It wasn’t pretty, but the Portland Trail Blazers were able to outlast the Charlotte Hornets to capture their third consecutive victory tonight. Portland held Charlotte to just 37 points in the first half, which provided the cushion they needed to escape with a 93-91 victory. Damian Lillard scored just 18 points, but his 11 assists contributed to a complete team effort for the victory.
Both teams struggled to get in a rhythm on offense to open the game—a theme that would continue throughout the opening frame. A one-two punch of CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic finally broke the stalemate, giving the Blazers a slim 8-3 lead at the 8:35 mark. Both teams slogged through the remainder of the quarter, combining for a painful 2-13 from beyond the arc. McCollum’s mid-range work and decent defense gave Portland a 24-to-20 edge after the first quarter.
The Blazers continued to hold their ground on defense in the second quarter. No matter where they went,Charlotte was unable to escape the outstretched arms of Portland defenders. Shabazz Napier hit a 3-pointer with 1:48 left in the half, pushing the Blazers to a 46-to-36 lead. Lillard further extended the lead with a 3-pointer of his own in the final seconds, giving his side a 49-37 edge at halftime.
Nicolas Batum emerged from the locker room looking for revenge on his former team. With a combination of mid-range and outside shooting, Batum pulled the Hornets within three at the 4:24 mark of the third quarter. The Frenchman eventually cooled off, but not before he racked up 18 points in the period. Portland maintained a modest lead because of Evan Turner’s eight-point contribution. Portland finished the third quarter up 74-67.
Nine points from McCollum and Pat Connaughton expanded the Blazers lead to 16 shortly after the fourth quarter got underway. After an early timeout with 10:26 remaining, Jeremy Lamb arose from Charlotte’s bench with his best Batum impression. After a Lamb-fed 13-0 scoring run, the Hornets found themselves down just three with 6:50 left in the game. Jusuf Nurkic finally broke Charlotte’s run by converting a basket in the post, but Lamb tied the score at 87 after being fouled on a 3-point shot. Lillard and Nurkic responded with four points to give Portland a small edge on the scoreboard. Costly missed free throws by Al-Farouq Aminu and McCollum, combined with a pair of turnovers by Turner, gave the Hornets a pristine opportunity to steal this game in the final minute. But Kemba Walker missed three attempts, one at the hands of a vicious Aminu block, and Charlotte couldn’t convert inside or out. The Blazers somehow held on, allowing them to escape this contest with a two-point victory.
The Blazers defense didn’t allow the Hornets to take an easy shot from the field for the majority of the first half. They might not produce a ton of turnovers (the Hornets committed only seven), but they managed to hold Charlotte to a 34.4 field goal percentage...their second night of stifling defense in a row.
Portland’s three-headed bench big monster is becoming a nightmare for teams with shallow frontcourts. The Hornets are still adapting to Cody Zeller’s absence, and the Blazers took advantage by utilizing fresh legs. Ed Davis and Zach Collins combined for 19 rebounds, while Noah Vonleh looked sharp in his nine-minute shift.
Outside of Jeremy Lamb and Nic Batum scoring in bunches, the Hornets relied on the Blazers’ turnovers to get back in this one. Portland committed 19, four of which occurred in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter. Portland’s poise may need some work.
The bench was a strength once again. Shabazz Napier, Pat Connaughton, Davis, and Collins all looked good in their respective roles against the Hornets.
- Damian Lillard had a quiet double-double against the Hornets. 18 points and 11 assists looks nice in the final boxscore, but his team-high 5 turnovers is a bit of an eyesore.
- When the offense wasn’t clicking, CJ McCollum carried the scoring load. Portland looked sluggish in the first quarter on the second night of a back-to-back. McCollum’s nine-point opening frame helped the Blazers avoid falling into an early hole. McCollum scored 25 points, extending his streak of 20+ point games to five straight.
- Zach Collins had 10 rebounds in just fifteen minutes of work. The rookie big man cashed in an open three-pointer for his only made basket, and also saw some minutes playing next to Jusuf Nurkic.
- Nurkic is showing signs of getting back in the swing of things. The Bosnian Beast was relatively quiet for three quarters, but converted crucial buckets in the fourth quarter. Nurkic recorded 14 points and 5 rebounds in his 25 minutes of action.
- Evan Turner was solid from the mid-range when Portland’s offense stagnated. It was Turner’s work in the face of Nic Batum’s third quarter outburst that kept the Blazers’ lead intact. Forget his late-game hiccups, nine points on seven shots was a crucial element in Portland’s victory over Charlotte.
- This wasn’t Al-Farouq Aminu’s prettiest game, but his lead-preserving block on Kemba Walker with under a minute remaining was absolutely crucial. Forget Aminu’s paltry two points, instead, remember his heroic defense.
At The Hive still can’t believe that the Blazers gave them so many chances to steal a victory.
The Blazers will finish their road trip on Monday when they face the Minnesota Timberwolves.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com