One thing is for certain: the Celtics are going to be glad to get back home.
Despite an outstanding night from Jayson Tatum (27 points, eight rebounds) and the return of Kyrie Irving (21 points, six assists, five steals), Boston’s five-game road trip concluded tonight with yet another loss, as they fell to the Portland Trail Blazers, 100-94. Damian Lillard scored 19 points and dished 12 assists, while Jusuf Nurkic dominated the Celtics’ frontcourt for 18 points and 17 rebounds and C.J. McCollum scored 14 second-half points to power Portland to the victory. Once again, the Celtics spotted their opponent an early double-digit lead, and once again, they weren’t able to come all the way back from it.
Spirited late-game rallies against the Suns and Jazz built some hope of a more consistently engaged Celtics team, but at least for tonight, that wasn’t the case. The first half was marred by the same unwatchable offense and struggling defensive effort that reared their heads through the entire road trip. While the Blazers splashed 44% of their first-half threes (8-of-18), the Celtics hit only 18% (2-of-11) while shooting 37% from the field.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t Lillard or McCollum who keyed the Blazers’ quick start — it was the frontcourt rotation of Nurkic, Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard. Nurkic piled up 14 points and 10 rebounds in the first half, starting out the game a perfect 5-of-5, while Leonard added eight (two threes) and five boards and Collins chipped in four points of his own. The Celtics’ simply couldn’t contain them at the rim; if you were to define the first half by a single play, it would be this one.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Celtics fell behind by double-digits uncomfortably quickly tonight. The Blazers went up 12 in the first quarter, and after the Celtics cut the gap in the second, a 26-10 run to close the half — featuring seven scoreless minutes on Boston’s part — would help them lead by as many as 21 points, before finishing the half up 17.
In an odd turn of events, the start of the second half was delayed as the Moda Center staff investigated the south side hoop — the Celtics’ target during the first half — after reports that the basket was crooked. Multiple ladders came out onto the court after player warm-ups, while the players waited patiently and heroic NBCS Boston camera-people attempted to get a glimpse at the staff’s level. After about 10 minutes, the hoop had been corrected and the second half finally began.
Celtics can totally be like: “It was the hoop, not our terrible shot selection!” as workers attempt to level a hoop in Portland. pic.twitter.com/BFGvhl5Suk— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) November 12, 2018
Crooked rims likely weren’t the cause of the Celtics’ struggles, but just as they have for much of this road trip, the Celtics looked quite a bit better coming out of halftime. Irving once again asserted why he’s so essential to the Celtics’ success, and why they missed him so much against Utah; he sank a pair of quick shots and dished a nice fast break assist to Hayward for a triple. The Portland lead was quickly trimmed back down into single-digits.
Much like it did against Utah, the game became a matter of punch-counterpunch for much of the third quarter. As the Celtics woke up, so too did McCollum, who quickly piled up nine points after being held scoreless in the first half. He dueled Tatum, who nailed four consecutive threes halfway through the quarter and stretched his game-high scoring total to 25. It was a welcome change of pace for the sophomore; his nine total three-point attempts for the game were good for a new season-high.
Of course, because nothing fun can last, the Blazers were back on top in the blink of an eye. The game would enter the fourth quarter with Portland on top, 83-70.
In an interesting development, Daniel Theis would make his return to the court in the beginning of the fourth quarter after a late-day injury tag of “Probable.” Initially ruled out indefinitely after a tear in his planar fascia, Theis shed his walking boot after just three days, and is reportedly pain-free. During his first shift back, he looked spry — and the Celtics cut the Portland lead down to just two points on the back of an 8-0 run.
Then the defenses would take over. With the Blazers ahead 88-86, the two teams endured a several minute stretch where it seemed like nobody could find a bucket. The Celtics missed some open looks (of course), while Portland got particularly sloppy with the ball. It was an ugly stretch to an otherwise well-played half, and McCollum mercifully put an end to it with one of his signature mid-range jumpers, prompting a Boston timeout.
Ultimately, the night would end much like it did on Friday against Utah. For every play the Celtics made, the Blazers had an answer. Irving’s customary fourth-quarter heroics kept things close, but after Al Horford split a pair of free throws, Al-Farouq Aminu would hit an absurdly deep three-pointer with one minute remaining, putting the Blazers on top for good.
The Celtics next play this Wednesday, facing off with the Chicago Bulls in Boston at 7:30 PM.