During his 2008 presidential campaign run Republican candidate John McCain did his best to identify himself as a maverick: a bold, renegade alternative to the status quo. Tonight the Portland Trail Blazers faced a bunch of guys also claiming to be Mavericks, trying to redefine themselves and earn a victory. These Mavericks had about as much success as McCain in ‘08. They watched, horrified, as Damian Lillard became their own personal Sarah Palin, dogging their steps, embarrassing them at every turn, and ruining the entire affair. Lillard ended the game with 42 points, the Mavs ended the game with a fifth straight loss, and Portland pulled back to .500 on the season courtesy of a morale-boosting 105-95 win.
Dallas started the game without Andrew Bogut at center, replaced by the earnest and geriatric Dirk Nowitzki. No matter what position he plays, as Dirk goes, so go the Mavs. 48 years ago that would have been a good thing; tonight it was...less so. Dallas began the game sporting all the interior defense of a Twinkie. Portland took advantage by driving the lane repeatedly, scoring or dishing with impunity. On the other end the Mavericks fell into a plodding, post-up offense. Portland’s defense is bad but even Lillard can hold his own if you let them set up and remain motionless. Playing well at both ends of the floor, the Blazers staked themselves to a 19-11 lead midway through the first.
But this is Portland we’re talking about...nothing comes easy. Once the first unit sat the cushy lead evaporated. The Mavs pushed the Blazers Bench Brigade to a higher tempo than they’re comfortable with. Turnovers abounded. Dallas went on a 13-0 run in the latter part of the first, abridged only by a CJ McCollum jumper and a Shabazz Napier buzzer-beater to end the quarter. As well as the Blazers had started, the score was still knotted at 26 after one.
Portland fell behind by 7 points in the first three minutes of the second, hamstrung by one-on-one play and shaky shot selection. They had just chipped their way back to within 2 at the 7:28 mark when McCollum picked up his third personal foul and had to sit. Normally this would be bad news for the Blazers, but Terry Stotts didn’t go further down the bench for McCollum’s replacement; he went up instead. The minute Lillard returned to the game all was right with the world. He got the team running again, making hay from the field and foul line. When the buzzer rang to signal the half, Portland led 55-52. The bench plus-minus was terrible but Lillard was in demigod territory.
As the second half commenced the Blazers poured such a torrential downpour of three-pointers on American Airlines Arena that it took the stadium crew 45 minutes and a semi-truck of Sham-Wows to get the floor operable again. Portland hit 7 of 8 threes in a six-minute span, running up their lead to 78-62 and threatening to turn the evening into a rout. Making matters worse for Dallas, Wesley Matthews picked up his 5th foul during this stretch and had to sit. Making matters even worse, Nowitzki succumbed to chronic Achilles pain and didn’t even take the floor for the second half. Between Portland’s torrid shooting and Dallas’ depleted roster, the game was over, right?
Why? Because Damian Lillard had to sit sometime. And as soon as Lillard went down Dallas ripped off a 14-1 run to end the quarter, completely nullifying Portland’s three-point barrage and leaving the score 79-76 entering the fourth.
You have permission to pound your head against your monitor now. Just don’t do permanent damage because the fourth quarter turned out fine.
In his first official act of the final period, CJ McCollum picked up his 5th foul. If you think this heralded impending disaster for the Blazers, you haven’t been reading. Coach Stotts threw his hands in the air, looked skyward, and motioned Lillard back in. Say hello to your Coach of the Year, because Lillard took the Blazers from a 1-point, 79-78 lead all the way to the 10-point, 105-95 victory.
The game ended as it began. Dallas couldn’t stop Damian, nor the infectious running, passing attack he spearheaded. The Mavs ended up playing a second-gear, grinding game against a guy who was already hitting escape velocity into the stratosphere. They had no chance.
Despite that last analogy, analyzing this game isn’t rocket science. Damian Out: Bad. Damian In: Very, Very Good.
