Batum, Blazers edge Grizzlies late to lock in 97-93 win

A missing key component in the Trail Blazers’ game plans as of late was play some defense. Too many times we saw opponents drive easily through the paint, guards weren’t cutting to follow their man and the rebounding was off. After being embarrassed in the last home blowout loss, Portland (22-25) had to try to put the brakes on the Memphis Grizzlies (25-20), the fourth seed in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies made it known that this had to be “a must win victory” after dropping the last couple of games. The Blazers throughout played some neat and crisp basketball, by the hands of Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and (a seemingly reborn) Raymond Felton. Memphis shut down the party in the third quarter but big threes and smart plays in the fourth secured a 97-93 for the home team.

For someone who seems to disappear for games at a time, Batum made his presence known right from the start, he contributed the first few Portland points and was everywhere on the floor. Felton lead the charge, hitting Batum for the open three and lobbying some sweet half court lay ups. The Grizzlies were confused, a paint-driven team, they look for most and all their points in the painted area and while they got some good looks they had trouble hitting them. Former Blazer Zach Randolph coming back from injuries made his way back to the starting lineup and was the only shining spot, hitting his first 5-5 field goals. This game was all about the Portland guards and they made the most noise, the Blazers lead 26-20 after one-quarter as Luke Babbitt makes his biggest bucket of his young career, a three at the buzzer!

Go back to the Milwaukee game and we remember the Blazers bench only managed 2-29 field goals in the entire game and they had something to prove when they made their way into the second quarter. Jamal Crawford would hit a couple lllooonnnggg threes and Jonny Flynn saw some early action, playing only four minutes he did what he needed to do, dime two assists and not turn it over. Memphis is the number one team in the NBA in steals and forcing turnovers and managed to do so, hitting Portland hard on the fast break. Again it would be up to the starters to come back and maintain control, the Grizzlies grab a quick lead but Portland maintain a five point, 49-44 lead at the half.

The Grizzlies owned the third and the dreaded feel of another late game meltdown was cooking. Portland start the second half committing four straight turnovers and suddenly Memphis has tied the game. Speedy point guard Michael Conley was the main culprit, finding Tony Allen, Rudy Gay and a hot Randolph take a five-point lead while the Blazers struggle hitting anything. LaMarcus Aldridge was literally a ghost in the first half and it was up to him now to keep Portland afloat. He and Batum were having trouble getting space open as Memphis as onto Batum, keeping him to one field goal attempt halfway through the third. Just as things were about to go out of control and get ugly, Batum and Matthews heat up from downtown and the Memphis lead is only three going into the final. Allen would go berserk scoring 11 straight Grizzlies points, all mainly in the paint to keep things uncomfortably close. More effective shots from the guards, keeping ahold of the basketball away from Conley, Grizzlies’ ineffectiveness to score on plenty of possessions and clutch free throw shooting late ensures a Blazers victory after a Conley desperation three cuts the lead to three, but it would be as close as they could get.

An energetic Nicolas Batum roughed up Rudy Gay for most of the night as he scores 24 Pts, 2 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Blk and 4-8 from downtown and was the man of the night and had nine points in the first quarter. Wesley Matthews had a decent 18 Pts, 9 Reb, 3 Stl game but had trouble getting those stats, he gets recognition for the timely threes he hit as he went 4-8, but had to work hard for them. Raymond Felton’s key job tonight was to keep the sticky hands of Michael Conley away from turning the ball over and he succeeded: 13 Pts (meh), 9 Ast (yeah!), and zero turnovers. LaMarcus Aldridge was not the to-go guy, just 16 Pts, 5 Reb in 40 minutes. Jamal Crawford’s 17 Pts was capped by going 10-10 from the free throw line in clutch time. Job well done.

Hard to consider that the Grizzlies just smashed Portland in points in the paint (48-22), fast break points (12-2), rebounds (41-38), steals (9-6) and total turnovers (POR 16, MEM 13) and still lost. Even all their starters scored in double figures, Marc Gasol with 22 Pts, 9 Reb to lead Memphis. But this wasn’t the game for big men, all the wing guys who have been in hot water as of late did what they needed to do. Portland started the game shooting 51% but dropped to 42% from the field, 10-25 from three and a perfect 25-25 from the free throw line.

With this the Blazers go straight to the airport and will face the Los Angeles Lakers on a back-to-back series, and most of us in Portland will pray to the heavens that they won’t repeat a 37-7 first quarter ever again.

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