Trail Blazers vs Grizzlies Friday, 01/04/13 AT 05:00PM

Trail Blazers Dig Deep On D For W in Memphis

01/04/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    LaMarcus Aldridge put together his most dominant defensive performance of the year, with 12 rebounds and five blocks to go along with 15 points. His effort and the Trail Blazers (17-15) collective effort on the defensive end helped them grind out a 86-84 win over the Memphis Grizzlies (20-10).

    Belief. Throughout the season for the Trail Blazers their defining characteristic has been an unshakable belief in their abilities and the belief that any game, on any night, could be theirs for the taking. It's not just words. In games that are within three points in the final two minutes, the Trail Blazers are 9-3, with a winning percentage second only to the Miami Heat (stat provided by NBA.com media stats tools). As you can see, it's not just talk, the Trail Blazers walk the walk, too.

    Tonight, they were tested by a team that loves to test you physically and make the game ugly. They had a match-up against a similar, grind it out, slow pace team in Indiana on their previous road trip but weren't up to the challenge. Tonight, they won the game with their defense and displayed the belief they've showed all season long, standing tall defensively on multiple possessions against the Grizzlies down the stretch as they had many chances to win.

    "I don't know if it's necessarily will to win but it's grittiness, toughness, intangibles, stepping up and making plays," Terry Stotts said. "Like LA grabbing a rebound in the fourth in New York or like Nic's stop on the last possession. It can be done with a shot, a rebound a defensive play, in those situations you just find a way to do something."

    Portland was forced to make their winning plays on the defensive end tonight against a team that loves to make teams "grind" out games. The players and fans call their arena "The Grind House" and their players often use the acronym "GNG" (grit and grind) as a rallying cry. The Trail Blazers out-grinded the team that has made that word part of their personae. LaMarcus Aldridge had one of, if not his best defensive performance, changing shots and grabbing rebounds being every bit as much of a game changer as Defensive Player of The Year candidate Marc Gasol (12 points, eight blocks, six rebounds).

    In the first quarter, Gasol had six blocks and one could feel that the effect it had on the game. Portland's perimeter players had to be more choosy about their drives to the rim as Gasol would change almost every shot. Aldridge matched that presence on defense for the Trail Blazers, but Portland struggled offensively. That was until the third quarter when Wesley Matthews, finally looking all the way back from his hip struggles, started giving Portland the push they needed. Matthews scored 11 points (21 points, four assists, 5-8 on threes) and was the only Trail Blazer to play all 12 minutes of that third quarter.

    The Grizzlies were without Zach Randolph tonight but Mareese Speights supplied a fantastic game in his stead for Memphis. The Trail Blazers, weary of all the other options Memphis has, ended up conceding a lot shots to Speights, that he would hit. He scored 22 points, 16 of which came in the third quarter. The game had been hard, but it was only a preview of the slugfest it would become in the final period.

    The Trail Blazers shot 19 percent in the fourth while the Grizzlies shot 22.7 percent. Lillard, who has been a great fourth quarter scorer didn't have his shot going (11 points, eight assists, 4-11 shooting) and a lot of credit should go to the Grizzlies who hounded The Rookie. Mike Conley made him work for everything and the Grizzlies big men doubled him on almost every pick and roll, not allowing him to shoot over the screen.

    A Batum (11 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals) three helped give Portland life and a three-point lead with 3:27 left. Aldridge got the biggest of his five blocks on the ensuing Memphis possession and Hickson drew a huge loose-ball foul, where he converted both free-throws for the two most important points of his 19 on the night (11 rebounds). The Trail Blazers made the right stops near the end and after nursing a 1-point lead, Aldridge split a pair of free-throws with two second left. Rudy Gay got a shot off on the final possession but it missed and Portland escaped with the win. It was a gut check and Portland confirmed what we already know about them, they've got them.

    "We stayed confident and we played within ourselves. We had to stay confident against this tough team," Wesley Matthews said. "They are going to make the playoffs. We are confident in what we do. We are 4-0 in overtime. We are playing good basketball. Anytime you go .500 on the road, it’s a good thing. You can’t let up. We aren’t a content bunch of players. We wanted to win this last one.”

    Portland now travels to Minnesota to face the Timberwolves for the second time this season and for the first time in Minneapolis. That game will be at 5PM and will be shown on CSNNW and can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

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