PORTLAND — The Memphis Grizzlies defense wasn’t just stingy on Tuesday night, it pushed the Trail Blazers from their sweet spots, stuffed their shots and even snatched food out of the hands of their fans during their 102-97 win at the Rose Garden Arena.
Late in the third quarter, the Blazers’ game operations crew featured a promotion for a fan to win one $20 Subway gift card for every point the home team scored over a one-minute stretch.
Even a single free throw would’ve given the hopeful male fan enough footlongs to last until the end of this week, but that stunt might have worked against any other team except the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Blazers could not fulfill the hunger of that young man during the minute and actually, they couldn’t function offensively for longer spells than that.
In spite of the indication of a close game, the final score did not accurately reveal the flatness of the Blazers’ offense against the Memphis grind.
The Grizzlies held the Blazers to 40.5 percent shooting and handcuffed them to stretches without field goals for 3 1/2 minutes in the third quarter and another 2 1/2-minute pause in the fourth. Memphis blocked seven shots and forced 16 turnovers and the Blazers fell to 29-34.
“It was a struggle to score all night,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.
At least a couple Blazers survived the drudgery.
LaMarcus Aldridge joked that a comment former teammate Zach Randolph made earlier in the day inspired his play.
“Z-Bo calling me his son,” Aldridge said with a hearty laugh.
Although he immediately waved off the remark, there must have some truth to the motivation as Aldridge had a double-double with 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting and 10 rebounds, his best performance against the Grizzlies this season.
Aldridge’s counterpart, Randolph — the Grizzlies leading scorer — returned to the lineup on Tuesday after missing the last four games with a sprained left ankle and finished with 19 and 10.
Besides Aldridge, Damian Lillard scored 27 points but the other Blazer starters could not reach double figures.
Wesley Matthews primarily remained on the perimeter in his 3-of-10 shooting night and Nicolas Batum could not scratch at all from the floor. Batum’s four points resulted from free throws as he missed all five shots that he attempted.
“It’s not hard to set up plays or get in to them, but I think they just make it hard to get good looks,” said Lillard, who tried to drive to the rim late in the game with the Blazers only down 86-80 but instead got sandwiched by Jerryd Bayless and Tayshaun Prince. When Prince blocked his shot, Lillard crumpled to the hardwood and watched Mike Conley speed away with his basketball.
“They’re consistent with making it tough and trying to get good shots,” Lillard continued. “They play really physical. They’re really good at what they do.”
The Grizzlies hold their challengers to the lowest points-a-game average in the league (89.4) In fact, a Memphis opponent had not scored 100 points since the Sacramento Kings broke through on Feb. 12 (a 108-101 Memphis win).
So, the odds did not exactly favor a Chalupa night in the Rose Garden — the popular promotion in which home fans get a free taco when the team reaches the 100-point mark.
“(The Grizzlies) play slow. They want to grind it out,” Aldridge said. “We played decent but weren’t able to get the win.”
In the two previous matchups against the Grizzlies — both in Memphis — Aldridge had struggled from the floor.
On March 16, Aldridge missed 11 of 13 shots in the Blazers’ two-point loss to the Grizzlies. The stroke was only slightly better during the January game when Aldridge shot 5 of 15, but made up for it with 12 rebounds in the win.
However on Tuesday, Aldridge flourished while facing Randolph. Through the second quarter, the pair got physical.
Randolph tugged on Aldridge’s jersey. Aldridge slapped at Randolph’s hand.
Randolph bumped Aldridge when he set up around the perimeter.
Aldridge blocked Randolph as he turtle-crawled for one of his hook shots.
For a stretch, the two power forwards went back and forth — Randolph scoring back-to-back baskets, only to be answered by three consecutive from Aldridge. When Aldridge worked Randolph over with a drop-step, he sliced the Blazers’ deficit by five.
“I was telling him to get in the paint,” Randolph said. “It was just fun. Nothing serious. I’ve been telling him since he came in the league.”
Though Aldridge and Randolph got reacquainted, Matthews and Batum searched unsuccessfully for offensive rhythm.
Through the first half, Matthews took four of his five shots from beyond the 3-point line. But at least he was shooting — Batum attempted just two shots during his first half. Had it not been for Matthews draining his first 3-pointer within the final 90 seconds of the half, the pair would have been held scoreless.
Memphis would still leave the floor for halftime with the 48-40 lead.
“That’s one of the best defensive teams in the league,” Batum said. “They played great defense and did a good job tonight again.”
In spite of the defense, the Blazers did claw back in on the strength of a 39-point fourth quarter and Lillard made free throws to pull the Blazers within 100-97. Still, the striking distance was nothing more than a mirage — only two seconds remained in the game and Bayless would make his two shots from the foul line.