No matter what their respective records, any contest between the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers is expected to be a classic. There’s too much history between the franchises, too much bitter pride on the line, to have it any other way.
That’s the theory, anyway.
In practice Wednesday night’s game between these two storied teams went down more rabbit holes than a Bill Walton bull session. At least the closing chapter was good. Muscling their way to rebounds and diving for loose balls, Portland was able to secure a 105-98 home win, allowing fans to celebrate a look back at the 1977 championship team plus back to back victories for only the second time in a month.
As you would expect from two of the worst defen...check that. It’s a win. Focus on positives. OK!
The leading scorers on both teams got to their spots early and hit regularly as the game opened. CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard scored 23 points in the opening frame. That’s usually enough to secure a first quarter lead against any opposition. However, the Lakers featured their own mighty juggernaut in the form of Lou Williams, who scored 9 in the frame. Nick Young added 7 points and the Lakers finished the period up 31-30.
The second period started off like a glorified 3-on-3 contest with McCollum, Lillard, and Mason Plumlee getting everything they wanted on one end while Williams, Jordan Clarkson, and Ivica Zubac got that and more on the other. This was very much because all those guys are super-talented and not at all because neither team can play defense. The result of all this offensive mastery was a one-point Blazers lead (59-58) at the half.
For those watching on TV the third quarter brought the best entertainment of the evening. As Bill Walton sat courtside telling stories of the Portland championship days to ESPN’s national audience, the Blazers played two-way basketball for the first time all evening. Walton quoted directly from the Lakers’ scouting report as Noah Vonleh flashed for a put back dunk, yelling “Who’s that guy?!” Vonleh put up 6 points with 6 rebounds (3 offensive) in under 6 minutes of play. Like a Kindergartener in calculus, the Lakers had no answer. Portland would push their lead to as much as 14 before finishing the third up 8, 83-75.
In Portland, no lead is safe. This is definitely because they are gracious hosts and not because...well, you know. The Lakers super subs tried to save the night and Williams was their torch bearer, or torch thrower if you will. Sweet Lou came out gunning, hitting 3 three-pointers. Young kicked in one of his own to spur Los Angeles to an 16-8 run, erasing the lead the Blazers had built in the third. However, the three-headed hydra of Lillard, McCollum, and Plumlee struck back down the stretch and the Lakers were no Hercules. The trio outscored L.A. 14-7 by themselves in the final six minutes. That was enough to secure a somewhat comfortable victory, 105-98.
For the second game in a row McCollum and Lillard carried the Blazers with spectacular offense while their defense tried to give it all back. Thankfully, the Blazers tertiary scorers were able to contribute enough to balance the tide of perimeter bombs from the Lakers wings. As we’ve discussed a ton recently, if the Blazers do even a couple things right on defense they will usually have the firepower necessary to carry them across the finish line. That was certainly the case tonight.
While the Lakers spent the game pounding the offensive glass with Zubac and Larry Nance Jr. the Blazers attempted to push pace and capitalize on Laker miscues. But Portland also played against type a little. They managed to beat the Lakers inside 50-40 on points in the paint. Those paint points were needed on a night they managed only 4 made three pointers, attempting only 15.
The Blazers ended up winning a game they should have, but there are seemingly so few of those left on the schedule. If the tonight almost went sideways, what’s the rest of this home stand going to look like with the Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Hornets, and Dallas Mavericks on the docket? This team always manages to surprise somehow. Let’s hope they do again.
As usual, both Lillard and McCollum were masterful. They combined for 48 points on 36 shots with only 1 turnover between them. Neither forced shots and both came through in timely moments to keep the Lakers at bay.
Somebody call Lady Guinevere, because Mason Plumlee had himself a night. He started off strong, finished inside, drew fouls and even attempted to “out-Mozgov” Timofey Mozgov with a vicious dunk. Somehow he also missed more inside shots than I thought possible. When Plumlee went strong, he was rewarded. When he tried to lay it up in traffic it didn’t end well. Considering his final stat line, 19 points 13 rebounds, the misses didn’t matter much.
Noah Vonleh put in a couple fantastic shifts. He played solid interior defense on Julius Randle, rebounded like a man possessed, and almost always took the shots he needed to take. 8 points and 10 rebounds (4 offensive) kept him on the floor for more than just token minutes. If this level of play continues, you could see Portland’s lineup change sticking for the long haul.
Links and Such
Silver Screen and Roll will probably appreciate not losing by 49 tonight
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!