Final, Trail Blazers win 109-96: Jared Sullinger’s career display was not enough to overcome an inconsistent offense and lack of size to counter LaMarcus Aldridge as the Celtics dropped their second straight game.
Aldridge netted a double-double of 27 points and 12 rebounds as Portland stretched its win streak to five games. Mo Williams powered the Blazers’ bench with 18 points, helping the Blazers answer a strong first half by Boston’s second unit.
Even in defeat, the Celtics have to like what they saw from Sullinger. The second-year forward set a career-high with 26 points and grabbed his share of rebounds, as usual, to give the Celtics some hope late. He was the leading scorer on Celtics’ reserve unit that pushed the Celtics into to the lead in the second quarter behind the high-octane play of Gerald Wallace, Phil Pressey and Courtney Lee.
The Celtics have a quick turnaround with a game Saturday in Minnesota against the Timberwolves.
Fourth quarter, 5:49, Blazers 103-89: And just like that, the Blazers’ lead is back up to 14.
The Celtics cannot muster any sustained offense, while the Blazers simply throw the ball around for a while until someone gets an open look. It cannot be overstated how big an addition Mo Williams is to this club. A year ago, Portland’s second unit was lost. Now the veteran guard has 18 points off the bench, tied with Nic Batum for the second-most on the team.
Either way, Sullinger is still a beast. He has a career-high 24 points, plus seven rebounds, doing all he can to keep this game from getting away from the Celtics.
Fourth quarter, 9:26, Blazers 94-86: The Celtics are running and gunning again, but all their hard work only served to undo most of the bad stuff they did to fall behind by 14 points.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Jared Sullinger and Courtney Lee cut the deficit to eight points, but their struggles the last two quarters put them behind the eight ball. They gave up 67 points in quarters two and three and were outscored by 10 points in those frames, so they have ground to make up.
End of third quarter, Blazers 90-78: Jared Sullinger is a heck of a player, but the Celtics cannot lean on him too much offensively.
Sullinger has the team’s best plus-minus rating due to his ability to defend, rebound and outlet the ball to start the break. Gerald Wallace, Courtney Lee and Phil Pressey all benefit from his presence on the court. But when the Celtics get too committed to running their offense through Sullinger, they slow down and get themselves into trouble.
The Celtics are at their best when they run. That’s especially true of their second unit and definitely true against LaMarcus Aldridge and the bigger Blazers. Aldridge has 21 points while shooting over and around Brandon Bass, who is having trouble with Aldridge’s length.
Third quarter, 6:46, Blazers 73-65: A little hustle goes a long way, but it’s not everything.
Brandon Bass came up with a huge hustle play, tracking down LaMarcus Aldridge’s shot to block it from behind, then knocking down a face-up jump shot at the other end. But the Celtics have not rebounded consistently in the quarter.
They were in disarray trying to defend a Wesley Matthews 3-pointer, and when he missed, they failed to secure the rebound, giving Damian Lillard a good look at a three of his own, which he made.
Halftime, Blazers 57-51: The Celtics took the lead by pushing the ball, and they fell behind when they stopped. It’s not rocket science.
Once the pace slowed, the Blazers were able to get back their bread and butter of playing off Damian Lillard’s pick and rolls or inside-out through LaMarcus Aldridge. Wesley Matthews was the biggest beneficiary in the second quarter, netting eight of his game-high 13 points in the period. Matthews managed to score those 13 points on just five shots. It was pretty impressive.
The Celtics are still defending the 3-point line well, holding Portland to 5-for-17 shooting from beyond the arc. But since the Celtics have only taken seven from deep, the fact that they are shooting a better percentage and hitting 42.9 percent of those hasn’t really mattered.
Second quarter, 5:44, Celtics 41-38: Phil Pressey is shooting well, but he is still a rookie. He has made three rookie mistakes on the defensive end, getting beat backdoor twice by over-denying on defense and, just now, jumping at a Wesley Matthews pump-fake to commit a foul.
Second quarter, 8:51, Celtics 36-28: Portland, you have a problem. The Celtics’ bench has been a difference-maker in all of their wins, and it’s back to doing the trick tonight.
Courtney Lee, Gerald Wallace and Phil Pressey have the second unit running and gunning once again, and the Celtics have run right into the lead. Vitor Faverani even had a two-handed throwdown on the break to bring the crowd to its feet.
The fivesome of Lee, Wallace, Sulling, Faverani and Pressey is now a combined 11-for-12 from the field after Pressey drained a three on the break from the corner.
End of first quarter, Blazers 23-21: That … went surprisingly well.
The Celtics fell behind by eight but then did their best to hang with the Blazers, who entered this game riding high on a four-game win streak. The Celtics managed to outscore the Blazers in the paint 16-10 and limit Portland to zero second-chance points.
The teams combined to shoot 1-for-9 on 3-pointers, which is to be expected from two teams that defend the arc well. Jared Sullinger and LaMarcus Aldridge were the two best players on the court, with each scoring eight points with some hard work down low.
First quarter, 2:32, Blazers 21-17: The Jordan Crawford show rolls on. After starting 0-for-3 from the field with two turnovers, Crawford came through with a fastbreak runner to pull Boston within four points.
Jared Sullinger, who checked in for the first time in two games, immediately got to work. He took Robin Lopez down low for a jump hook, one of three baskets the second-year forward has already.
The Celtics will need Sullinger’s boost in the paint, where they surprisingly hold a 14-8 scoring advantage over the Blazers.
First quarter, 7:09, Blazers 12-5: LaMarcus Aldridge is already doing what he does, and Brad Stevens does not like the look of it.
Aldridge has six points and three rebounds in the early going as the Blazers have more than doubled up the Celtics. On offense, the Celtics look just as bad as Aldridge looks good.
Avery Bradley took two 3-pointers in the first two minutes, and now has taken three treys — with zero makes. The Celtics are shooting 17 percent, or 2-for-12, from the field in part due to getting looks like those.
6:52 p.m.: A couple of familiar faces — depending on how closely you follow the Celtics — will be on hand for tonight’s game. Chris Babb and Damen Bell-Holter, who participated in training camp with the Celtics before being sent to the D-League affiliate in Portland, Maine, are on the bench prior to the game.
Red Claws assistant coach Ronald Nored is also around here somewhere, as the former Butler player under Stevens is also in the building.
6:34 p.m.: Jared Sullinger is back, which should make things at least a little easier for the Celtics.
Of course, “easier” does not mean “easy.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was happy to have the 6-foot-9, 280-pound big man back on the floor for Friday’s game against Portland. Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the toughest covers in the league, so the Celtics can use every big body they can find.
Sullinger will come off the bench with the Celtics going with their usual (for now) starting lineup.
The projected starters are below.
8 a.m. ET: If the Celtics have their way, two four-game winning streaks will be snapped in consecutive games at TD Garden.
Two days after their own four-game run ended in defeat, the Celtics (4-5) welcome the Trail Blazers (6-2) to Boston. The Blazers, led by forward LaMarcus Aldridge and point guard Damian Lillard, have been an early-season surprise by posting the second-best record in the Western Conference thus far. They are living up to their nickname by blazing in with a four-game win streak thanks to their one-point win over the Suns on Wednesday.
Aldridge, arguably the league’s most underrated big man, has figured prominently in Portland’s success as usual. The 28-year-old out of Texas is averaging 21.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game for a Blazers team that defends the 3-point line well, does not send opponents to the foul line and takes care of the basketball when it has possession. If the Celtics thought the Bobcats were tough, they will have their hands full with the Blazers, who are both tough and disciplined.
Join us for updates and analysis from TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET.