Since the first-round playoff matchups were locked in on Wednesday, the common joke about this Portland Trail Blazers-Memphis Grizzlies matchup has been that it’s the “loser leaves town” series. Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge are both free agents at the end of the year, and both of their teams have questions to answer about their long-term directions.
Aldridge certainly did his part to keep the Blazers in the game on Sunday, with 32 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocks. But that was about all that went right for the Blazers as the Grizzlies took Game 1, 100-86, to take a 1-0 series lead.
With Wesley Matthews and Arron Afflalo out and Nicolas Batum banged up, the Blazers’ hopes rested with two players: Aldridge and last year’s playoff hero, Damian Lillard. Lillard’s 5-for-21 shooting night wasn’t ideal, and neither of his defense. Mike Conley, even with his gimpy foot, was able to blow by Lillard at will.
But it was Conley’s backup, Beno Udrih, who led the way for Memphis with 20 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. Udrih, not Conley or Gasol or Zach Randolph, was the one who landed on the TNT postgame interview after the game, even though all of those more well-known names played well. That says it all about where these two teams are.
How long Conley’s good health will last is a valid question. But if it lasts another week or two, it’s hard to see the Blazers winning this series. Not after what Memphis showed defensively. Not with Portland’s lack of offensive weapons exposed. This is the kind of series Matthews would have thrived in. Take him away, and everything comes down to Aldridge, Lillard and Batum. And when two of those three players aren’t playing well, there’s nothing else there.
The Grizzlies’ offensive attack in Game 1 is probably not sustainable. The rest of the series should be more competitive than this, especially if the Blazers get Afflalo back for Game 2. But the Grizzlies’ defense and the Blazers’ lack of depth are not a good combination, and that bore itself out on Sunday. Memphis simply outclassed Portland at both ends of the floor.