The Portland Trail Blazers sure do know how to put on a show.
In this case the plot involved three quarters of making the New Orleans Pelicans look like they would cruise to a win, including Anthony Davis amassing enough highlights for his Hall--of-Fame induction reel. Then just when all seemed lost...whoosh! The Blazers turn up the speed, the toughness, the precision, and the three-point barrage to send everybody home happy. Except the Pelicans. How can you beat that?
Well, here's how New Orleans almost did.
This game started with the Pelicans shooting (and missing) mid-range shots. Portland happily scooped up rebounds, pushed the ball down the floor, and developed a nice 8-0 lead within the first 3 minutes of the game.
After that all you need to know about Game Flow for the better part of three quarters is that Anthony Davis is SO SICK that the Moda Center crowd has been asked to voluntarily quarantine themselves for 21 days just from being in his presence.
If you develop a fever, that's probably just residual heat from his shooting. If you get a sudden case of the chills, it might stem from uncontrollable fear of his defense. If you start vomiting spontaneously, you're probably considering the fact that this guy is only 21...years...old and he already looks like a transcendent superstar. You can seek help for these symptoms, but this stuff is incurable.
The Truth came to Portland tonight and the message was clear: sooner or later Anthony Davis is going to take out everyone. Get on your knees and pray that he is on the other side of the playoff bracket each year after he turns 24, or else.
I've watched LaMarcus Aldridge play for 7+ seasons now. I watched him absorb lessons from Tim Duncan and abuse he took from Carlos Boozer. Aldridge has had worse statistical nights, worse performances. He was not dominated tonight as happened when he was younger. But I have never seen a single player make Aldridge look so uncomfortable with his jumper and dribble moves as Davis did for the first 36 minutes of this game. And anytime Davis got near Damian Lillard he did the same thing. It's like the guy radiates a 10-foot bubble of nausea around him. "I got the ball...yeah. I'm open. This is going to be an easy look. Just rise up and release...oh no, it's Anthony Davis! BLARGH-BLARGH-BLARGH BARFLE-BARF UP SHOT NOW!
"Huh? What just happened?"
What just happened is that you haven't seen a defender like this since Williams Electronics stopped stuffing cabinets and counting quarters. If you thought dealing with Mutants and Bombers was hard, try getting up a shot over this kid. Don't get caught standing around waiting for some dude to fly by and save you. You better figure out something your own self or you're history.
We haven't even touched Davis' 14-20 shooting tonight (which at one point was 13-16). Watching the Blazers try to defend him in the post was near comical. They'd stay in the right position. They'd get their hands in the right spot. Then Davis would float over or around them and release the ball like he was a 6'2" point guard, complete with mid-air targeting and spin adjustments.
Or how about rebounding? When he wasn't bothering shots or making same, Davis was grabbing offensive boards and keeping the Blazers from doing same. Something pretty close to boos started rippling through the Moda Center midway through this game at Portland's apparent lack of effort. Except it wasn't a lack of effort. Everything they were used to doing was getting turned back in their faces, either because of Davis directly or because they had to pay so much attention to him that everybody else on the New Orleans side had the advantage.
Only one player in Portland's uniform seemed immune to the Davis Effect. Chris Kaman didn't care about diseases (probably had it already anyway) or old video games (talk to Robin Lopez instead). Other than taking a few lumps trying to defend Davis, Kaman did his usual superlative job. And when anybody but A.D. was on him, Portland's back-up superstar made the Pelicans look silly. Kaman was the one spark of life and hope in a slow, turnover-filled kludge of a night.
New Orleans started the fourth period up by 12 and extended their lead to 15 with 10:23 remaining when Alexis Ajinca (a.k.a. "Not Anthony Davis") converted a layup off of an offensive rebound. This provoked a cry of "et tu, random tall guy?" from the Moda Center faithful. At that point, most everybody thought the Pelicans had the Blazers down their gullet like a bunch of floppy anchovies. Including, apparently, the Pelicans.
But the Blazers weren't going down without a fight. The first sign of revival came on a Steve Blake three-pointer moments after the Ajinca layup. Then Kaman hit. Then came a CJ McCollum three followed by a couple of free throws. Then Lazarus walked out of the tomb as Aldridge hit a 20-foot jumper. On nearly every count, the Pelicans were slow in rotating. Plus, to Portland's credit, they started moving the ball more when they got in serious trouble instead of bowing to temptation and moving it less. Iso ball would have fed right into Davis' defense. Instead the Blazers occupied the New Orleans bigs with penetration and passed around them.
The jumper set off a torrid run from Aldridge, catching Davis out of the vicinity or flat-footed. Meanwhile Robin Lopez--missing and quiet most of the evening--made up for lost time on the boards, taking away one of the Pelicans' major advantages. New Orleans tried to slow down the game and nurse their lead but that only allowed Portland's defense to set and rotate better. The margin continued to dwindle as Portland passed the rock and the Pelicans held it. Worse, they didn't even entrust it to Davis' hands. Their guards were dribbling like they got a tenth of a point every time the ball touched hardwood.
