The Portland Trail Blazers out-uglied the Los Angeles Lakers tonight on their way to a 97-81 victory. After a disjointed first half that saw the teams combine to score only 72 points, the Blazers exploded for 37 in the third quarter to pull away from the Lakers.
Damian Lillard led the charge for Portland by scoring 14 of his game high 22 points in the third quarter, and knocking down three 3-pointers. Lillard also added 7 rebounds and 5 assists on the night, as the Blazers cruised to their sixth win in seven games.
The Lakers deserve credit for uglying up the first half of tonight’s game. They used length and hustle to play competent defense, harassing the Blazers into only 32.6 percent shooting by the end of the second quarter.
Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic were harangued repeatedly and combined to shoot only 4-for-19 from the field in the half. Lakers rookie Ivica Zubac did a nice job forcing Nurkic into misses in the low post and Lillard was met repeatedly at the rim by rotating Laker big men. Meanwhile, CJ McCollum turned the ball over four times for the Blazers and never looked comfortable.
Despite the struggles of Portland’s big three, two other factors kept them in the lead early: 1) Allen Crabbe, and 2) Equally ugly shooting from the Lakers. Crabbe was huge for the Blazers, and scored five quick points to spark an 11-2 run to open the second quarter. Additionally, despite their solid defense the Lakers struggled offensively (36.2 percent shooting for the half). Shockingly, a starting lineup that includes Zubac, Corey Brewer, and Jordan Clarkson is not that effective. The Blazers led at the half 40-32.
The third quarter was all Lillard, with a dose of Nurkic. After being bottled up by the grind of the first half, Lillard temporarily reminded fans that basketball can be fun to watch. Lillard’s point guard instincts kicked in and he either hit open teammates for buckets, or used the space created by the threat of a pass to hit open jump shots.
Lillard’s solid play ignited an 18-5 run that put the Blazers head by 20+, 74-53, for the first time all night. The Lakers had no answer for Lillard and folded under the pressure of the big lead. The Blazers cruised the rest of the way, and Head Coach Terry Stotts was even able to find time for his bench mob at the end of the game. Final score: 97-81.
The Blazers are not going to win any style points for tonight’s game. Take away the impressive third quarter, and they scored only 60 points in the other three periods against a team with a defensive rating of 111.1 - dead last in the NBA.
Much of the first half woes came down to a lack of solid execution from the Portland’s principles. Lillard seemed content to barrel into the heart of the defense without making an effort to mask his intentions or look for passing opportunities. Nurkic appeared to think he could score automatically against the 20-year old Zubac. And McCollum could barely hold on to the ball - his four first half turnovers were truly atrocious. Not very effective basketball, and not very much fun to watch.
It’s no surprise that the only bright spot of the first half, an 11-2 run to start the second quarter, came while Nurkic and Lillard rested and the Blazers reserves started passing the ball more freely.
Fortunately, Lillard adjusted to start the second half and torched the Lakers in the pick and roll. He took the time to read the Lakers (pretty bad) defense and was more willing to create ball movement. This forced the Lakers into decision-making mode and the team’s youth began to show. From there, Lillard got hot from deep. Throw in a couple more Crabbe jumpers and the lead easily ballooned to 20+.
As bad as the Blazers were offensively for much of the night, the Lakers were even worse. They shot only 39.3 percent from the field and failed to manufacture effective offense at any point. The bottom line is that the Lakers simply lacked the talent to keep up with the Blazers’ scoring once the game started to open up in the second half. Inefficient offense from D’Angelo Russell, 22 points on 19 shots, and Tyler Ennis, 14 points on 15 shots, will only get you so far.
Blazers Clinch Tiebreaker
The Denver Nuggets lost to the New Orleans Pelicans tonight, 115-90. The Blazers and Nuggets are now tied for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. The two teams face off on Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. in Portland.
By virtue of Denver’s loss and Portland’s win, the Blazers now hold the tiebreaker between the two teams. The exact math is complicated but the gist is that if the Blazers win on Tuesday they will win the season series 3-1 and hold the tiebreaker outright. If the Blazers lose, they are still guaranteed at least a tie in division wins, the second tiebreaker.
That means, as a worst case scenario, a Blazers/Nuggets tie will be broken by conference record - the third tiebreaker. Since the Blazers currently have only in-conference games remaining, any win will increase their conference win total by one. The Nuggets currently trail the Blazers in conference record, but have an identical overall record. So if Denver wins more conference games than the Blazers it will mean Denver has also won more total games. Thus, the Blazers will hold the tiebreaker in any scenario where the teams have identical wins.
Damian Lillard didn’t look particularly good in the first half but did his thing in the second half. The third quarter was an impressive bit of offensive captaining after the team looked so discombobulated in the first half.
CJ McCollum will want to forget tonight. He finished with 13 points and only 3 assists. Several of his 4 turnovers were of the facepalmingly bad variety, including basically handing the ball to Ennis on a bad pass at the top of the key.
Jusuf Nurkic has had better nights, but even the threat of Nurkic helped Lillard get open in the third. Nine points and 13 rebounds isn’t terrible either.
Noah Vonleh didn’t get many chances on the offense - he thrives when the team is playing fast and loose with their flow. That was decidedly not the case tonight. He still finished with 8 points and 14 rebounds.
Allen Crabbe was huge of the bench, contributing 18 points and 6 rebounds. He has looked more spry and locked in during recent games. The Blazers desperately need that bench contribution if they hope to pull away from the Nuggets.
Eric Griffith | GoBlazers87@gmail.com | @EricG_NBA