Blazers return with OT win, 140-135
It took a high-wire act, but the Portland Trail Blazers got the win they said they had to have on Friday in their first game at the NBA restart at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida.
Portland scored the first 11 points of overtime, then held on for a critical 140-135 win over Memphis in the first of eight seeding games.
The win pulls the Trail Blazers (30-37) within 2 1/2 games of the eighth-place Grizzlies (32-34).
The second of Portland's eight seeding games is at 12:30 p.m. Sunday against the Boston Celtics. That game can be seen on ABC/KATU and NBCSN.
If the ninth-place team is within four games of eighth place, those two teams will compete for the final playoff spot with the No. 9 team needing to win both play-in games to qualify.
Portland would have fallen 4 1/2 games behind Memphis with a loss, and coach Terry Stotts didn't shy away from calling Friday's game a must-win contest.
"Everybody knew how important this game was. This is playoff basketball for us. And you need that pressure," Stotts said. "The pressure's going to continue, so you can't shy away from it."
CJ McCollum and Gary Trent Jr. hit consecutive 3-pointers to open the overtime scoring, giving the Blazers quick momentum after Portland had to claw from behind in the fourth quarter of a game. Memphis had a couple opportunities to build a double-digit lead.
McCollum led the Blazers with 33 points. Damian Lillard added 29, including several trademark clutch shots with the outcome in the balance. Carmelo Anthony had 21 points and seven rebounds and a series of big plays down the stretch.
Jusuf Nurkic, in his first game in 16 months, impacted the game with 18 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals. He also tied a career high with six blocked shots. Nurkic after the game said he learned one week ago that his 67-year-old grandmother in Bosnia has contracted COVID-19 and is in the hospital in a coma.
Nurkic used his postgame media session to plead with people to wear masks and understand the risks posed by the coronavirus.
Zach Collins, in his first game since the fall, finished with seven points, nine rebounds and three assists.
"Both Zach and Nurk, this was technically thiir first game in months and you couldn't tell it," Stotts said. "They were in the mix. They weren't backing off at either end."
Jaren Jackson Jr. led Memphis with 33 points, Ja Morant finished with 22, after being slowed in the first half, and Brandon Clarke had 21 off the bench.
Anthony hit two huge 3-point shots late in the fourth quarter to give Portland slim leads and played a solid game at the defensive end and on the boards.
"Melo's been in big situations and he thrives in those moments," Stotts said.
The Grizzlies led by nine points midway through the fourth quarter and by seven with just over four minutes remaining. But, the Blazers rallied and retook the lead on an Anthony 3-pointer with 1:23 left. A second Anthony trey, with 37.5 on the clock, put Portland on top 124-122.
Clarke made a difficult tip in to tie the score seconds later.
Anthony had another open look from the right wing bounce off, and Morant dribbled the other way but slipped before he could attempt a winning basket at the end of regulation.
Surviving that, the Blazers pounced in overtime, though they saw their 11-point lead trimmed to three points twice in the final minute of OT.
Lillard scored on a difficult drive to put Portland up 137-132 with 53 seconds left in overtime, and later made two foul shots to extend the margin to six with 23.1 remaining.
DeAnthony Melton scored for the Grizzlies with 14.6 left, but Anthony sealed the win with two foul shots with 12.3 on the clock.
"We just stayed the course. We let our experience take over down the stretch. We just kept trusting each other. Nobody tried to do it all themselves," Lillard said. "We moved the ball on offense. We talked it out on defense. We talked it out in our huddles. We kept our minds in it."
Portland led 68-60 at halftime, thanks to a highly-efficient offense that countered foul problems at the defensive end. Memphis made 23 of 30 free throws in the first half.
Memphis turned up its energy at both ends in the third quarter, outscoring Portland 36-25.
Portland led by 13 early in the third quarter, but Morant came to life after a quiet first half and Memphis charged in front by 11 points before the Blazers closed the quarter on a 10-2 run to pull within three.
"They got on a roll and that happens," Stotts said. "Our offense bogged down a little bit and that fueled their offense."
The game featured six technical fouls, four on Portland as players were whistled for apparent trash talk. Stotts said he didn't know if not having fans in the arena contributed to the technicals.
Portland prevailed despite having most of its frontcourt in foul trouble. Nurkic fouled out in the fourth quarter, and Collins and Hassan Whiteside picked up their sixth foul in overtime. Anthony finished with five fouls.
As a result, Memphis shot 50 free throws, converting 38 of them.
"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," Stotts said. "I thought Dame and CJ late in the game made a lot of good plays, not just scoring the ball, but just making good reads."
Portland finished with 10 steals and had 27 assists on 49 made field goals (on 91 shots). Both teams made 13 3-pointers, but Portland attempted 11 fewer than Memphis.
A key point came with 5:53 left in the first half. Stotts used his coach's challenge to turn an offensive foul call against Nurkic that would have been the center's third foul into two Nurkic free throws to put Portland up 54-42.
Up 68-60 at halftime, Portland had 17 assists on 24-of-45 shooting. McCollum led the charge with 19 first-half points on 8-of-11 shooting. The Blazers had eight steals by halftime and only five turnovers.
Stotts used only eight players, despite the foul trouble. Trent Jr. played 26 minutes and was key in helping contain Morant in addition to hitting 4 of 5 3s. Mario Hezonja played 23 minutes, contributing eight points, four rebounds, three steals and two assists. Whiteside played 18 minutes and had seven points, four boards and two blocked shots.
Both teams knelt arm in arm during the national anthem, which was performed remotely by Portland group The Brown Sisters.
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