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Friday, September 22, 2023
Sept. 22, 2023

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Nets deal Blazers’ hopes crushing blow

Evans' breakout leads to Brooklyn's blowout victory


PORTLAND – As starters for the Trail Blazers sat in sullen moods on the home bench, their sweat toweled and pride shelved, Brooklyn Nets forward Reggie Evans remained on their court. Still harassing, still hustling and still completely making life miserable for any warm body that coach Terry Stotts had sent his way.

On Wednesday night, Evans set the tone for the Nets’ 111-93 blowout win with his toughness and finished with a career night at the Blazers’ expense.

All-Star Brook Lopez earned the honor as top scorer with 28 points, but several Blazers pointed to Evans’ unflinching activity as the biggest burden of the night. Evans scored 22 points to tie a personal best as well as secured a career-high 26 rebounds.

“I just wanted to be aggressive,” Evans said. “Get my team into it, get it going.”

Overall, the Nets worked over the Blazers, owning the 54-40 rebounding margin and finishing with 74 points in the paint

“It was unbelievable,” rookie center Meyers Leonard said. “It’s embarrassing.”

And perhaps eye opening. Long before the reserves made a run in the fourth quarter to trim a lead that once swelled to 30 points to just 14, the biggest cheer from the announced crowd of 20,127 fans just might have happened early in the first quarter when public address announcer Mark Mason announced that Miami Heat had lost to the Chicago Bulls.

“The streak is over,” bellowed Mason.

And after their own deflating defeat, so could be the consideration that the Blazers still belonged in the playoff hunt.

Portland started the night just 2 1/2 games behind in the Western Conference playoff standings. However, the “embarrassing” loss dropped the Blazers to a 33-38 record with only 11 games remaining in the regular season.

LaMarcus Aldridge, who injured his right ankle but X-Rays returned negative, scored a team-high 24 points. However, even after Aldridge’s 11-for-14 shooting night, the Blazers could only reflect on the bullying they received at the hands of Evans and the Nets.

“We definitely came out on our heels,” center J.J. Hickson said, nearly whispering in a silent locker room. “They definitely punched us in the mouth first and we didn’t respond for the whole game.”

Before watching one man fight and claw for rebounds between double teams, Stotts conceded that the Nets would win the edge on the glass.

Brooklyn possesses the league’s second-best total rebounding percentage and unleashes an insatiable competitor in Evans (10.2 rebounds per game) whose game seems more apt for backyard wrestling. Evans, once the winner of a Sports Illustrated poll for dirtiest player in the NBA, has grabbed 20-plus rebounds four times within the last 10 games.

“He’s an animal,” Lopez said of Evans, “and when he’s playing the way he has … he definitely makes us a much better team.”

So, outworking that guy – and the Nets, in general – would’ve been a long shot, but still…

“We don’t need to dominate the boards,” Stotts said before the game. “We need to hold our own and not let that be a huge advantage for them.”

Well, at least it sounded like a good plan.

The Nets’ frontline, a combination of Lopez’ soft touch and Evans’ rough edge, immobilized the Blazers.

While Lopez scored nine points suddenly, the Blazers only posted four points total. And whereas Evans yanked down six before five minutes had expired in the game, the Blazers still had not collected a single team rebound. Leonard recalled watching the corner scoreboard that tracks rebounds and noticing the 18-3 edge belonging to the Nets.

“It just kept going up and up and up and up,” Leonard said.

Same for Evans’ production. And this from a guy with one good eye.

“My eye bothered me like crazy at the shoot around,” Evans said. “I took this pill when we got back to the room and I put more drops in before the game. I still feel the swelling, so I still got that virus and it’s in both eyes now.”

At the apex of the team’s first-quarter futility, Aldridge and Hickson dislodged a potential defensive rebound from each other and the precious possession squirted away, out of bounds for the Nets. An instant later, Lopez scored inside as Hickson hacked him. That particular play led to Leonard hopping off the bench.

“That was obviously very discouraging the way we came out and played at the beginning of the game,” Stotts said. “They pretty much did whatever they wanted in the first quarter and that set the tone for the rest of the game.”

The deficit after the first quarter – a 37-17 hole – was made worse by the sight of Aldridge hobbling off the court and disappearing into the players’ tunnel. Aldridge had landed awkwardly after attempting a long jump shot over Evans and clearly favored his right ankle.

Aldridge returned quickly, leaping near the end of the bench to test the ankle before walking back on the floor to start the second quarter. However, even as their captain showed some guts, the Blazers continued to fade away. Quite literally in some cases as those off-target jump shots could not match with Brooklyn getting easier looks closer to the rim.

The Nets took what they wanted in the paint – adding 22 more points from point-blank range – while the Blazers did not even get close enough to pick up their first offensive rebound until near the midway point of the second quarter.

Even Nets backup guard MarShon Brooks, who only averages 11 minutes a game, had surpassed his season scoring average by the second quarter while Blazer starter Damian Lillard, on the other hand, struggled in a scoreless fit that lasted until after halftime.

Others felt Lillard’s pain and floundered just as much. Wesley Matthews scored five points in nearly 26 minutes while Nicolas Batum gathered only six points from 10 shots. Hickson, typically reliable for a double-double, finished with just eight points and seven rebounds.