Royce O’Neale beats Blazers and gives net victory 109-107
The Portland Trail Blazers couldn’t continue the common theme of their season so far — late game heroics — as the Brooklyn Nets did just enough to win in Portland on Thursday night. Kevin Durant led the brigade with 35 points. Five of his teammates answered the call alongside him, scoring in double figures.
In the wake of some press conferences that raised the ante, namely the use of the full names of his teammates when deflecting over their eye-opening loss to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night, as well as comments about his leadership, the entire Nets squad came out as if they had something to prove , earning the win. They had to scratch and claw for it.
The Blazers were riding high before this game after claiming possession of the number one seed in the West. While they started the game slowly, they picked things up and transferred the lead as their opponents overcame widespread upsets. Watching the contest gave you a better feel than reading the box score, as Portland lost most of their head-to-head games. This includes points off turnovers (30-13), shooting from the floor (50.8 percent – 38.7 percent) and assists (32-22).
A late tip from Royce O’Neale sealed the deal, putting Brooklyn in the much-needed win column.
Portland opened the game with three off-ball screens along the free throw line extended, and Anfernee Simons blew a runner off a Jusuf Nurkic dump-off. Going the other way, they started their defensive effort in the worst possible way by giving up a four-point play to Joe Harris. The next possession down, O’Neale galloped down the court for a layup over the outstretched arms of Jusuf Nurkic. Brooklyn was the team that came out with a wild card defensive scheme from the start, as Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn called for a full-court press.
Each of the Nets’ first four possessions culminated in points — either from the field or the charity stripe. While this was positive for the KD-led ball club, Simon’s two early fouls within the first 1:24 of the contest were an early blow to Rip City. Jerami Grant’s corner 3 was the first field goal for Portland and got them going.
Joe Harris bombed from distance. He had three triples at the halfway mark of the quarter. The Blazers were able to withstand an early storm from the team in white thanks to Damian Lillard. Whether he pulled a hesitant dribble out of the bag and took Kevin Durant to the post, or rose from 30 feet for nothing but net, it was his contribution that was a key catalyst in Portland keeping it close. KD did a beautiful job of distributing the basketball, making simple but effective passes to the likes of O’Neale in transition, and Nic Claxton off the rim.
Four straight appealing plays forced Vaughn’s hand to call a timeout. First, Shaedon Sharpe dropped the hammer from the lob in transition, ordering everyone to stand up in the Moda Center. Then Nassir Little attacked Durant initially for an easy layup, considering the one mistake on the Texas product. On the other end, Little didn’t want the party to end early, so like a New York DJ, he brought out a crowd favorite: a block attached to the glass that ignited a quick break. Sharpe ran the show and did it all himself, pulling up from 17 for his best DeMar Derozan impression.
The game was tied at 28 after one.
Ben Simmons came out active to start the quarter. He had two close layups as he helped Brooklyn hang on to the lead by a thread. Sharpe went on to say, “hold my beer.” He spotted a weakness in the defense and hit a step back trey. He would continue to lose the ball on the next offensive possession, prompting a Brooklyn fast break. He must have felt it somehow, because when Portland came down, he caught the ball on his left elbow and nailed the trifecta. Damian Lillard fed off the energy and hit a step back triple from the left elbow as well.
For Brooklyn, O’Neale threw a lob at the money to Nic Claxton which he stepped up to the rafters to throw down with authority. Sharpe turned into a walking instant replay machine as he hit another step back 3 from the same spot that gave everyone watching a strange case of Déja Vu. In transition, Durant went through and threw down a Statue of Liberty dunk to keep the lead in the single digits.
O’Neale hit a 3 later, continuing his 3-point streak in every game played this season. It also further cemented his team lead in the division with 36 on the campaign. Brooklyn played good defense but was conventional in its style, easing off the pressure somewhat, although Seth Curry was a man on a mission, still putting pressure on the Rip City point guards at times. Towards the end of the quarter it was all Ladies. He had one of the most exaggerated triples you will ever see. So much so that it drew imitations from teammates on the bench and comments from the play-by-play announcers. It raced home to break the tie and put Portland back up 57-54.
