PORTLAND — While the rest of the Portland and the metropolitan area were covered in ice, forcing them to consider all the issues a storm brings, the Trail Blazers expressed few such worries Monday.
Sure, they spent part of the early morning de-icing their cars upon returning home to an ice storm, but Damian Lillard was back after a two-week absence.
Lillard’s return to the court resulted in a new level of play, but it was not the kind of different the Blazers were hoping for.
The Memphis Grizzlies held the Blazers to a season low for points scored in a game in winning 91-78, leading for more than 45 1/2 of the game’s 48 minutes.
“I would have liked to have won the game, but I thought it was a game for me to come back and try to find some rhythm,” Lillard said.
And if coming back and rhythm were the only goals, then mission accomplished.
Like most of the residents in the area who spent time knocking the ice off their vehicles, Lillard took time to shake the ice off his game.
He had couple of head-scratching turnovers, didn’t make a field goal until he made a 3-pointer at the 11:04 mark of the third quarter and even had a lane violation.
He finished with 17 points on 4-for-14 shooting, seven assists and a team-high seven turnovers.
That the Blazers had to sacrifice a game to accomplish that mission wasn’t ideal, but everyone on the Blazers side of things is happy to have him back.
“You get used to certain guys, you know,” Leonard said. “He’s our best player, franchise point guard it was certainly a probably out of rhythm altogether. Now we just have to work him back into his role which is to really get it going for us and create for others, cause havoc.”
Over three minutes went by Monday before the Blazers got their first field goal. The long droughts would be a familiar theme for the Blazers throughout the night.
Memphis head coach Dave Joerger said that holding the Blazers to 78 points after scoring 61 in the first half last night against Memphis is a feather in their cap.
While the Grizzlies have a reputation as a great defensive team, their cap doesn’t have many feathers this season, as they’ve slipped to average in defensive rating after consistently being a top-five team in past seasons.
“I thought that was one of Memphis’ better defensive games,” Stotts said.
The Grizzlies forced the Blazers into some tough looks but Lillard and McCollum were also slow to get going.
The Blazers also committed 22 turnovers as a team.
“It was weird, our offense was really stagnant and we just couldn’t get going,” Meyers Leonard said.
The game on the court, but especially Portland’s offensive play in the first quarter, gave Blazers fans little reason to cheer.
A clean-up crew picking up spilled beer on the court probably brought about the loudest cheer on a sleepy night.
While the Blazers scored on their first possession of the second quarter, they didn’t alleviate their offensive woes.
Zach Randolph schooled the Blazers back-up big men with 26 points and 18 rebounds.
Memphis bench just outplayed Portland with veterans like Randolph as well as Tony Allen and Mario Chalmers, who hounded Lillard and McCollum all night.
Early in the third quarter, Lillard and McCollum connected on their first 3-pointers of the game and the Blazers tied the game at 40.
The Grizzlies were physical with the Blazers, which reached a boiling point when Gerald Henderson picked up a technical foul for arguing with officials.
Portland’s offense only got worse from there and the Blazers went into the fourth period trailing by 18 points and trailed by as much as 20.
The Blazers started the fourth quarter with Meyers Leonard at center to help give Portland’s offense room to breathe.
A Lillard 3-pointer cut the Memphis lead to single-digits and then Leonard cut the lead to eight with 4:20 left.