Portland Trail Blazers blow out Memphis behind second-half defense
If the Portland Trail Blazers are serious this time about getting serious on defense, their game Wednesday might have been exhibit A.
In a 116-96 win over the visiting Memphis Grizzlies at Moda Center, the Trail Blazers held the Grizzlies to only 39 second-half points to pull away after trailing 57-51 at halftime.
In head coach Chauncey Billups' eyes, it was all about focusing on the game plan.
But now the challenge is trying to do it night in and night out.
"I think the game against Phoenix was very similar to this, we played a full game of great defense against Phoenix," Damian Lillard said, referring to a 134-105 win over the Suns. "To hold (Memphis) to 39 in the second half, that just shows our defense trending in the right direction over the course of a game, which we haven't had.
"I think for us it's a matter of being that team all the time."
Lillard showed it himself by helping hold Grizzlies star Ja Morant, who entered the night with an NBA-best 35 points per game, to only 17 points. Morant did come up one rebound shy of a triple-double though with 10 assists and nine boards.
Still, the point was proven in black and white Wednesday: Playing good defense makes winning games a little easier.
"I thought Dame was great in his defense on Ja," Billups said. "Not allowing too much dribble penetration, which kills you when you're playing against him (Ja). He's the general, when he plays well, they play well. I thought we did a really good job of locking into the game plan."
Lillard looked to be "back" offensively. At least for a quarter.
The newly minted Top 75 NBA player of all time hasn't been up to those standards to start the season and the first half looked more like the same funk.
criss cross'll make ya pic.twitter.com/EuskOahzNS— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) October 28, 2021
Lillard hit three 3-pointers in the third to get back into some kind of rhythm and finished with 20 points and 10 assists in the win. Portland outscored Memphis 36-20 in the third quarter thanks in part to Lillard finding his rhythm.
The game unwound from there with the starters getting most of the fourth quarter off, leaving some lingering questions still with Lillard.
"I don't think there's anything he did differently," Billups said on Lillard. "Again, I thought he had a great floor game … I'm just happy with what he's trying to give us every single night from just being a point guard period."
Portland didn't need Lillard much in the first half as backup guard Anfernee Simons continued his solid start to the season by dropping 14 first-half points on 4-of-5 shooting from deep.
Memphis matched Simons and more though by knocking down 12 3-pointers in the first half to take the 57-51 advantage in the break.
But the clamps came out in the third quarter when the Grizzlies only managed 20 points while the Blazers opened up the court on offense.
With Lillard hitting shots, the Grizzlies' defense started to respect the deep takes from the Portland star more, opening up back-door cuts and easy pick-and-rolls for Larry Nance Jr, Cody Zeller and Jusuf Nurkic.
The three big men combined for 35 points as Portland outscored Memphis in the paint 44-30.
"I'm just trying to find my way," Nance Jr., who finished with eight points and five rebounds, said. "Tonight I made a concerted effort to try cut back door, be a bit more of a menace on the glass offensively and try to find some twos."
Speaking of twos, the win improves Portland to 2-2 on the year while it drops Memphis to 2-2.
CJ McCollum led the Blazers in scoring for the fourth consecutive game with 25 points.
On a night where shots weren't falling in the first half though, it was defense that kept the Blazers close to allow for a 39-point third quarter to lead to a blowout.
Now it's all about keeping that same approach for another 78 games and developing it into something that's a well-oiled machine come playoff time.
"I thought we played great, I really do," Billups said. "I think this is the level that we can play at, I really do. We were locked in defensively, it's what we need to do. Lock into the things they want to do and challenging them and taking them away.
"We can be a really, really good basketball team when we play the right way."
The Blazers get to exact some revenge on the Los Angeles Clippers at 7 p.m. Friday night at Moda Center. The Clippers dealt the Blazers a 116-86 loss Monday.
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