New Orleans may be the Big Easy, but nothing came easy for the Portland Trail Blazers tonight as Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans outlasted Portland in a slugfest, handing them their a 119-113 loss in the process. Jusuf Nurkic’s solid night was eclipsed by Davis’ 36 points. The Blazers managed to avoid getting blown out, recovering from a 16-point deficit to capture a third-quarter lead. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 56 points as well. But as is often the case when these two teams meet, the Pelicans’ huge all-stars proved the biggest difference in this contest.
Hot Runs Prevent a Blowout
The action began with the Pelicans jumping out to an early 5-0 lead after DeMarcus Cousins connected on a wide-open 3-pointer. The Blazers countered with a Jusuf Nurkic-led 11-2 run. New Orleans’ pick-and-roll defense struggled. The pace of the game slowed down after the midpoint of the quarter, allowing Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis to methodically push the Pelicans into the driver’s seat. The quarter came to an end with New Orleans boasting a 31-to-25 lead.
The start of the second quarter featured an ice-cold spell for the Blazers. With Portland stuck in neutral, Jameer Nelson pushed New Orleans’ lead into double-digits by hitting a 3-pointer with 9:42 on the clock. The Pelicans rode their hot shooting to a robust 16-point lead. Then Damian Lillard and Al-Farouq Aminu combined for 10-straight points, cutting the Pelicans’ lead to 52-47 with 3:13 left in the half. Aminu’s unlikely offense continued through the final moments of the quarter, as Portland completed their comeback effort by tying the score at 61.
Energized by the second quarter rally, the Blazers were noticeably more active on both end of the court as the new half began. Thanks to crisp passing, an open 3-pointer from Shabazz Napier gave Portland a 75-to-67 lead at the 8:30 mark. New Orleans regathered and battled back on the shoulders of Davis and Cousins, with Cousins putting his squad in front with timely free throws with just over two minutes remaining in the third. Darius Miller joined the action late with a three-pointer of his own, and the Pelicans were able to escape the quarter up 88-to-86.
Napier tied the game at 88 to start the final frame, but New Orleans was determined to bludgeon Portland via a steady diet of offense from the post. Davis recorded five straight points in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, putting the Pelicans ahead 96-90 with with 9:29 remaining. Nurkic re-captured his first quarter form while attempting to match Cousins’ scoring output. The two behemoths took turns battling it out. Despite beating Boogie one-on-one on offense and blocking his shot on defense in consecutive possessions, Nurkic was unable to pull the Blazers out in front. Portland reduced New Orleans’ lead to 100-99 with 5:25 remaining before Davis exploded for 9 points in final five minutes of action to seal the game.
Boogie and the Beast
Portland and New Orleans combined for 116 points in the paint in this frontcourt-oriented affair. It’s no shock to see Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins go for 60 points, but a 38 from Jusuf Nurkic and Al-Farouq Aminu in response is impressive. Each frontcourt took turns dictating the pace and dominating the action for long stretches. In the end, Davis and Cousins just had more juice.
A lack of cohesion was apparent for Portland’s bench unit. It is hardly newsworthy to bring up the Blazers’ struggles off the bench, but it was especially bad tonight. Without Evan Turner (illness) and Shabazz Napier (starting lineup) in their normal spots, Portland struggled to move the ball with any rhythm. Their reserves combined for a paltry 12 points, which was well behind the 27 points from New Orleans’ bench.
Turner was also missed on the defensive end, as Jrue Holiday routinely abused Portland’s remaining perimeter defenders. Holiday only missed three shots from the field on his way to a 25-point night.
Portland’s second quarter comeback effort provided a bright spot. The Blazers were cruising towards an ugly final score when they fell behind by 16 points in the first half. Inspired play on both ends of the court allowed them to level the score before heading to the locker room. The change in momentum would have lifted the Blazers past either the Pelicans’ stellar frontcourt or their own 3-point shooting woes, but it couldn’t do both.
Long Night From Beyond The Arc
Jusuf Nurkic looked like a Bosnian Beast tonight. He shot an efficient 7-of-9 from the field and only missed 1 of his 6 free throws. Beyond the boxscore, Nurkic’s battles with DeMarcus Cousins were probably the most exciting part of this contest from Portland’s perspective.
CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard were unable to bring any appetizers to Nurkic’s feast in the paint. Portland’s backcourt combined for only 6 three-point makes on 20 attempts. To make matters worse, neither player got to the free throw line with any regularity. Despite that, Lillard and McCollum each scored 23, with Dame adding 8 assists.
Al-Farouq Aminu played excellently against formidable talent. Despite surrendering a hefty amount of size to Anthony Davis, Aminu did a solid job on the glass. Along with his 11 rebounds, Chief recorded 19 points and nabbed 3 steals.
Shabazz Napier put Wednesday’s less-than-impressive game against the Rockets behind him by doing a little bit of everything against the Pelicans. He was the only Portland player to shoot the three-ball with any consistency, and created his own offense when called upon. Napier capped off his 36 minutes of work with 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists.
Bye Bye Bayou
Our friends at The Bird Writes will be flying high after this performance from their big men.
The Blazers will conclude their four-game road trip when they visit Minnesota to face the Timberwolves on Sunday.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com