Live from the Moda Center as the Portland Trail Blazers host the Memphis Grizzlies.
We’re talking about playoffs? Things were looking dire for the Blazers just a few days ago, having lost three straight to start a five-game road trip. With the Western Conference playoff race so tight—there are five teams battling for the final four slots—the Blazers were dangerously close of dropping out of the race altogether.
But then LaMarcus Aldridge happened. Aldridge returned to action, perhaps prematurely, after Portland lost in embarrassing fashion to the Orlando Magic. His hobbled presence made all the difference, though, and the Blazers were able to rip off wins against the Hawks and Bulls in back to back nights.
Armed with a little breathing room (three games!), and barring some sort of epic collapse, the Blazers appear locked in to the postseason. Sleep easy, Jim Mora. We’re talking playoffs.
It’s a small sample size, but the Blazers have looked so much better the last two games with Aldridge in the lineup. That’s an obvious statement—Portland is a better team with their best player!—but Aldridge is nowhere near 100% yet. It’s his presence on the floor in pick and rolls that really opens up the offense, allowing easier looks for the perimeter players.
And hey, his return means no more Meyers Leonard, which might be the biggest upgrade of all. Addition by subtraction!
Everything would be golden, but unfortunately tonight’s visitor is the buzzsaw known as the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies are a suffocating defensive juggernaut, one that the Blazers have flailed against. Portland is 0-2 against the grit and grinders this season, and each game hasn't been all that close.
Memphis is one of those five teams fighting for a playoff spot in the West, sitting right on the bubble of making it. That means tonight’s contest has huge playoff implications. Buckle up.
11:40 - LaMarcus Aldridge gets the scoring started with a nice move—faking a shot, putting it on the floor, and pulling up from about twelve feet out. He looks a little healthier tonight, that's for sure. 2-0 Blazers.
9:36 - The good news is the game is tied. The bad news is the Grizzlies still haven't missed on the night. 6-6 Tie.
8:40 - The game was tied, at least. Damian Lillard had two incredibly bad turnovers on sloppy passes, and Memphis was able to capitalize with ease. 10-6 Grizzlies.
6:30 - Wesley Matthews is pacing Portland early with seven points, his last jumper giving the Blazers the lead back. It's still the Z-Bo show, though. Zach Randolph has eight points, and the Blazers haven't figured out a way to slow him yet. 13-12 Blazers.
4:49 - Thomas Robinson is out here trying to guard Marc Gasol and it's going about as well as you'd expect. He's like a kid going against his older brother, getting angry for being younger and smaller. 16-15 Grizzlies.
2:42 - Both teams are missing easy shots at the rim and turning the ball over non-stop. Wait, I thought I stopped watching college basketball a few hours ago? 18-17 Grizzlies.
1:30 - Thomas Robinson with the nice dish to Robin Lopez for the easy basket. Both Robinson and Will Barton have been giving the Blazers meaningful minutes as of late. The Blazers? With an okay bench unit? What world is this? 21-20 Blazers.
0:30 - Mike Miller for three. After watching him hobble around the 2013 finals, it's amazing he hasn't been put out to pasture yet. 23-23 Tie.
0:00 - Not a bad first quarter for the home team. Putting up 25 on this Memphis defense is solid, for sure. 25-23 Blazers.
11:19 - Robin Lopez, working in slow motion. He grabbed an offensive rebound, then hunkered down and waited in the lane until he felt contact. Just hunched over for a few seconds, catching a quick breath. He felt contact, and picked up the and one in the process. 28-25 Blazers.
9:34 - Mike Miller missed his first shot of the night and I'm feeling more grounded. The way he was playing I thought I might have woken up in 2003. 33-27 Blazers.
7:19 - Damian Lillard still hasn't scored tonight, and he's only taken two shots. I'd say it was because he was focusing on facilitating, but he doesn't have any assists either. Huh. No matter, Portland is doing just fine without his contributions thus far. 37-29 Blazers.
5:59 - The Grizzlies look...tired? Disinterested? At this latest timeout, the team just walked back to the bench like they were on a leisurely Sunday stroll. Where were they when I needed to walk my dog earlier, huh? 39-29 Blazers.
5:26 - Mo Williams has eight points, and Dorell Wright has seven rebounds. Okay, bench. We see you. The Blazers are in the penalty for the rest of the quarter, time to attack and pick up some fouls! 43-31 Blazers.
3:58 - It's a good Thomas Robinson game, too. He's got eight points and he's fired up. After that last basket in transition, which led to a Memphis timeout, Robinson let out a massive scream as he passed half-court. He's locked in. The bench is carrying this team tonight. 49-34 Blazers.
1:50 - Coach Terry Stotts with a very conservative timeout. The Grizzlies cut the lead to, shock, thirteen points, and there's something with the defense that Stotts wanted to correct. It can't be much, though—the defense has been doing its job tonight. 53-40 Blazers.
