Following a five game homestand, the Portland Trail Blazers hit the road again as it visited the struggling Brooklyn Nets Friday at Barclays Center. The Nets have endured a tumultuous first-half of the season, hovering near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and recently departing with Head Coach Lionel Hollins and General Manager Billy King.
Despite its troubles, Brooklyn has played somewhat inspired basketball over the past week, and continued that trend against the Blazers. However, another tremendous outing from Damian Lillard, and a great effort from Allen Crabbe off the bench for Portland was enough to run away with the victory.
The Blazers were led by another huge night from Lillard (33 points, 10 assists, zero turnovers), some hot shooting from Crabbe (19 points 6 rebounds, 2 steals) and a man's game from Ed Davis (14 points, 10 rebounds, solid defense). The Nets were led by Brook Lopez (25 points, 7 rebounds).
The Nets came out with some fight, annoying Portland with tight defense and holding the Blazers to just 2-10 shooting over the opening six minutes. Mason Plumlee picked up an early foul and Brooklyn repeatedly tried to draw his second, going down-low to Brook Lopez on its first several possessions. Plumlee held his own and managed to escape his rotation without any more whistles, but Lopez bruised his way to eight points in the first and looked comfortable going against his former backup.
When Lopez went out the pace picked up and Portland found new life - Lillard operated the pick-and-roll with precision, routinely splitting double-teams and racking up five assists as he dissected the suddenly exposed Brooklyn interior. A nice alley-oop lob to Plumlee pulled the Blazers within three at 14-11 and then less than a minute later he found Crabbe near the right corner for an open three to climb within two.
Former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani, who has struggled with injuries as of late, got into the mix himself, canning a straightaway three to keep the advantage with the Nets.
End of First: Portland 22, Brooklyn 23
After a quiet first period, CJ McCollum got on the board early in the second, scoring on a driving layup to open the quarter and then drilling an angle three just a minute later to give Portland a two-point lead at 27-25.
Crabbe and Meyers Leonard joined in on the action, hitting a three apiece as the Blazers built as much as a 12-point lead at 41-29 on Davis' driving layup. Crabbe had a particularly effective first half, scoring nine points and playing good perimeter defense, sticking his wiry arms into Brooklyn's passing lanes and causing disruption.
Similarly as the first, when Lopez returned to floor the Nets went on a run. He'd take whichever body Portland threw at him, work four sets of post moves and lumber his way to the basket en route to 20 points in the half.
A mini-flurry from Lillard at the end of the quarter kept the advantage more than just one possession, and the Blazers headed for intermission probably feeling pretty good.
Halftime: Portland 56, Brooklyn 49
Al-Farouq Aminu started to find his stroke during the third, draining a pair of threes and muscling himself to the free-throw line to score eight in the quarter, as Portland again built a double-digit lead at 61-51.
The run was answered immediately by Joe Johnson, who connected on back-to-back-to-back threes to all-of-a-sudden tie the game at 74 halfway through the period. But the Nets would go cold for the next five minutes, scoring its only field goal on an and-1 layup by former-Blazer Thomas Robinson.
Continuing his recent trend, Lillard closed the quarter well, converting two line-drive running layups and finding Crabbe for an open dunk to hold on to a small four-point lead heading into the final frame.
End of Third: Portland 83, Brooklyn 79
At a time where Portland needed to extend its lead to put Brooklyn away, those hopes were crushed by Bargnani and Robinson, who combined for the Nets' first 13 points of the fourth. Meanwhile, the Blazers went cold at the wrong time, missing six of its next seven shots to let Brooklyn back into the game. Robinson's and-1 putback restored their lead at 88-86 with 10 minutes remaining.
But Portland would answer back yet again, and by who else then Lillard, who hit the floor running to score 10 points in just over a two-minute span as the Blazers regained another double-digit lead. His three put Portland back on top 93-92, and then another three - this one he took from the West Coast - pushed the advantage to nine at 103-94. Coach Stotts rode his smaller lineup, which pushes Aminu to the power forward spot and Crabbe to the small forward, and it was extremely effective, literally running away with the game.
The Nets threatened to make another run in the closing minutes, but Lillard and Crabbe weren't having any of it - their jumpers put the finishing touches on the night and hung Brooklyn up to dry.
The Blazers will look to avoid a "trap game" Saturday as it pays a visit to the Philadelphia 76ers, owners of the league's worst record at 4-37. Tip is set for 4:30 p.m. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Dave Deckard.
-- Ryan Rosback | email@example.com | Twitter
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