Portland entered this game knowing full well that if they won this game, they’d secure the 6th seed in the Western Conference ahead of Memphis. And the Trail Blazers certainly came out with a high degree of pride, sporting their alternate “Rip City” jerseys in an attempt to spark the crowd. And it certainly worked, with the fans fully behind their team, especially in the second half. Memphis didn’t go down without a fight, but in the end Portland achieved their night’s goal, securing playoff positioning thanks to an energetic, consistent effort on both ends of the floor.
Third time is certainly a charm for the Trail Blazers, who for the third time in as many contests posted at least 5 players in double-figures. And just like the first two instances, Portland tasted a victory. If a team has several players that can light it up on a nightly basis (not just 1 or 2), it puts itself in a very good situation to win. Hence, Portland could cause some noise this post-season!
The first half was simply two teams trading buckets amongst each other. Portland won the first 12 minutes 27-25, while Memphis returned the favor in the 2nd quarter by way of a 20-18 score-line, knotting the score at 45 entering the break. That was too close for the Trail Blazers’ liking, and they busted out of the gates in the 3rd quarter, outscoring the Grizzlies 29-21. The 4th quarter was more of the same, as the Trail Blazers continued to hold the Grizzlies at arm’s length, not allowing them to cut the gap closer. The final frame went to Portland, winning the last 12 minutes 28-23 and putting the icing on what was a delicious victory for both fans and players.
Despite missing Tony Allen and Zach Randolph, two of the key players in their late-season playoff push, Memphis kept the game competitive for most of the proceedings. The game’s outcome was still up in the air with 9 minutes remaining in the contest, until Rudy Fernandez ignited a flame under the Trail Blazers with a key three-pointer. This ignited a 7-0 run that effectively put the match out of reach for the Grizzlies. While Portland didn’t necessarily play down to Memphis’s level, they lacked optimum sharpness at times, probably attempting to cope with the energy in the stadium provided by the fans. Either way, a win’s a win, and Portland did exactly what needed to be done.
Among Portland’s double-figure crew were Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum, who came off the bench to provide substantial contributions for the Rose Garden faithful. Fernandez was a total sparkplug, cashing in his coupons from Shooting Gallery Nightmare and firing in 18 points on 5-6 shooting (4-5 from 3-point territory), and adding 3 assists, a rebound, an block and a steal. While Batum may have picked up Fernandez’s discarded coupon himself (he only shot 4-14 from the field), he still dropped 16 points, picked up 5 rebounds, a steal, and 2 blocked shots. They certainly played their part, helping the Trail Blazers outscore the Grizzlies bench 40-29.
The starters weren’t half bad, either. LaMarcus Aldridge honored his long-standing membership in the double-double club, his latest output being 22 points (acquired with 10-16 shooting), 11 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal in just under 29 minutes. Gerald Wallace notched 14 points on 5-11 attempts, pulled down 4 rebounds, and collected 2 assists and 2 steals. Keep in mind that Wallace achieved all his scoring and rebounding numbers in the second half, and that he coughed up 4 turnovers as well, but his second-half performance vaulted the Trail Blazers. Wesley Matthews tallied 13 points, as well as a day’s pass to Shooting Gallery Nightmare, suffering through a 5-16 night (including a grisly 2-12 from inside the 3-point line). He did manage 3 assists, 2 steals and a rebound to make up for that, however.
Not to be outdone, Memphis also had 5 players pour in at least 10 points. Mike Conley continued his impressive season, knocking in 8-13 shots for 17 points, and collected a steal, but dished only 2 assists, which is mediocre for a point guard. Sam Young posted another solid game, for the Grizzlies to the tune of 13 points on 5-9 attempts, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal. Young and Conley’s progress this season can be attributed to the impressive rapport that Lionel Hollins has developed with his players, turning a team with questionable work ethic and misguided talents into a ball-hawking defensive force.
Marc Gasol etched his name in the double-double ranks, managing 11 points and 10 rebounds, as well as a blocked shot and 2 assists. Shane Battier provided a solid touch of offensive power from the bench, converting 4-6 of his opportunities for 12 points, in addition to 1 rebound and 2 assists. O.J. Mayo collected 5 rebounds and 3 assists on a rare start, but he experienced the undesirable nightmare for the Grizzlies, achieving his 13 points on 5-13 attempts. Leon Powe picked up a free pass of his own, because while he only took 4 shots (and bricked all of them), he led his team in free-throw attempts and in turn threw his team’s hopes in the abyss (2-6 from the line).
The shooting numbers were fairly even – Memphis barely managed to scrape a victory in terms of the field goal accuracy (45.6% to 45.0%), and both teams were in a dead heat in three-point success, each shooting 50% – although Portland attempted 6 more three-pointers than the visitors. Where the Trail Blazers had their way was on the charity stripe, hitting 21-23 for 91.3% shooting, while Memphis could only muster an 11-18 performance, translating to 61.1%. The Grizzlies outrebounded the Trail Blazers 42-39, but that was the only other category they held an advantage in. Portland racked up more assists (23 to 16), steals (9 to 3), blocks (7 to 2), and committed fewer turnovers (10 to 15). Those advantages pretty much justified the clinching win for the Trail Blazers.
With this win, and the 6th seed secured, Portland travels to the Oracle Arena to meet the Golden State Warriors for the season finale. I anticipate that the Trail Blazers will utilize their starting five sparingly, if at all, seeing as how the game is meaningless for seeding purposes. Rather, it gives the bench players a chance to prove their worth to Nate McMillan and entrench themselves into the playoff plans for the Trail Blazers, and the starters a degree of rest. Who they’ll play is still up in the air. The Lakers, Mavericks and Thunder are still in contention for the #3 seed in the Western Conference, with the Mavericks being the intended target.