PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers had been thoroughly manhandled by the Memphis Grizzlies in the first two meetings between the two teams.
Behind 28 points from LaMarcus Aldridge, their bench and 15 points from a flu-ridden Wesley Matthews, the Blazers were able to get rolling early and held on for a 105-98 win at the Moda Center on Sunday.
“Man, it hit me like 7 last night,” Matthews said of the flu while a small bottle of Pepto Bismol was nearly empty in his locker. “I didn’t even warm-up, I was getting an IV for like an hour and 45 minutes. They hit me with four liters of saline to go out here and play this game.”
Grizzlies coach David Joerger stressed the importance of slowing down Matthews and Portland’s other complimentary scorers before the game. Matthews scored seven of his 15 points in the first quarter.
For Aldridge, who said he came back before he was 100 percent from his back contusion, it’s somewhat reflective of the urgency the team has but also just Matthews being the ultra-competitive guy that he is.
“That’s just who Wes is,” Aldridge said. “He’s not going to sit out a game if he doesn’t have to. He knows the importance of every game. I think his mindset is ‘I’m not going to sit out.’ It’s a little bit of knowing the urgency and it’s him just being a tough guy.”
The Grizzlies have won a lot of games and playoff series by being the tough guys.
They dominated the Blazers in the first two games by a total of 27 points by being tougher than the Blazers in the first half.
The Grizzlies, coming off a stomach-punch loss at the hands of the Warriors on Friday, were eaten up by a more focused Blazers team — winners of three straight — who turned the tables on them with a fast start.
“I really liked how we’re playing,” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “I liked our mindset, I liked our focus from beginning to end.”
The Blazers got off on the right foot but when they were really able to create separation was in the second quarter behind the Mo Williams-led second unit.
It also helped matters that Memphis’ Marc Gasol picked up his third foul and didn’t play the final five minutes of the quarter.
Williams scored 17 points, dished four assists and was able to push the pace on the Grizzlies who prefer to keep the number of possessions in a game down.
“I thought Mo did a really good job of just pushing the ball,” Aldridge said. “He’s been here before. He’s done it in Cleveland, he’s been in the playoffs in Milwaukee. He knows it’s that time to ramp it up.”
Damian Lillard was quiet in the first half, scoring no points and only attempting three shots but scored 10 of his 13 points in the third quarter to help the Blazers open up their lead. Their defense remained sound, which almost everyone credits to the team’s focus and effort.
Lillard isn’t surprised by the effort and focus the Blazers have exhibited the last few games. It’s what he expects.
“It’s that time of the year where we have to tighten everything up. We have to find that energy somewhere because this is a huge part of our season,” he said.
The Grizzlies also shot 31 percent from three after shooting better than 46 percent from three in the two previous meetings.
After the game ended, many of the Blazers and Stotts were observing the flat screens in the Blazers locker room, seeing the Warriors and Suns — who are chasing them in the standings — both lose.
“We had it on in the office. Not that it matters,” Stotts said facetiously.
With the win and the losses by Golden State and Phoenix, Portland picked up a game on three of the four teams chasing them.
They’ll practice in Tualatin tomorrow before heading to Los Angeles to play the Lakers on Tuesday.