1:24 - For a second it looked like Ed Davis had a highlight block on a Nicolas Batum dunk attempt, but after a closer look on replay Batum just got rejected by the rim. Whoops. 53-40 Blazers.
0:19 - Is there a player in the league better at putting in an offensive rebound without jumping than Z-Bo? 57-45 Blazers.
0:00 - The bench is playing well, the defense is playing better, and the Blazers head into halftime with a decent lead. The Blazers are playing like the team they were in the first half, finally showing signs of life after a few months of mediocre basketball. 57-45 Blazers.
10:50 - Lillard gets on the board for the first time tonight, driving to the hoop for an easy layup. Finally. The Blazers have this lead and they've done it without Lillard, against one of the best defenses in the league. 61-47 Blazers.
8:19 - The seal is broken. Lillard for three, and Memphis needs time. 68-51 Blazers.
7:18 - The Grizzlies ran off five quick points after the timeout, but LaMarcus stops the bleeding with a long jumper. Aldridge leads all scorers with twenty points. 70-56 Blazers.
5:38 - Lillard is alive. First he blew past Mike Conley, one of the best defensive point guards in the league, for an easy layup at the rim. Then he drained a fall away three like it wasn't a thing. That's ten points for the quarter for Dame after failing to score in the first half. 78-60 Blazers.
3:39 - Portland's defense is so much better than it was at the beginning of the season. The offense isn't as great as it was, but it doesn't have to be when the defense picks up the slack. This is the best incarnation of Blazers basketball, and the team that showed up tonight could make some noise in the playoffs. 80-65 Blazers.
2:31 - Holy Will Barton. If your offense needs a jolt, just throw an alley-oop to the swingman. He just got up for a massive dunk, electrifying the crowd after a mini-lull. 82-68 Blazers.
0:53 - Z-Bo with the offensive foul, throwing his elbow directly into Mo Williams' grill. It might have been a bit of a flop from Mo, but anytime Randolph picks up a foul this crowd is going to get amped. 86-70 Blazers.
0:00 - Another strong quarter from the home team, growing their lead behind a scoring punch from Damian Lillard. This team looks unstoppable right now, catching their groove at the exact right time. 86-70 Blazers.
10:43 - A 5-0 run to start the quarter for the Blazers. The Grizzlies are in trouble. 91-70 Blazers.
8:54 - The door is open, but the Blazers can't quite put this one away. A couple timely baskets and it will be all over, but for now the Grizzlies are hanging around. Timeout Portland. Time to settle those nerves and close this one out. 91-74 Blazers.
8:20 - It's not quite nervous time yet, but that Mike Miller three made this a little too close for comfort. 92-77 Blazers.
7:13 - Wesley Matthews drained a three, and the building collectively exhaled. But less than ten seconds later, Mike Conley found his way into the lane and picked up an and one. 95-80 Blazers.
5:54 - Down fifteen, six minutes left, two free throws coming to LaMarcus Aldridge after the timeout, a game tomorrow night in Denver. It wouldn't be surprising to see Memphis pull their starters soon to get some rest for tomorrow's contest.
4:54 - Memphis allows 94 points a game. Portland is already over 100 with five minutes left. There's that offense. 101-84 Blazers.
3:04 - Lillard missed a three by about two feet, Memphis scored in transition with ease. That's a 7-0 run for the Grizzlies, and Terry Stotts needs time to calm his team down. The Memphis defense has found another gear, so the Blazers are going to need to gut this victory out on the defensive end of the floor. 101-91 Blazers.
2:41 - Need a bucket? Give it to LaMarcus. He just worked the clock and worked Z-Bo in the post for an easy two points. Whew. 103-91 Blazers.
1:45 - Aldridge just got hammered on a shot attempt but no foul was called. He hit the deck hard and looks to be holding his hip. (No!) This crowd is going to lose it over that no-call. 103-93 Blazers.
0:22 - The Blazers are trying their best to lose this game. Luckily the clock is on their side. The Grizzlies defense is not allowing a thing, but luckily the Blazers were able to get a couple of stops of their own. Timout Memphis, but this one is all but over. 103-96 Blazers.
0:06 - The Portland defense just denied the Grizzlies, stopping every action until finally Marc Gasol was forced to hoist a desperation three. Memphis got the offensive rebound and scored, but there's not enough time on their side. The Blazers are going to get their third win a row! 103-98 Blazers.
FINAL: 105-98 Blazers. The final score seems a lot closer than it should have been, but the Blazers had this one locked down almost all game. The bench provided a huge spark, LaMarucs poured in twenty-eight points, and apart from a rough fourth quarter the defense was amazing. It's not official yet, but that win all but assures the Blazers will make the playoffs.