when your team gets blown out. They’re the ones like Portland’s 129-128 defeat Saturday night, when the Trail Blazers – undersized and undermanned – held off the Philadelphia 76ers with their best offensive performance of the season, and lost in the final 2.2 seconds on a corner three by the world-famous Furkan Korkmaz, who came into the game shooting 28.6 percent from three-point range.
The Sixers didn’t even have a lead until 10.1 seconds remained, when they got two free throws from Ben Simmons, whose wacky rotation on his free throws looks like a Clayton Kershaw slider.
But the fact is, the Trail Blazers – as well as they played on offense for about 45 minutes of the game – earned this loss.
Let me count the ways:
- With Hassan Whiteside, Zach Collins, Pau Gasol on the sidelines with injuries, the Trail Blazers were playing a small lineup most of the game. And they were able to overcome the size disadvantage with hustle and grit, owning a 21-point lead with five minutes left in the third quarter. But then the 76ers started getting serious at both ends of the court. They turned up their defense and started ramming the ball inside on offense. It ended up as a layup drill on offense (Philadelphia hit 13 of its 18 shots on the way to a whopping 26 points in the paint in the fourth quarter.) Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers had five turnovers in the fourth quarter and wilted a bit down the stretch.
- Portland had a 125-118 lead with 3:25 left and didn’t get another point until Anfernee Simons’ corner three-pointer with 2.6 seconds to go, that could have been a game-winner. During that scoreless 3:23, Portland missed two layups, a three-pointer and had two turnovers.
- Korkmaz used a solid screen from Al Horford to get a wide-open three that won it for the Sixers with .4 left and Damian Lillard’s desperation three wasn’t close, as the Blazers fell to 0-2 at home.
“They did a good job,” said Portland’s CJ McCollum, acknowledging the Philadelphia defensive effort in the second half. “But we’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the ball. For the most part, we let them get out and run, which allowed offensive rebounds and threes. Overall, I thought we did a pretty good job. I’d like to get a couple of possessions back but up 20, we have to do a better job of closing the game out.”
Indeed, it was amazing how long Portland stayed with the Sixers on the boards. But in the end, Philadelphia finished with a 46-36 rebound edge and a 13-4 advantage on the offensive boards. Points in the point were crazy lopsided, with Philadelphia owning an 84-40 edge.
The Blazers stayed in the game with an outstanding shooting night, particularly from long range. Portland shot 57.7 percent overall and 55.9 percent from three. Mario Hezonja had 11 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in a starting role and Rodney Hood – who suffered a knee contusion in the fourth quarter – had 25 points on 9-11 shooting. Lillard was terrific from the field (11-16 and 8-11 from three) but it wasn’t quite good enough.
“We played such a great game and they just chipped away and got back into it,” Lillard said. “We let one slip. I think the way we lost sucks.”
Terry Stotts seemed to agree.
“It was tough to lose that one,” he said. “I thought we played a really good game, especially offensively. It was really the first game that our offense really got on track. That was good to see against a good defensive team.
“But the reality is, the second half we didn’t do what we needed to do defensively and we had too many turnovers.”