The Blazers went 2-for-1 to end the quarter in a big way. Lillard first cut the baseline and drew the foul, knocking down both. With seven seconds left, he came storming down the field, getting past two defenders before stepping up strong like a grown man for the contested play. Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups opted not to go with a zone for the entire half — something Blazers fans have become accustomed to from their early candidate for coach of the year.
The Blazers led 61-57 at halftime.
The third period began with the Simons Show. Anfernee had a catch and shoot 3 from the top of the key. Anfernee tickled the strings with a triple from the sideline. Anfernee caught the rock and upped the ante with a triple to beat the shot clock. Anfernee went behind the back and took it all the way to the rack, plus the hack. Simons cooked throughout the quarter. He put the icing on the cake with a left-sided layup off the glass when faced with two defenders. The heat check went on two plays too many, as a jump ball and errant layup that rattled off the glass cost Portland two scoring opportunities.
Ben Simmons was nonchalant with a scoop pass to Joe Harris who cut for two. As time went on, Jusuf Nurkic put Yuta Watanabe on his derriere with a clean block on the tip, which was called a foul – a sheer travesty. Damian Lillard likely got away with a foul when he stripped Durant from behind, leading to a fast break “gimme” from Jerami Grant.
Yuta Watanabe gave Vaughn some good minutes. He hit a corner 3, drew a foul and went to the line, had two consecutive assists to Kevin Durant – one for a corner 3 along the right sideline, and the other a two-handed pass to KD who finished plus the injury, ending the quarter by splitting the pair from the charity stripe after being aggressive, hitting a second corner 3 off the feed from Royce O’Neale.
A 28-21 quarter put Brooklyn ahead 85-82 heading into the final period.
The Blazers did well on the defensive glass for the first four minutes of the final quarter. On the other side of the mark, during the same four minutes, Brooklyn entered the bonus with five fouls. Meanwhile, Shaedon Sharpe added a career-high scoring night (finishing with 20 when all was said and done).
Four straight points in the paint from Durant tied the game, then gave Brooklyn the lead once again with just over six minutes remaining. Jerami Grant went on to do something that was once as rare as seeing a UFO, but is now as rare as seeing a UFO, and that is block a Durant jumper. It exemplified his defensive prowess, which has been prized since his Denver days.
Unfortunately for Portland, Watanabe picked up right where he left off from the red-hot third quarter, drilling two key threes. The first was in the top of the quarter, as both teams battled for the lead. The second was more than halfway through, giving the Nets a two-possession lead.
Just when you thought it was a conventional play from Billups, he brought out the hack-a-Ben. Simmons first shared the couple. The second time, and yes there was one more time when Vaughn decided to keep Simmons in, he split the pair up again. He was good at buying himself more playing time and giving his team something on every possession. Watanabe did what he’s been doing all night, connecting on his igniting corner tree that silenced the Moda Center crowd for a moment. Justise Winslow was able to come away with two phenomenal defensive plays. First, he broke off the passing lane and raked in a steal, resulting in a missed patented Lillard lateral 3. Second, out of the inbounds, he drew the foul on Durant, giving the Blazers hope. A loose ball foul against Brooklyn sent Nurkic to the line where he missed one and made the other.
Even rarer than seeing a UFO was seeing KD miss his first free throw after the intentional foul, and keep Portland in it. And keeping up a common theme for the season was a spectacular circus shot from Nurkic, plus the hardware free throw that followed. Game on the line, KD got up and missed the attempt, but there to save the day: O’Neale for the tip to break the hearts of the city of Portland.
Want more analysis of tonight’s match? Follow Ryne Buchanan’s breakdown of Portland’s narrow loss to Brooklyn.
The Blazers will see the Utah Jazz on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m., Pacific, while the Nets will face the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night.