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Blazers collapse in fourth and fall victim to Warriors' run in 118-112 loss

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The Golden State Warriors provided Gary Payton II with his championship ring before the game, then gave the rest of the Portland Trail Blazers a knuckle sandwich just after. In a game full of turbulent ups and downs, Portland scrapped a devastatingly slow start and gave themselves a legitimate chance to win, before running out of gas down the stretch in a 118-112 loss.

Despite a 34-point game from Damian Lillard and strong offensive support from Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant, the Blazers were absolutely cold on both ends of the court during the final frame, pushing them to an 18-17 record and in a No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. Below are some thoughts from tonight’s defeat.

A racing game:

Anyone watching tonight’s game could tell that the Trail Blazers were in the middle of a roller coaster ride of inconsistency to the highest degree. But, to put some numbers, just in this game alone, they: (1) had their highest scoring second quarter, scoring 40 in the third quarter, (2) followed up with their second quarterlower fourth, with 16 in the quarter, (3) gave up his first-quarter-high of the season with the Warriors’ 41-point offense, then (4) turned an 18-point deficit into an 11-point lead in the second time … all in the same game, and still lost.

As the saying goes, basketball is a racing game. The team that ends with the final is usually the one that emerges victorious. If NBA games ended in 40 minutes instead of 48, the Blazers would likely emerge victorious; if the games extend to 50 minutes, maybe there will even be one more rally. Unfortunately, when the going got tough, Portland reverted to the worst of their tendencies – isolation ball and uninspiring transition defense – and that strategy proved fruitless against the team-working Warriors.

When Drew Eubanks blocked Jonathan Kuminga’s layup with 4:49 left in the fourth, the Blazers had an eight-point lead and, according to ESPN, a 94.5% chance of winning. Unfortunately, a 41-point game by Jordan Poole and a 31-point boost by Klay Thompson rewrote a story we know all too well: a Warriors run and, subsequently, a Warriors win.

Not your average homecoming:

One could never accuse Damian Lillard of lacking motivation for any game. However, when watching him year after year, it’s clear that specific matchups — Lakers games, battles against similar top-tier point guards, and games against Golden State, against whom his highest scoring average comes — often provide some extra boost.

The final result was not positive in tonight’s game, and Lillard struggled to shake off the defense he was chasing in the Blazers’ fourth-quarter collapse. But that shouldn’t completely undermine how brilliant he was in stepping up his game after Anfernee Simons’ frightening takedown sent him to the locker room early in the third.

Superstars can often feel the need to take control, and in that regard, Lillard rode a limousine, flew a jet, flipped switches, and most importantly, lead chips. Portland didn’t get their first lead until the 10:15 mark of the third, and thanks to the team’s ball orchestration, they positioned themselves with a chance to win.

Adding up tonight’s game, Lillard is now averaging 31.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists for 46-38-93 percentages split over his last five road games against Golden State. In the grand scheme of things, and without a win, it won’t mean much, but it’s noteworthy for the star of the franchise.

Pressing the Snooze button:

One of the teams in tonight’s game was well rested and hadn’t played since Monday.

The other? This was the third game in four nights, all with their best player out. You wouldn’t know it watching tonight, but the Warriors are the latter of the two.

This matchup was ripe for Portland picks to take advantage of an underpowered lineup, even without Jusuf Nurkic in the fold. Instead they told us the game started at 7pm PT; the Blazers didn’t start playing professional basketball until around the 8 hours.

Before you could even utter the words, “Come on Blazers,” the Warriors were so far away they wouldn’t have heard you. In a way only they can, Golden State held a 33-15 lead going into the first quarter. Portland ended up shaking off the cobwebs, finishing with a 25-point opening frame… which wouldn’t have been a problem except that Thompson and Poole single-handedly combined to 29 points and seven 3-pointers.

Golden State just played with more energy, in short. It was as close to a Phoenix Suns version of “Seven Seconds or Less” as you can find tonight. They put Draymond Green in the role of point guard, splitting assists into split cut actions, smaller guard hunts, backdoor cuts, and 3-point transitions, and finally, as a result, the Warriors won the long-awaited guards duel and eventually, tonight’s game.

Other random notes:

  • The Warriors opened up an 18-point lead, as noted, in the first quarter. But they didn’t make their first free throws until the 7:18 mark of second bedroom. The first 16 minutes were complete buckets for them.
  • It was interesting that Jerami Grant – who played a solid game – was not guarding either Poole or Thompson as much as might have been expected in that first quarter. He often guards the opponent’s best perimeter player, even if it’s a guard. Tonight, they mixed it up a bit.
  • Warriors commentators seemed a little displeased with some of Damian Lillard’s free throw attempts tonight, even arguing that, “If his name had been Fred Lillard, he wouldn’t have gotten that call.” Somewhere there is a Mr. Fred Lillard watching tonight’s game wondering what he did to deserve this.
  • The Blazers took an eight-man rotation amid the injuries, with Lillard, Hart and Simons crossing the 40+ minute mark. Those kinds of minutes are only good when the wins go with it.

Next:

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If you haven’t already, check out Dave Deckard’s flash recap of tonight’s game.

The Blazers kick off the 2023 calendar year with a home game against the Detroit Pistons live on Monday, January 2 at 7 pm PDT.

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