With Mavericks center Andrew Bogut a late scratch due to personal reasons, the Mavericks opted to go really small, replacing the 280 lb. Aussie with 185 lb. J.J. Barea in the starting lineup. And for for the first several minutes Dallas played like they had forgotten they were missing their defensive anchor, because nobody - and I mean nobody - was guarding Mason Plumlee, who got the Blazers off to hot start with nine points off of four makes to start the game. At one point Plumlee simply walked unimpeded to the basket to receive an inbound pass three feet away from him, which he easily dunked, and later was the beneficiary of an easy give-and-go with Lillard, which converted for an and-1 to put Portland ahead 19-11.
But as soon as coach Terry Stotts started to go to his bench, the Blazers got mighty cold - going scoreless over the next 4:51 while the Mavs rattled off a 13-0 run to take the lead by five. Portland turned the ball over five times in the quarter, and only may have saved themselves with a nearly half-court slicing three-pointer from from Shabazz Napier as time expired to tie the contest at 26.
End of First: Portland 26, Dallas 26
In the second period, the Blazers started to find some rhythm - Lillard and Plumlee returned early and picked up right where they left off. Lillard just had his way, with no Dallas defender able to stay remotely in front of him He would just bring the ball up and survey the defense - if they crowded him, he'd find the open man, if they didn't, with nobody in a Mavs uniform able to affect shots at the rim, he'd take it to the hole, which he did on several occasions to the tune of 10 efficient points in the quarter.
Portland led by as much as nine after Lillard drew free throws at the 4:24 mark, but again closed poorly, letting the Mavs creep back into the game behind Barea and Harrison Barnes to pull within just three heading into the locker room.
What may have been concerning was with just over two minutes to go, Lillard and former Blazer favorite Wesley Matthews collided at the top of the key, apparently butting knees. Matthews appeared to take the worst of the exchange, checking out immediately and then heading to the locker room shortly after, visibly angry.
Halftime: Portland 55, Dallas 52
Matthews returned to start the third, alleviating those concerns, which was further aided by the three-point barrage that the Blazers delivered as they started to add to the lead. Al-Farouq Aminu got it rolling, Maurice Harkless got in on the action and then Lillard let loose, canning all four of his attempts in the quarter, including two 34 feet away from the basket with Matthews staring him down. The last of which gave Portland a 15-point lead at 75-60.
But yet again, Dallas fought right back, closing the gap to three as Deron Williams and Salah Mejri gave the Mavs a shot in the leg, both using their size to bully the much leaner Blazers in the paint.
End of Third: Portland 79, Dallas 76
With both teams eying victory, starters remained on the floor for most of the final frame, making for a tense race to the finish. Portland again had to puts its hopes onto the back of Lillard, who was brilliant. He scored 15 in the period and almost single-handed willed the Blazers to a win. Plumlee, C.J. McCollum and Evan Turner each were responsible for at least one timely bucket in the quarter, including a a fast-break jam by Plumlee which restored a tenuous 8-point lead at 99-91 with 1:58 to go, but the night would again belong to Dame.
Harkless held in ground nicely on the ensuing defensive possession and then connected on the receiving end of a lob from Plumlee ice it.
The Blazers' road trip continues Sunday afternoon against the Memphis Grizzlies - tip is set for 12:30 pm. Don't forget to turn back your clocks tomorrow! Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game.
-- Ryan Rosback | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter