The Portland Trail Blazers have started the 2022-23 season on a roll winning three straight games after coming from behind to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 106-104 on Sunday afternoon. If you haven’t heard, Blazers forward Jerami Grant scored the game-winning layup with three seconds left on the clock.
At the buzzer, you also saw LeBron James try and make a game-winning shot against Damian Lillard from 18 feet out. Russell Westbrook may have missed a shot early in the clock on the previous possession which you may have noticed if you were paying attention. After all that, you might assume you know what sets these two squads apart. One of them finished strong by making shots, while the other didn’t.
Certainly, but that’s not the complete picture.
In spite of Grant’s successful layup Portland’s final play revealed something about the current state of the team’s efficiency. You should emphasize the fact that he was the one taking it.
They were giving Lillard too much room to work with, but the Lakers were overplaying him. That could have been a contributing factor. Only nine seconds prior, Dame had finished frosting the cookies. draining a step-back three-pointer to keep Portland in the game. Los Angeles was not about to let Dame Time score a second victory.
The fact that Grant was mentioned doesn’t make him indispensable. On the final play of the previous game, Anfernee Simons put Portland’s victory over the Phoenix Suns in his hands with a soaring hook shot over Mikal Bridges.
On the crucial bucket, Lillard was the first player considered. Simons was probably the second choice. Grant, though, was given the ball and converted, making him the third-best option, but he was still trusted and invested in the game.
That’s been the mentality for Portland this season more so than the ball going in the net.
In the second half, Justice Winslow of all people was starting and finishing offensive plays. You would have given up on the Blazers before the season even started if THAT was on your Bingo card.
You’ll also see Nassir Little and Josh Hart leading fast breaks, with Nassir Little cutting into the paint to take isolated jump shots.
Currently, the Blazers’ successes are inevitable. It’s not because they’re exceptionally talented or skilled. They are, in fact, making numerous errors. However, they are sharing the rock and allowing each other to use it to their advantage. As a result, positive outcomes are becoming more common.
Ignore LeBron’s and Westbrook’s most recent attempts as a measuring stick for Portland and Los Angeles’ respective strategies. In other words, those are the most obvious candidates. Instead, press back and navigate to the 1:01 mark of the fourth frame.
In a 3–0 game, L.A. had possession of the ball. If they had just made one more basket, they would have won easily.
James and Anthony Davis ran action up near the top of the three-point arc on this play. James was in possession of the ball when Grant tackled him. He remained outside the arc and headed toward the court’s right side. And Davis went right, too, crossing in front of James. Davis’s defender, 6’5″ Josh Hart, was a formidable opponent.
Both of the Lakers’ biggest stars exchanged glances as they weighed their options. The signals James sent were unmistakable. The shooter was lining up his shot. Davis gave in and moved to the right-hand coffin corner, which was on the same side of the court as the ball but farthest from the basket.
Perhaps Davis was just being a nice teammate by making way for James. If that’s the case, James didn’t put the present to good use. He sidestepped into a floater with 50 seconds left, but it was nowhere near the net. Grant’s feelings for him had not diminished. It wasn’t just a stunt in isolation; it was the absolute worst strategy.
However, James was not as kind to Davis as Davis was to him. LeBron was staring down one of the 76 greatest players in NBA history, a teammate whose skills and accolades were unmatched by anybody else on the court save for maybe Lillard. Where has he taken him, exactly?
Everything would have been different for the Lakers if James had signaled to Davis to post up the much smaller Hart. Without Grant on the court, Davis would have been up against Hart one-on-one with Hart’s back to the hoop.
If Grant had gone to help Hart, Davis would have had a perfect chance to inbound the ball to LeBron for the same three-pointer he ended up taking, only without the sidestep and with no defender in sight. Regardless of the result, the Lakers’ advantage in the last minute of regulation would have been reduced with the passage of more time.
Davis was cornered and outmatched by a faster opponent. For this reason, he was unable to make a clean base cut. A three-pointer would be Davis’ lone hope if LeBron drove the lane and Hart shifted to help.
The Lakers didn’t put the Trail Blazers in an almost impossible predicament; instead, they made defense laughably easy, with the exception that stopping LeBron is never easy. However, no matter what he accomplishes, that asterisk will still be there. He didn’t improve it in any way. He effectively rendered his All-NBA buddy a useless hulk.
That’s the present-day contrast between Portland and Los Angeles. Jerami Grant and Anfernee Simons are the Blazers’ go-to guys at the end of games with Justice Winslow, Josh Hart and Nassir Little also contributing significantly. Anthony Davis is a huge asset for the Lakers, but they can’t seem to use him when it really matters.
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