Payton was Portland’s prized and only free-agent acquisition in June. It was considered a smart move by general manager Joe Cronin to remove the 30-year-old journeyman from the warriors of the golden state, where he had just played a key role in a champion team. But abdominal surgery in September has sidelined Payton since training camp, while fans have anxiously watched as the team struggled with backcourt depth and defense, both of which Payton was brought in to provide. .
While he only played 13 minutes as he entered the rotation, Payton was clearly a factor against Detroit, finishing with 7 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds and a steal while being involved in several standout plays.
The Pistons are a bad team and are already one of the favorites to win the Victor Wembanyana draft pick this offseason. With their best player, Cade Cunningham, missing the rest of the season following surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left leg, Detroit is in in fact tank mode. This presented the Blazers with a perfect opportunity to bounce back from Friday’s disappointing loss.
Jerami Grant had a high game against his previous team with 36 points and Anfernee Simons added 30 on 11-18 shooting, ending a recent slump. Damian Lillard contributed a double-double with 19 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds and 4 steals.
Jusuf Nurkic made a brief return to the lineup after missing Friday’s game with a non-Covid-related illness, but he was out early after taking an elbow from Jaden Ivey straight into the pick. He immediately went to the locker room but would come back later.
I don’t think this strictly qualifies as a “revenge game,” but Grant was up against his old team, and as usual, he seemed to have more of a green light than usual. He made four shots in his opening stint; he shot down two of them, including a three. It wasn’t exactly like showing off your ex at prom, but both Lillard and Simons got off to slow starts and Nurkic was presumably freezing his face at the coaching staff, so Portland will accept it. Grant had 7 points in the quarter, which helped make up for Bojan Boganovic, who continues to torture the Blazers even from another conference. Bogdanovic doesn’t need a lot of daylight to let him fly, and tonight he had his stroke. He scored 9 of his 21 points in the first and helped the Pistons take an early lead.
At approximately 3 minutes, Payton made his entrance to a standing ovation. It didn’t take long for him to make an impact. After turning the ball over on his first offensive possession, Payton knocked down a 3-pointer and then, a couple of trips later, cornered the fumble off a Grant steal that led to a Simons transition layup.
Detroit, led by Bogdanovic and Alec Bucks, took a 27-22 lead after one.
The tone changed immediately in the second with back-to-back plays by Payton to open the period. The first was a cleverly designed balloon to Shaedon Sharpe that woke up the mellow home crowd. The second was a quick bounce pass through traffic for an open layup from Simons. Nothing spectacular, but totally representative of the kind of energy Payton brings to the team. From there, Portland seemed to gain some sort of foothold.
Scoring remained an obstacle for both sides for much of the quarter. The Pistons did most of their damage via Ivey’s free throws, while Lillard scored 6 of an 8-0 Blazer run that gave them a 44-38 lead. But Detroit would respond with a 12-2 run behind Ivey and Jalen Duren, who took advantage of Nurkic’s foul trouble. They launched an all-out assault on the painting. His strength and athleticism were difficult to contain, and for a moment it seemed as if this could turn him into a real competition.
But Portland finished the fourth on a 15-0 run fueled in large part by Grant and Drew Eubanks. They combined for 13 of those 15 points, some of the loudest in the game. This included three transition dunks, one that led to a foul, and a cherry on top three with three seconds remaining that blew the game wide open.
The Blazers took a comfortable 61-52 lead going into halftime.
Third and fourth quarters
I’m sure there’s a universe where the Pistons regroup and attempt the second half, but this isn’t it. Portland continued to find the back of the net, and after a pair of 3-pointers each from Grant and Simons, the Blazers suddenly had a 77-59 lead they would never look back from. Portland went through the motions and was able to rest their starters for the fourth as they walked away with the easy win.
Until next time
Stay tuned for our extended roundup coming soon!
The Blazers will have a day off before beginning a three-game road trip against the The Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday Night: Tip is set for 5:00 PM Pacific Time.