Trail Blazers Four Blanks, Fall to Orlando Magic

Trail Blazers Four Blanks, Fall to Orlando Magic

The youthful Orlando Magic came to the Northwest and handed the Portland Trail Blazers their fourth loss in as many games on Tuesday night. In a 109-106 affair, five Magic players scored in double figures.

Orlando held Portland to its worst 3-point shooting game of the year. They completed a horrific 17 percent from beyond the arc. While Portland put up more rebounds, assists, fast break points and held a 22-point margin in points in the paint, they were otherwise schooled by an Orlando team that led by as many as 19 in the game.

The story of the contest was Orlando’s well-balanced attack. Paolo Banchero kicked off with fantastic offensive play, hitting from several places on the floor. He and Markelle Fultz helped establish an early lead. Moritz Wagner came off the bench and opened up the floor, providing great offense. From the second quarter onwards, his younger brother Franz Wagner took over the game. If this season put him on the map, this game provided the exact coordinates of where he aligns with many of the big players in the league. Wendell Carter Jr. picked his spot and was incredibly effective from the floor as a pillar of consistency from whistle to whistle.

Portland started the game colder than an icebox from a distance. They were neutralized by some of the best help defense seen this season from the Magic. They appeared to have studied film until it lulled them to sleep, as they knew how to abandon the pick-and-roll to limit Damian Lillard’s offensive options and to shut down sharpshooting Jerami Grant on all 3-point attempts.

In the NBA, something always has to give, and as a result of tapping into Lillard and Grant, Jusuf Nurkic broke loose and catalyzed runs of his own. Anfernee Simons was off on the night, and so were the Blazers, who despite a couple of valiant attempts to cut into the lead, couldn’t bring it back home.

First quarter

Banchero wasted no time reminding Moda Center that he was the first pick in this year’s NBA draft, going left and finishing with an underhand layup at the rim. Fultz came down after a Blazers miss and asserted himself as a member of the prestigious club along with Banchero by taking Lillard to the racket with intent. Orlando’s first six points, as well as 10 of their first 13, came in the paint. Portland tried to go to Nurkic down low, as well as cutting to the rim, but Orlando’s youthful and long-winded talent were magnetic on their perimeter defense — especially when recovering from the help defense on the weak side. Their interior dominance led to an early timeout from head coach Chauncey Billups after a meager five points scored in four minutes of play.

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The long ball just wasn’t falling for Rip City for most of the quarter. At the halfway mark, they were 0-7 from deep. Simons was complacent and cold on the outside. Nothing worked for Portland. Banchero continued to cook out of the first timeout, hitting 3-pointers and bullying his way to the racket in transition for two-handed tomahawks with authority. The Blazers’ sets revolved around double screens at the top of the key and inbounds. They put the double screen on or off the ball to free up a man for a highway to the rim.

Jalen Suggs had a Sportscenter Top 10 highlight play, where he ran hard to save a ball going out of bounds along the left sideline, bounced it into the air toward his teammates at half court, continued to cut hard down the baseline where he was the recipient of a beautiful bullet pass . He then faked a jump shot and sent it to the younger Wagner, who stepped up strong for the easy two.

Dame ran into traffic three minutes in and stepped back for a clean 3-pointer from the left wing, where he’s shooting 40 percent according to Second Spectrum. On defense, Orlando forcefully settled out of the pick-and-roll every time Lillard turned the corner. This completely stifled the Blazers offense. It was a near masterclass from the Magic on the defensive end, and they complemented it well on offense. The score at the end of one was 33-20.

Second quarter

Even with Suggs and Cole Anthony in the lineup, the Magic opted to have the younger Wagner bring the ball up and initiate the offense. He got busy. He hit a nice 17-footer from the elbow off the screen-and-roll and followed it up with a running hook shot inside. He even tried to destroy the mind, body, soul, reputation and confidence of Nurkic by attempting a wild one-handed dunk attempt that Nurkic stuffed, defending his pride and all of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the process.

