Portland comes from 10 down in fourth quarter to win 99-92, stay alive in series

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With about eight minutes left in the game, it looked like only one team was going to be making the flight back to Memphis. The Grizzlies were up 10 and seemingly in control of Game 4, locking down the Blazers with their defense. This was about to be a sweep.

But Portland raged, raged against the dying of the light.

Portland closed the game on a 29-12 run thanks to a dozen fourth quarter points from Damian Lillard, and the Blazers stayed alive with a 99-92 win at home. Memphis now leads the series 3-1, with Game 5 back in Memphis on Wednesday.

Lillard, freed from the shackles of Mike Conley (who was out following surgery to his fractured face Monday morning, he is not expected to play Wednesday either), was in attack mode. Lillard averaged 18 points a game in the first three but shot just 35.2 percent, not impacting the game the way the Blazers needed. With Conley out that changed — he put up 32 points. Lillard was attacking, shooting 5-of-8 inside eight feet of the rim, but his midrange jumper was falling as well with a little more space (11 of his 23 shots were uncontested).

Portland also got a boost from their bench. C.J. McCollum had 18 points, and Meyers Leonard was tremendous as a stretch five, scoring 13 points and hitting 3-of-3 from three. Leonard’s play pulled Memphis bigs out of the paint and opened things up for Lillard to drive.

The bench contributions were especially huge on a night LaMarcus Aldrige was just 6-of-22 from the floor, and Nicolas Batum was 3-of-13.

With Conley out, Beno Udrih had 13 points, while Nick Calathes added 12 and hit 4-of-5 from three to give the Grizzlies some production from the one spot. But the problems was on the other end — they could not begin to contain Lillard and that sparked the Blazers’ runs.

Memphis once again got off to a fast start, starting out 12-4 to open the game. But this time Portland responded with a 13-2 run of their own to take a small lead. Portland had its best first quarter of the series and was up 27-22 after one. With Leonard spacing the floor and Lillard attacking Portland stretched out the lead to 55-48 at the half.

Then in the third quarter the Grizzlies took charge again, their defense returned, and they won the quarter 27-13. The Trail Blazers started out 5-25 from the field in the second half. Memphis was battling through screens, blowing up Portland’s pick-and-roll game. The result was a lot of  Grizz just fighting through screens and forcing Blazers to go 1-on-1. It worked.

For a while.

Credit Portland for this: They could have just started thinking about tee times for the summer. They didn’t. They fought back.

Can Portland replicate it on the road in Game 5?

Maybe, because it’s tough to imagine Conley is going to play. That said, Memphis was in position to win Game 4 and get the sweep, and at home they are not going to take their foot off Portland’s throat — don’t expect the same defensive slips. It’s going to be much harder for Portland to earn a second win.

But they earned the chance to try.

 

Mike Conley sinks backcourt shot… in middle of first quarter (video)

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The Jazz got off to a rough start offensively this season. They still haven’t figured out everything.

But when this shot is falling, it feels a lot better.

During its win over the Warriors last night, Utah had a pass deflected into the backcourt. That left Mike Conley only a couple seconds to make something happen, and he delivered by sinking a 50-footer.

Best I can tell (shot-distance data is unreliable), this was the first made backcourt shot that wasn’t an end-of-quarter heave since Kyrie Irving in 2015:

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry touches live ball (video)

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This hasn’t been a great year for NBA coaches staying out of the way.

First, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – mistakenly believing a timeout had been called – went onto the court during play. He tried to run off, but he wasn’t quick enough to avoid a technical foul.

Then, last night, Rockets forward P.J. Tucker threw an off-target pass past James Harden. The ball rolled all the way to the backcourt and was headed out of bounds… when Pelicans coach Gentry stepped onto the court to scoop it up.

AT&T SportsNet Southwest:

Gentry was just trying to save time. But, of course, that was a technical foul.

After 1-of-11 shooting, Kristaps Porzingis not mad he was benched to end game

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With 9:04 left in the game Monday night in Boston, Kristaps Porzingis picked up his fifth personal foul. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle subbed him out.

Porzingis never saw the floor again.

After a 1-of-11 shooting night when Porzingis had more fouls (five) than points (four), Carlisle went with what was working better against the Celtics and gave his team a chance to win. After the game, Porzingis was asked about being benched for crunch time and he was not blaming his coach. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“Of course I want to be out there, but can’t blame him,” Porzingis said. “I wasn’t having a great game. I’m all-in for whatever’s best for the team. If the coach thinks he’d rather have me out and have someone else in that’s having a better game, let’s do it if we can win a basketball game. That’s the most important thing, but going forward, I want to make sure I’m out there.”

Porzingis has struggled to find his form to start the season — something that shouldn’t be a surprise for a guy who went 19 months without playing competitive basketball following his torn ACL. He’s averaging 18.3 points per game but is shooting just 40.1 percent overall (but 37.5 percent from three).

The issue has been consistency — he’s had nights like the 32 against Portland, but in games where Luka Doncic is dominating the ball, Porzingis has faded away rather than asserted himself into the contest. When he’s had smaller players switched onto him, he has not been an overpowering force, but rather has settled for jumpers over them (and he can shoot a jumper over almost anyone). He’s being a bit passive.

It’s far too early to have serious concerns about Porzingis — again, he just missed 19 months of competitive basketball. And development. Of course this was going to take time. However, if things don’t improve as the season moves along then Mavericks fans should start to worry a little. The Mavericks have gone all-in on the Doncic/Porzingis combo and need it to work.

 

Stephen Curry says he will play this season, hopes to play “in early spring”

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry “definitely” plans to return this season from his broken left hand and is hoping to be back on the court at “some point in early spring.”

When exactly the two-time NBA MVP will be able to play again remains uncertain, but he expects to be back out there.

Curry addressed the media Monday night for the first time since getting injured Oct. 30 and said he needs a second surgery on his non-shooting hand, probably in early December, to remove pins that were inserted during the first procedure Nov. 1 that involved his hand and index finger.

“(Managing the) swelling is something that’s going to be of the utmost priority early in the rehab process,” Curry said, “to get me a chance to come back and get my range of motion back pretty quickly.”

The Warriors initially said Curry would be re-evaluated three months after the surgery, which would be early February.

Curry referred to himself and injured teammate Klay Thompson as “caged animals right now, wanting to be unleashed.”

Thompson, the other part of Golden State’s Splash Brothers combo, is recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The team hopes he can return in the second half of the season.

Curry said he experienced some minor nerve irritation shortly after he underwent his first hand surgery, a common byproduct of the procedure. That’s one thing doctors will continue to monitor throughout his rehab process, and it will impact when he can return.

For now, Curry is working out his lower body and doing whatever training is permitted by the team’s medical staff, saying he’s using this three-month period without basketball as a “mini offseason” to fine-tune his body.

The Warriors’ longest-tenured player had praise for his teammates, who took the court Monday night against Utah with a 2-8 record that was tied with the New York Knicks and New Orleans Pelicans for the worst in the NBA.

Curry described rookie Eric Paschall‘s energy as contagious and said the play of new guard D'Angelo Russell has been “unreal.” Asked what the benefits would be for he and Thompson to return to the court this season if it was only for the final few weeks, Curry had an answer.

“Just to understand the chemistry with the young guys,” he said. “We can play around with rotations and just get a vibe of what the following season, when we’re all healthy, looks like.”