The Blazers went ahead for the first time since the first quarter with 2:23 left in the game when Lopez converted a Blake pass for a layup. The real dagger came from Lillard with 1:14 remaining, a three-pointer to put the Blazers up 96-93. The way fourth-quarter momentum was going, that 3-point edge seemed like 100. It turned out to be just as good. Portland finished off the game hitting free throws and walked away with a 102-93 victory.
Part of the subtext of the first three periods: the Blazers miss Nicolas Batum. They have a harder time moving the ball without Nic, a harder time defending, and rebounding is more of an adventure. The offense gets particularly painful when Aldridge can't find comfortable isolation looks. At some point some chucklehead is going to quote the Blazers being 4-0 without Batum in the lineup. Don't believe it. This has been a really nice 4-0 but with the exception of the win in Denver, it hasn't been a comfortable 4-0.
Exhibit A tonight: the Blazers turned over the ball 18 times. including 11 New Orleans steals. Batum commits his share of turnovers but his passes have purpose. His replacements (and most of the guys around them) can't duplicate that. Those turnovers and the resulting run-out points could have been Portland's undoing in this game.
The Blazers ended up with a respectable 10 offensive rebounds tonight but they had only 4 in the first 30 minutes of this game. Regaining control of the boards was one of the keys to their comeback. Another way of saying it: when they can't get those offensive rebounds the offense isn't nearly as pretty.
Besides Kaman, the Blazers got solid contributions from Steve Blake and CJ McCollum tonight. The bench was once again a major factor in the win.
Fun With Numbers
--Anthony Davis...31 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 steals, 3 assists, plus his desperation late-game three-point attempt (which missed) looked purer than any of those launched by New Orleans guards. This guy...
--The Blazers shot 7-19 from beyond the arc tonight (37%). They shot 4-6 in the fourth period though. Before that they were 3-13 and suffering for it. However, the three is a really nasty comeback weapon. Just when you think the Blazers are down...swish, swish, swish.
--Portland ended up shooting 50% for the evening to 45% for the Pelicans. Thank Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans for that. But the Pelicans got up 85 shots to 76 for the Blazers, meaning the percentages worked out to 38 made field goals for each side. Thank Davis for that.
--In addition to grabbing those 10 offensive rebounds, the Blazers gave up 13. That made the game an ouchy experience.
--18 turnovers...also ouchy.
LaMarcus Aldridge ended up shaking off his case of AD-bola and scoring 22, spearheading the comeback with rebounding and free-throw shooting plus some well-timed shots. The young pup looked faster but the old dog got the bone.
Damian Lillard looked unfazed through the whole game, up or down. He took over when he needed to, stepped back when it was Aldridge's turn. His big shots and defense made Portland's fourth quarter possible as well. 24 points, 7 assists.
Nowhere was Portland's turn-around more evident than in the person of Robin Lopez. For 36 minutes and change he was the Invisible Man. Then he Hulked Up in the fourth and took every rebound available, threw his body around in the lane, and suddenly looked bigger than anybody from New Orleans. It would have been cooler if he could have turned green too, but we'll take it. Lopez had 6 rebounds on the night, 4 of which game in the final period.
Wesley Matthews scored 16, got physical with Tyreke Evans and company, and hit a couple threes. It wasn't an obvious effort from him, but he got the job done, especially on defense late.
Allen Crabbe started again and...no.
Chris Kaman: 21 minutes, 7-10 shooting, 15 points, and a team-high 10 rebounds. He also collected 4 fouls but and 3 turnovers but he came by them in honest fashion (matched up against AD). Speaking of subtle changes...Kaman must have figured that his teammates were being too nice to young Mr. Davis. Tonight he embodied the philosophy: if they're going to beat you, bruise them. His underneath work on Davis may have contributed to fatigue for AD in that all-important fourth.
Steve Blake: 7 assists in 29 minutes and some decent defensive work as well.
CJ McCollum shot 2-5 for 7 points, 6 of them scored in 40 seconds of Portland's comeback. Timing is everything. He also looks comfortable taking his shots now...a phenomenon that has persisted throughout the young season.
Will Barton looks anything but comfortable right now. He's not in the groove or in the offense. 1 foul and 2 missed shots in 6 minutes.
Joel Freeland had 3 rebounds, 2 free throws, 2 fouls, and a turnover in 11 minutes but played pretty well considering he's not an ideal matchup for the Pelicans bigs.
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TheBirdWrites will be saying, "Oh darn! Well, at least we still have Davis." I'm not sure which is better, chanting, "Score...board! Score...board!" or, "Ros...ter! Ros...ter!"
Well, tonight it's scoreboard. So there.
Also check out our In-Arena Report for Lopez love, jerseys, signs, and more.
--Dave email@example.com / @DaveDeckard / @Blazersedge