The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans, 111-103, at the Smoothie King Center on Friday night.
Portland was led by a boxscore-stuffing Nicolas Batum, who finished with 22 points (on 8-for-16 shooting), 18 rebounds and five assists, and Damian Lillard, who emerged from a slow start to finish with 27 points (8-for-17 shooting), two rebounds and two assists, with 16 of his points coming in the fourth quarter. All five Portland starters scored at least 15 points, helping to make up for a combined eight points from Portland's reserves.
New Orleans got a career-high 36 points (on 15-for-27 shooting) and nine rebounds from Anthony Davis.
Portland came out with an impressive pop, considering its four straight defeats and the loss of LaMarcus Aldridge to injury on Wednesday. Dorell Wright, starting in place of Aldridge, cashed in a three-pointer right off the top, kicking off a nice first half for him, and the Blazers took a 10-2 lead roughly 90 seconds into the game. Davis didn't waste much time getting New Orleans back into the game, though, scoring from inside and outside as the Pelicans fought back to tie the game midway through the first quarter.
The contest would remain tight, with the two teams exchanging small leads, for most of the rest of the night. After Wright had opened the scoring from outside, Batum joined him by the end of the first quarter, scoring 10 points, including two three-pointers, in the final six minutes of the period. That production helped make up for two early fouls on Robin Lopez; it would prove to be a big impact night for Batum throughout.
Portland 29, New Orleans 26
The Blazers suffered through a few dry spells in the second quarter but the Pelicans weren't really able to capitalize on it and open up a gap. Earl Watson dished a between-his-own-legs dump-off pass to a cutting Wesley Matthews for the play of the night, but Portland never quite got its offense humming in the second period. Lillard entered the half with just six points as the Pelicans looked fairly determined to keep him from going off in Aldridge's absence. Blazers coach Terry Stotts opted against using Thomas Robinson in the first half, instead entrusting Meyers Leonard to fill in during Lopez's foul absence.
New Orleans has roughly 1,243 shoot-first guards and they seemed to collectively forget that Davis was still on their team. Once they came to their senses, Davis scored eight points in the final four minutes before the half, and he entered the break with 18 points and five rebounds. Batum led Portland with 13 points and seven rebounds at halftime.
New Orleans 55, Portland 53
The basket-trading and lead-changing continued through the third quarter, with both Davis and Batum leading their respective teams in scoring. It was clear early on that Portland would have trouble matching up with Davis, and he further exploited that advantage by knocking down his mid-range shots consistently.
Portland outscored New Orleans in the period but it was solely thanks to their starters, who combined for all 27 of the Blazers' points in the period. Even though his shot was still deserting him, Lillard got aggressive late in the quarter, using a nice hesitation move for a layup and getting to the line for two pairs of free throws in the final minute of the third. The Blazers' four three-pointers in the period pushed their three-pointers advantage to 11-2 on the night through three periods. They would finish with a 14-3 advantage from outside.
New Orleans 81, Portland 80
The Pelicans pushed out to a six-point lead -- which amounted to a big deal in this game -- on multiple occasions early in the fourth quarter, but it didn't last long. Lillard kicked up his aggressiveness midway through the period, attacking the basket on multiple plays in quick succession and knocking down a three-pointer in between. Batum followed up a Lillard miss at the rim with a putback tip to complete a 9-0 run, forcing the Pelicans to take timeout so they could figure out a way to generate some points after an 0-for-5 shooting stretch that included some around-and-outs for Davis and some bricks from outside.
Coming out of the timeout, the Pelicans fixed their offense -- with three straight fruitful trips -- but success on the other end eluded them. Robin Lopez threw down a big putback dunk, Lillard kept the pressure on by going to the basket, and then the second-year guard put Portland ahead by seven points with a back-breaking three-pointer with a little over a minute remaining. Quiet start; loud finish.
Friday night's win concluded Portland's five-game road trip and snapped the team's four-game losing streak. Portland returns home for a three-game homestand that begins on Sunday evening against the Golden State Warriors.
Be sure to stick around for Sam's post-game analysis later tonight.
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-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter