The playoffs are set.
On Saturday, the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA's first-ever play-in tournament to secure the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. Damian Lillard scored 31 points and dished out 10 assists to lead the Blazers while CJ McCollum contributed with 29 points and Jusuf Nurkic recorded a 22-point, 21-rebound double-double.
For more on the game, here are some quick reactions...
1. Once a Grizzly, always a Grizzly
According to Ben Golliver of The Washington Post, Toronto Raptors centre Marc Gasol was in the building to watch his former team take on the Blazers.
It's safe to say the Grizzlies will always hold a place in Gasol's heart.
2. Damian Lillard's stepback is automatic
According to NBA.com, Lillard attempted 115 stepback 3s during the regular season. His success rate on those shots? 50.4 percent.
Lillard didn't take as many step back 3s as James Harden and Luka Doncic - Harden attempted 517 compared to 273 for Doncic - but he was way ahead of both of them efficiency-wise.
It's ridiculous how smooth Lillard is.
D.O.L.L.A. pic.twitter.com/uWqofJiA1c- Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) August 15, 2020
3. Mario Hezonja is a shot blocker now
OK, not quite - Hezonja had a total of nine blocks during the regular season - but this is special:
BLOCKED BY RIO pic.twitter.com/lWPunDuvaQ- Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) August 15, 2020
4. When in doubt, slow it down
The Blazers got off to a strong start in this one, leading 31-19 after the first quarter.
Want to know what got the Grizzlies back in the game? Kyle Anderson and Jonas Valanciunas pick-and-rolls.
Anderson isn't much of a scorer - he averaged 0.8 points per game as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls during the regular season - but he ran circles around Hassan Whiteside in the second quarter, getting him up in the air with shot fakes before dumping it off to Valanciunas for uncontested baskets.
This one in particular was a beauty:
The Magic of SloMo 🪄 pic.twitter.com/QlxC8ZSK5C- Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) August 15, 2020
Anderson had four assists in the second quarter alone, all of which went to Valanciunas. It helped Valanciunas have a big quarter, as was responsible for 14 of the team's 33 points.
Speaking of big men...
5. The first half belonged to Jusuf Nurkic
As good as Valanciunas was in the first half, Nurkic was even better.
Through two quarters of play, Nurkic led the Blazers with 15 points, 17 rebounds and two assists. He had his jumper working, knocking down a couple of 3s as well as a midrange jumper, and he punished the Grizzlies for loading up on Lillard on a couple of occasions with hard rolls to the basket.
It helped offset Valanciunas' big quarter and got Portland's offence back on track.
Jusuf Nurkic's HUGE first half has the @trailblazers up in the Western Conference Play-In! #WholeNewGame- NBA (@NBA) August 15, 2020
15 PTS | 17 REB | 2 STL | 2 3PM pic.twitter.com/y0bpxY5YcU
Not enough has been made of how good Nurkic has been in the bubble. He was a borderline All-Star last season, but to be doing the things that he is coming off of a season-ending leg injury? Incredible. He adds a different dimension to the Blazers with the pressure he puts on teams at the basket and his passing.
The fact that Nurkic had the best plus-minus on the Blazers speaks to the impact he was able to make in this game.
6. Lillard will put you on a poster too
Don't sleep on Lillard's hops.
PUT SOME RESPECT ON DUNK CONTEST PARTICIPANT DAME LILLARD'S NAME pic.twitter.com/QIXO3RjUIl- Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) August 15, 2020
7. Ja Morant is special
You wouldn't know Morant is a rookie based on how he played in this game.
Morant had a quiet first half, with the Blazers holding him to 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting from the field. How did he respond in the second half? By shrugging it off and attacking the Blazers relentlessly.
He wasn't perfect - Morant coughed the ball up a total of eight times in the game - but he kept his foot on the gas with the Grizzlies' season on the line, punishing the Blazers with his speed and athleticism...
You are watching a master at work. @JaMorant | #MemphisVsErrrrbody pic.twitter.com/kyr7nGjIT8- Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) August 15, 2020
...while striking the right balance between looking for his own shot and setting up his teammates for open looks when Portland collapsed on his drives.
one time for the @JaMorant tap.- Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) August 15, 2020
three times for the @brandonclarke23 triple. pic.twitter.com/RUhbZX6gGB
Morant finished the game with 35 points, making for the highest scoring game of his career thus far. He also dished out eight assists and grabbed four rebounds.
Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, it just wasn't quite enough to force a second play-in game.
8. CJ McCollum saves the day
It was McCollum, not Lillard, who took over down the stretch for the Blazers.
Trailing 111-108 with 3:21 to go, McCollum hit three huge shots to tie the game and help the Blazers pull away.
First, there was this stepback 3-pointer over Morant:
CJ triple, Nurk And-1 puts POR in front❗️@trailblazers 117@memgrizz 113- NBA (@NBA) August 15, 2020
Under 2 to play on ABC pic.twitter.com/bHzYMMD87X
Then there was this stepback 3-pointer over Morant following an And-1 from Nurkic:
CJ PUTTING THE TEAM ON HIS (FRACTURED) BACK pic.twitter.com/FXVsAxzOGj- Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) August 15, 2020
Followed by this - you guessed it - stepback jumper over Morant:
🚨 CJ MCCOLLUM TAKING OVER 🚨@trailblazers 119@memgrizz 115- NBA (@NBA) August 15, 2020
1:15 remaining in Western Conference Play-In on ABC pic.twitter.com/7JPlVOpBYI
And with a fracture in his back? Yeesh.
Having McCollum as a No. 2 is quite a luxury.
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