MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Portland Trail Blazers turned up the defense down the stretch to turn back the Grizzlies.
Wesley Matthews scored 21 points, J.J. Hickson added 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Portland beat Memphis 86-84 on Friday night.
Rudy Gay’s jumper from near the top of the key was off the mark as time expired, allowing the Trail Blazers to escape a closely played game that saw nine ties and 21 lead changes.
“I thought we played very good team defense,” said LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 15 points and 12 rebounds for Portland. “We played their tendencies very well down the stretch. We had talked about it all game, about knowing what guys were going to do, and I thought down the stretch we guarded that.”
Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard added 11 points apiece for the Trail Blazers, Lillard also handing out eight assists, as Portland won for the ninth time in its last 12 games.
Marreese Speights had a season-high 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Grizzlies in place of Zach Randolph, who missed the game with flu-like symptoms. Gay had 19 points, but was 8 of 21 from the field.
Marc Gasol scored 12 points and had a career-best eight blocks. Darrell Arthur contributed 10 points off the Memphis bench.
“We didn’t play like we wanted to,” Gasol said. “We let them set their defense and shoot their shots. I think it was more on us than on them.”
Randolph, the Grizzlies’ leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, missed his first game of the season. Speights made up the difference, particularly in carrying the Grizzlies offensively in the third quarter. But it didn’t help Memphis in the fourth.
“We went to Marc and we went to Rudy down in the post, but obviously Z-Bo is the guy that we rely on in the post down the stretch,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “Anybody who loses one of their best players is going to feel it, and we felt it at a crucial part of the game.”
The teams were tied at 80 with 4:05 left, the ninth tie of the game, when Hickson hit one of two free throws. Batum’s 3-pointer with 3:28 remaining put Portland, which never led by more than four, ahead for good.
“We have to be resilient,” Matthews said. “We have players that have been through the fire. .We are full of resilient players.”
Memphis was within 85-84, but Mike Conley missed a layup with 7.9 seconds left, and the Trail Blazers were able to secure possession and the victory as Aldridge split a pair of free throws with 2.1 seconds to go.
Conley’s miss was part of Memphis shooting 23 percent in the fourth quarter, while the Trail Blazers connected on only 19 percent of their shots. The teams were a combined 9 of 43 in the final 12 minutes, the biggest difference coming from Portland hitting a pair of 3-pointers, while the Grizzlies missed their only one from outside the arc.
“The game never really got away until we lost it,” Hollins said, adding that neither team shot well in the second half. “We just could not get a bucket to go in. Three or four attempts at the end when we were down one to take the lead, and we just couldn’t get them to go.”
Memphis carried a 50-47 lead into halftime behind 17 points from Gay, who was 7 of 13 from the field. Gasol had eight points, but already had surpassed his career best with seven blocks in the half.
Memphis had the lead to eight points in the half, but could never extend it to double digits as Batum, Hickson and Matthews were a combined 11 of 18 from the field.
The Grizzlies missed eight of their first nine shots in the game, but finished the half shooting 51 percent, while Portland was at 46 percent.
Speights picked up the offensive pace for Memphis in the third quarter, scoring 16 of the Grizzlies’ 22 points.
“I just tried to go out there and play hard and attack the goal when my teammates threw me the ball,” Speights said.
But Portland was getting its offensive production from several sources. Matthews connected on a trio of 3-pointers, while Hickson and Aldridge helped with the scoring. That allowed the Trail Blazers to enter the fourth tied at 72.
Portland coach Terry Stotts noted Batum’s and Matthews’ work on Gay, holding the Grizzlies’ leading scorer to only two points, missing seven of his eight shots, after intermission.
“We let them penetrate too much in the first half. They got in the paint far too often,” Stotts said, then adding that Batum and Matthews took it upon themselves to hinder those opportunities in the second half.
“Both those guys really took the challenge to guard (Gay) on every possession. They made it tough on him,” Stotts said.
NOTES: Memphis G Jerryd Bayless returned after leaving Wednesday’s game at Boston with a left ankle sprain. .The Trail Blazers, whose bench averages only 17.7 points a game, the worst in the league, contributed only nine points against Memphis. . Aldridge made five free throws in the game, putting him past Kevin Duckworth for 10th place on franchise list in that category. . Gasol’s previous career high was six blocks at Phoenix on Dec. 12. ... Former Memphis Tiger Will Barton got a nice round of applause when he entered the game for Portland. He ended night with four points.