Blazers fall short in big comeback against Boston Celtics, 128-124

by Kevin Nesgoda

The Blazers entered the day only two and half games behind the Memphis Grizzlies (who are playing at the same time as this game) and were playing Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics for the second time this season.

Earlier this season the Blazers did not have an answer for Tatum and the Celtics. If the game wasn’t a blowout there is a good chance that Tatum could have gone for 50+ that game, but he sat out the last 16 minutes of that game.

Today’s game was not much different, Tatum blew up and it looked like the Boston Celtics were well on their way to another blowout win over the Blazers as they built up a 24 point lead in the first half. In the third quarter behind Jusuf Nurkic and Damian Lillard the Blazers actually battled back and cut the 24 point lead down to six and took a lead multiple times late in the fourth, but it was not enough and Portland fell, 128-124 after some questionable plays calls in the final seven seconds.

First Quarter

The Blazers started off the game going right into the paint with Jusuf Nurkic attacking Daniel Theis and then picking up a switch and easy layup with Zach Collins on Kemba Walker. Another Nurkic dunk and the Blazers have six quick points, all coming off great feeds by Damian Lillard. Lillard then found Carmelo Anthony for a three and the Blazers offense was rolling.

The Celtics then started to pick on the Blazers biggest weakness this season, guarding the three point line. Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown began to attack the paint and if they couldn’t get all way way to the basket they would kick it out to a shooter. The Celtics were 5-7 of eight from three in the first seven and half minutes of the game to build out a 26-15 lead.

The Celtics created some mismatches against the bigger Blazer team. With Collins still at the power forward spot on transition he naturally runs to the paint, while Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum flare out on the wings and have easy looks at threes.

Again, it’s like the Blazers did not work on this at all in the four and a half months off. If I were Terry Stotts I would have sent out daily videos of bad three point defense to the whole team. Collins and Hassan Whiteside do not work well together in a matchup like this. The Celtics rarely have less than four good outside shooters on the court. Against a team like Memphis a bigger lineup can be effective, but it’s going to get you killed in a game against the Celtics.

The Celtics abused the Blazers bigger lineup and shot over 60% from the field in the first to build a 13 point lead, 37-24.

Second Quarter

Boston hits a couple of threes to start the second quarter. The Celtics are just abusing the Blazers on the drive and dish. If the whole team would quit collapsing on a drive and leaving four guys open on the perimeter for the Celtics they might not be down 20 points early in the second.

Brad Stevens before the game said they were going try to cause mismatches during transition to open up easy shots. And it has worked, getting easy threes for both Tatum and Walker. The amount of open three point looks that the Celtics have gotten here in the quarter has been insane. The Blazers are not even on their heels defensively and chasing the shooters. They are flat footed and watching the Celtics shoot open jumpers.

The game might already be out of hand at this point and Stotts should use this as a teaching moment for the final six games. Six games that the Blazers are going to need to win.

The Celtics have also done a great job of smothering both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Dame has not had a single open look in the lane and the Celtics have taken away his passing lanes, forcing him into three turnovers. And CJ has just been off. None of his shots have looked good leaving his hand today.

Blazers head into half down 67-48.

Third Quarter

The Celtics hot shooting continued with Tatum hitting a few more shots and Hayward getting his offense going. The Celtics continued to drive and find open three point shooters on the wing. Off any drive the Celtics had the Blazers allowed no fewer than two open shooters.

Stotts made zero adjustments at half.

For the Blazers only Jusuf Nurkic seemed to be the only one who could do anything in the quarter. He either scored the buckets or had the passes that led to buckets. He was able to do whatever he wanted down low against the Celtics bigs.

The Blazers did a good job at getting Theis off of Nurk and letting him go to work against Tatum, Hayward or Brown. Running everything through Nurk allowed the Blazers to start chipping away at the lead. He found Gary Trent Jr. on the wing for his fourth three of the game and the Celtics lead was down to 12 points.

Damian Lillard drew a foul on Marcus Smart toward the end of the quarter on a three point make, he then finished the four point play off to cut the Celtics lead down to six.

Portland outscored the Celtics 38-27 in the quarter and only trail Boston, 94-86 heading to the fourth. Lillard had 11 of his 19 in the quarter.

Fourth Quarter

Damian Lillard continued his hot shooting in the fourth quarter. His two threes cut the Boston lead down to 92-96. CJ follows up a possession later with a three of his own and the Blazers have cut the Celtics former 24 point lead down to one.

A few moments later CJ hit another three to give the Blazers their first lead since the first minute of the game.

Lillard has been amazing in the second half. He took over the guarding duty on Jayson Tatum and slowed him down and started to cary the Blazers on offense at the same time.

Here, Portland stopped covering the transition three again and Tatum and Brown gave the Celtics a lead again. The Celtics have really abused Zach Collins on the defensive end today. They have done a fantastic job of getting Collins into a terrible matchup and then exploiting it.

CJ came back and tied the game up 116, the next possession Gary Trent Jr. hit his sixth three pointer of the game to give the Blazers the lead back. Jaylen Brown came back to hit another big three pointer to give the Celtics a six point lead with under a minute left.

Carmelo Anthony hit a three pointer to cut the lead down to three.

With 6.8 seconds left in the game, the Blazers ran a layup play with Nurkic to cut the lead to 125-124. Portland was out of timeouts and they decided to play the free throw game, which makes zero sense.

Lillard and Nurkic finished the game with 30 points each, Trent had 21 off the bench, CJ and Melo each had 17 and 13 respectively.

Next Up

Portland takes on James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and the Houston Rockets Tuesday night at 6:00 PM.

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