Nurk came down a minute later and pulled off a catch-and-shoot trifecta to cut the lead to 10 and force Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley to call timeout. When play resumed, good defensive play freed Shaedon Sharpe on the break for a conservative two-handed jam, further taking the lead. Before you knew it, the Blazers were on one. 16-1 run inside five minutes and Grant was a big reason for that, grabbing offensive rebounds and loose balls and finishing strong in the cup.

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Hart led the break and fed Grant with a lovely lob that at first appeared to be errant, which Grant caught and finished with swag. The elder Wagner stopped the bleeding with a blank 3-pointer from the death. Let’s give Nurkic his flowers. He was instrumental in Rip City’s comeback. He had 18 points and eight boards on 50 percent shooting from the floor and 7-9 from the charity stripe. To end the quarter, Hart threw a bullet pass outside the inside to Nurkic, who was hacked. He converted one of two at the line. At the half, the Blazers had tied the ball game at 50-50.

Third quarter

Grant treated Banchero like a tower early in the third when he stepped up and finished his layup attempt, leading to another Hart-led layup that resulted in a tie. The scouting report must not have been read on Wendell Carter Jr., because he hit his second 3-pointer of the night with confidence from the left wing. The lead quickly ballooned back to 15 points, and it took a long, long four minutes and 20 seconds for Simons to hit a 30-footer to put Portland on the board. Carter hit a third 3-pointer, and Lillard responded with a rim-run deuce.

The Magic displayed a wide variety of nuances to their game throughout. This young team was about to show the world that they are mature and a star caliber player away from being a special team. Dame wasn’t about to make their party happen at his expense. He found success cutting down the middle for easy paint spots. He even put Cole Anthony on a poster with a vicious one-handed dunk.

To end the quarter, Lillard had the ball with six seconds left. Cornered, every Blazers fan knew what to do, and he did it. He took a one-dribble sidestep to the left, let it fly and it was all money – blue bills at that. 82-73 was the final score for the third quarter.

Fourth quarter

Simons jumped on the launch pad and denied the elder Wagner’s dunk attempt. He led the break and found Sharpe who took it to the post with a foul layup to cut the lead to eight. A Hart and one cut the lead to five. Then something unacceptable happened. Four Blazers were in or near the paint, without a Magic player in sight. A shot went up, and Anthony — the smallest player on the floor — went in for a layup attempt. Fortunately for them, he missed the sharp rabbit, and after the younger Wagner hit a two-pointer, Simons came down and pulled a deuce off the assist from Hart.

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Portland looked to resort to a quasi-2-3 zone within eight minutes, but was burned with a Franz Wagner triple. Carter Jr. continued to put pressure on the Trail Blazers defense by diving hard to the rim off screens and making himself a lob threat.

With the Magic hanging on to a five-point lead midway through the fourth, Fultz rose from the baseline for a 15-footer — a shot he once would have been mocked and mocked for taking — and drilled it. Lillard stepped on his man at the other end and fed Drew Eubanks at the dunk spot for the jam. Then the younger Wagner went deep into the bag and came out with three consecutive buckets. He started his personal 7-0 run with a conventional layup through traffic. He then sped up the next possession with a reverse layup with extra English, before tiring of the inside game and pulling up from the 25 for a straight 3-pointer.

Down by 10 points with 3:31 left, Lillard put his shoulder into Carter Jr.’s chest. and came away with a tough scheme to make it eight. Then Simons made a beeline to the rim and got hacked, converting the and-one attempt into five. The lead hovered between four and six points until the last minute. Down 107-103 with 44 seconds left, the Blazers gave their biggest stop of the game, and then “Dame Time” began ringing in the ears of everyone in Portland like tinnitus. Lillard drew a foul from deep and drilled all three free throws. Portland deployed a full-court press off the pass, hacking Fultz. To the annoyance of all Blazers fans, he hit both from the charity stripe. Down three, that tinnitus returned, and it was louder. Unfortunately, it was not to be. The Magic defense pounced on Lillard, and with three chances to win it, they bricked every single attempt in heartbreaking fashion.


Box score

The Trail Blazers will look to eradicate the “Trail” in their name and establish an early lead that they can hold on to against the Cleveland Cavaliers in their next game. They’ll be going up against the reigning NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week, who made history with a 71-point performance a few games back and just dropped 46 points when he returned to Utah.

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