Scoring 42 points on 18 shots will win your team a lot of games. To put those numbers in perspective, the entire starting lineup around Lillard scored 49 points on 41 shots. They scored 1.2 points per shot; he scored 2.3 points per shot. Wow.
If your jaw’s not on the floor yet, consider Portland’s bench. They played 80 minutes. They scored 14 points. They weren’t just bad, they were James Brown B...A...D, but in a not-at-all-funky way. Let’s compare: 14 points in 80 minutes for the bench versus 42 points in 37 minutes for Lillard. Hmmmm...
Need a chaser? McCollum scored 9 in this game. That sounds like a recipe for a Portland loss. Not this time. McCollum could have scored zero and Lillard’s 42 still would have been enough for the win.
The Blazers shot 12-31, 38.7% from the arc tonight. They held the tattered remnants of Dallas’ offense to 41% shooting from the field. Both of those helped them win.
Portland prospered when they ran (under control, anyway) and the Mavericks prospered when they could bully their way inside.
ALL of that—and every other non-Lillard factor you’d care to name--ended up a wash. 0 was the only number that mattered tonight. It stood for Lillard’s jersey number and the Mavs’ chance of winning this game as long as he was on the floor.
One more time: 42 points, 18 shots. This wasn’t a Carmelo Anthony 35 shots to score 42 points effort. 12-18 shooting, 5-6 from the arc, 13-14 from the foul line, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists.
CJ McCollum had trouble guarding Dallas’ burly, crafty shooting guards. Making three-pointers would have saved him but he only shot 1-5 from distance. He scored 9 on 4-11 shooting with 2 assists and 5 fouls.
Mason Plumlee got pushed around a little in the opening minutes. He made up for it by staying mobile and alert, helping to seal off the middle when Dallas lost their bigs and attacked the lane off the dribble instead of the post. Oh...and he scored 19 on 7-9 shooting, hitting all 5 of his free throw attempts.
Al-Farouq Aminu did some good things (3-8 from the arc, 10 rebounds) and some not so good (4-13 shooting overall). Dallas seemed invested in getting Aminu to shoot. Hitting his threes was enough to keep them honest. Otherwise he demonstrated escape moves like a bean bag chair.
Moe Harkless didn’t have any such trouble, hitting 4-8 from the field.
Evan Turner grabbed 7 rebounds in 25 minutes but otherwise his game was ouchy. This was particularly evident in the first bench shift when Dallas went bonkers and all of Portland’s attempts to run ended up in miscues or broken plays. Turner had his hands in both. He ended up 1-8 for the night with 4 turnovers.
Allen Crabbe did a little better, nabbing 6 rebounds and poking away 3 steals, including one in the fourth to rob Dallas of their comeback chance. But he shot 2-9 from the floor, 0-5 from distance, and scored but 4 points in 33 minutes. That’s pretty muted in a game where opportunity opened wide with McCollum limited to 23 minutes and 11 shots because of foul trouble.
Between Turner and Crabbe Portland’s “depth” at shooting guard looked overstated tonight.
Shabazz Napier hit a heave from 30 feet to close the first period.
Hey! The Blazers needed more non-Lillard scoring tonight! And hey, the Mavericks centers weren’t that tough to cover! And hey, those centers were pretty slow so there was room to get open popping or rolling off of screens and such! This sounds like a job for Meyers Leon...uhhhh. Oh. 4 minutes, a turnover, and a pretty obvious foul when trying to set a simple screen? You don’t say. (sigh)
WATCH DAMIAN LILLARD BE DAMIAN LILLARD-ISH
Boxscore (This one is going into Mama Lillard’s scrapbook.)
MavsMoneyball will not like what happened to Dirk Nowitzki or Wesley Matthews or their team...lots o’ money, not much ball. They’ll probably give props to Lillard though.
The 3-3 Blazers face the Memphis Grizzlies at 12:30 Pacific on Sunday.