For three quarters Wednesday night, Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons appeared out of sorts against the Memphis Grizzlies.
He wasn’t hitting shots. He committed some silly turnovers. Both contributed to the Blazers trailing by as much as 17 points early in the fourth quarter at the Moda Center.
Then, Simons began to heat up, the Blazers defense clamped down and the Blazers went on a 23-6 run to tie the game at 100-100 with 2:44 remaining. In the end, however, Simons and the Blazers fell just short, as the Grizzlies finally got their offense going enough to win 111-106.
“For us, we had opportunities,” Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “We just couldn’t capitalize. Couldn’t get over the hump.”
It would have been the unlikeliest of Blazers wins. They never led and appeared to sorely miss their leader, Damian Lillard, who did not play because of a calf strain.
Simons, who scored 14 points in the fourth, finished with 31 points and eight assists. But through three quarters, he was 1 of 7 on three-pointers and committed four turnovers.
About the only Blazers player who played well the entire night was center Jusuf Nurkic. He had 23 points and seven rebounds on 8-of-10 shooting.
“Nurk played great,” Billups said. “They couldn’t really stop him down low.”
Nurkic also made 3 of 3 threes. Jerami Grant added 23 points.
Desmond Bane led the Grizzlies with 29 points. Ja Morant added 20. Memphis had Portland’s much improved defense in disarray for most of the night, shooting 45.8% from the field, including 46.4% on threes (13 of 28).
The Blazers shot 40.4% from the field, including 39.4% on threes, and committed 20 turnovers.
“That’s been a little bit of an issue for us, just turning the ball over,” Billups said. “It’s something that we’ll just keep watching, just keep talking about it. But they forced us into a lot of turnovers tonight with their physicality.”
WHAT IT MEANS
The Blazers (5-2) lost just their second game of the season and there will rarely be a time when losing without Lillard should be deemed unacceptable. But with the date of Lillard’s return in doubt, and a six-game trip looming, Portland could be in danger of losing quite often until Lillard returns — at least if they play like they did Wednesday.
Rookie Shaedon Sharpe was unable to follow up on the 14-point performance he had during his first NBA start Friday. Sharpe went 1 of 6 from the field against the Grizzlies and scored two points. But he did have two steals, two rebounds and a blocked shot in 24 minutes.
Forward Josh Hart returned to the starting lineup after successfully completing NBA concussion protocols. Hart suffered a concussion during Friday’s win over Houston at the Moda Center. He recorded five points, four assists and five rebounds against the Grizzlies.
The Blazers open a six-game trip Friday at Phoenix.
— Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).
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