The Portland Trail Blazers have lost their fair share of ugly games lately. Tonight’s matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers was not one of them. Sure, the first half of the contest was hard to watch: a duel of tortoises armed with rapiers. But the puzzled awkwardness of the opening quarters gave way to a productive and effective second half for the Trail Blazers. The Lakers watched all but helplessly as an inspired Damian Lillard joined with resurrected power forward Ed Davis to propel the Portland to a relatively easy 108-87 victory.
The first half of this game was the kind of affair NBA critics deride when discussing a meaningless and overlong regular season. The Blazers and Lakers are two of the worst defensive teams in the league and it showed. Any reasonable move by either party yielded an open shot. A disturbing number of possessions ended in dunks or layups. L.A. was awful defending Portland’s transition attack; the Blazers couldn’t muster enough energy to cover the three-point arc. And yet somehow the offenses only managed to belch their way to mid-50’s-level scoring at halftime. It seemed like any decent team could have scored 70 under these circumstances. That neither team did spoke volumes. The Lakers led 57-55 at the half.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the all-too-familiar, close-game eyesore that usually results in a Trail Blazers loss. Portland bore down in the third period, then exploded through the fourth to put away the Lakers by 20+. Three major factors contributed to this unusual turn of events.
- Damian Lillard, who shot a percentage pretty close to his jersey number in the first half, got into it with Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell right after intermission. From L.A.’s perspective poking a struggling Lillard was pretty D’Dumb and it ended in a D’Demoralizing D’Disaster. Lillard’s eyes caught fire and he plastered Russell for 11 points in the third on his way to a solid 20.
- Portland’s defense got better, but their rebounding went through the roof. The Lakers had already been missing plenty of shots. When the Blazers started treating the ball like their personal possession after every brick, L.A. had no recourse.
- Ed Davis, heretofore stuck to the bench like he was wearing Captain Sticky underoos, checked into the game and began to take out his frustrations on his old team. This wasn’t a fancy-scheme kind of evening. Bullying to the rim and putting back offensive rebounds was plenty good enough. That’s Davis’ game.
With Lillard slicing apart the Lakers like a Ginsu steak knife and Davis smashing them with Thor’s Hammer, L.A. fell apart completely. They scored a dozen points in the third quarter and never threatened in the fourth, leaving Portland with the cruise-away win.
In the big scheme of things, this game probably didn’t mean much. The Blazers have been on the “win one/lose one” roller coaster since they played the Toronto Raptors back on December 26th and they haven’t won consecutive games in more than a month. With the Cleveland Cavaliers coming to town tomorrow (weather permitting), that story is not likely to change. But this win was significant because the Blazers took control of a basic facet of the game (rebounding) and used it to impose their will on a weaker opponent. That spirit has been missing from Portland victories for a while now.
It’s also nice to see the Blazers win a game by 20 without needing massive scoring efforts from their starting guards. CJ McCollum scored 25 in addition to Lillard’s 20. The Blazers took advantage of L.A.’s porous defense via passing as much as raw talent, tallying 25 assists. Every supporting cast member who played more than 10 minutes contributed efficiently, leaving the team at 51% shooting for the evening.
Portland also held the Lakers to 39% shooting from the floor. That’s partially a feather in their cap and partially indicative that the Lakers just aren’t that good. L.A. did shoot 38% from the arc, a more than reasonable rate. But their 14-26 free throw shooting doomed them as much as Portland’s defense did.
No matter how bad the opponent, a game where the Blazers won the rebounding battle 50-38, the paint scoring battle 50-42, and carved out a 21-16 edge in transition was more than welcome. There’s effort behind those numbers. Saying the Blazers are back would be overstating it but they certainly showed up in finer form than we’re used to seeing, particularly in that second half.
Damian Lillard finished the game with 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. He shot 33% from the field to get there, but 20 points is 20 points. Meanwhile D’Angelo Russell scored 9 on 4-14 shooting, 0-7 from distance. Don’t bring a Q-tip to a gun fight.
Once again CJ McCollum led the Blazers in scoring, putting up 25 on 10-18 shooting with 4 assists. He was the only starting guard to hit more than 1 in 3 shots tonight.
We mentioned Ed Davis above because his appearance was semi-surprising. Al-Farouq Aminu contributed just as much to Portland’s rebounding dominance, finishing the night with 15 rebounds. He also added 4 assists and 3 blocks. Highly-touted Lakers youngster Julius Randle scored 6 on 2-9 shooting.
Moe Harkless also had 3 blocked shots (think the Blazers were concentrating on staying in front of their men tonight?) along with 14 points (think they spread the scoring around?) and 5 boards.
Mason Plumlee hit 5-7 for 11 with 7 boards and 2 blocks. Portland’s 9 blocked shots for the evening equaled two normal games.
Ed Davis: 21 minutes, 8 points, 3-6 shooting, 8 rebounds, 3 offensive, plus paint control. Welcome back!
Allen Crabbe scored 9 in 26 minutes on 4-8 shooting: efficient, not dominant. Evan Turner added 6 points in 26 minutes but also dished 7 assists. Turner is finding ways to contribute he couldn’t sniff at earlier in the season. That’s a good sign.
Links and Such
Silver Screen and Roll cannot be happy about this showing.
The Blazers are scheduled to face the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Moda Center tomorrow if the two teams can make it back to Portland through the snow.
Blazer’s Edge Night 2017
Want to assist us in sending 2,000+ underprivileged Portland-area kids to a Trail Blazers game this spring? Check out Blazer’s Edge Night 2017 for information on how to get involved, and help spread the word!
Sending one or two kids to see the Blazers play would be a great way to celebrate a win, don’t you think?
—Dave / email@example.com / @Blazersedge / @DaveDeckard