One of the reasons the Portland Trail Blazers have been so successful this season is they beat the teams they’re supposed to beat. In years past, the Trail Blazers would seem to play at the level of their opponent, resulting in big wins against the best teams in the NBA one night, followed by perplexing losses to struggling teams at the bottom of the standings the next.
But that hadn’t been the case this season, at least not until Saturday night. Despite hosting the Philadelphia 76ers, a team playing the last of a six-game, ten-day road trip, the Trail Blazers loss 101-99 in front of a sellout crowd at the Moda Center.
“Every team in this league is talented,” said Wesley Matthews. “They can play. They have guys on that end that are hungry. They’re playing well. This is now their fourth straight that they’ve won on their road trip. They came in with some confidence; they came in with a chip from our first meeting. Any time you give a team a little bit of life, it’s going to be a game. Unfortunately, our offense couldn’t bail us out again.”
Portland turned the ball over 18 times and shot just 36 percent from the field and 14 percent from three after tying the franchise record for three-pointers in the previous game, a blowout win versus the Bobcats.
‘It was just one of those nights,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “We all had great looks. I had open looks all night. I missed shots. I thought guys had open looks, we just didn’t make shots tonight. You have nights like that. “
Factor in Philadelphia outscoring Portland in the paint 64-36 and it’s not hard to see why the Sixers, a team that entered the game with an 11-21 record, came away victorious.
It looked like the Trail Blazers might get blown out in the first quarter, with the Sixers jumping out to a 16-point early. Philadelphia finished the first quarter shooting nearly 60 percent from the field, taking a 13-point lead into the second quarter.
But Portland would climb out of the hole they dug for themselves, outscoring Philadelphia 31-21 to cut the lead to two before the half.
“After getting down early, I thought, defensively, we really competed,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I thought we had a lot of good looks offensively. We had our threes, we had shots in the paint, we had offensive rebounds, we had transitions. But it was one night I thought our offense kind of let us down.”
Even with their offense faltering, the Trail Blazers were still able to outscore the Sixers 26-17 in the third quarter. Portland shot just 39 percent in the third quarter but held Philadelphia to 29 percent shooting while outrebounding their opponent 18-10 to take a 76-69 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Sixers would slowly cut into Portland’s lead in the fourth, culminating with a 13-0 run that would give Philadelphia a 90-84 lead with 3:43 to play. The Trail Blazers, despite going almost eight minutes in the fourth quarter without a made field goal, would claw back into the game at the free throw line, tying the game at 94-94 after Robin Lopez hit two free throws with 54 seconds to play.
But while they would get back into the game at the line, free throw shooting proved to be their undoing as well.
Matthews, an 82 percent free throw shooter this season, missed what would have been a game-tying free throw with 23 seconds to play. On the ensuing possession, Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams would miss the second free throw after being fouled intentionally. The ball went out of bounds and was originally awarded to Portland, but the ball was awarded to the Sixers after review.
The Sixers would throw the ball to Spencer Hawes at midcourt on the inbounds. It looked as though Damian Lillard stole the pass from Hawes, but he was called for the foul, sending Hawes to the line for two free throws, which he made to the Philadelphia a 99-95 lead with 19 seconds to play.
But the Trail Blazers still had a chance to tie the game after Batum found Aldridge with a lob pass off the inbounds for an easy two-point with less than a second running off the clock. Evan Turner was fouled and made two free throws on the next possession with the Trail Blazers answering with a Lillard layup with seven seconds to play and Portland down 101-99.
Turner would try to inbound the ball to Carter-Williams on the next possession, but Lopez came up with a steal and was able to call a timeout with five seconds to play, giving Portland one more chance to at least tie the game.
Portland got the ball to Lillard, who has been so good in late game situations during his brief professional career, with a chance to send the game to overtime. Lillard was able to get past Carter-Williams for what looked like a relatively easy layup, but the ball rimmed out as time expired, resulting in Portland’s eighth loss of the season.
“We got the look that we wanted to get,” said Lillard, who shot six of 20 from the field to finish with 17 points. “I was able to get to the rim. I’ve got to make that. I missed a shot that I’ve got to make. That’s just the type of night it was.”
Aldridge, who carried the Trail Blazers through a miserable first quarter to finish with 29 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks and three assists.
Thaddeus Young and Turner led the Sixers with 30 and 23 points, respectively. Rookie point guard Carter-Williams, who missed the previous game between the two teams earlier in the season, finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
To compound the loss, Trail Blazers starting small forward Nicolas Batum suffered an avulsion fracture of his left middle finger late in the fourth quarter. Despite the injury, Batum is listed as probable for Tuesday night’s game in Sacramento against the Kings. Tipoff for that game is scheduled for 7 PM.