The Portland Trail Blazers used a cohesive bench attack to defeat Lebron James in his Lakers debut on opening night by a score of 128-119. The win marks the 16th straight time the Blazers have defeated the Lakers and also the 18th straight opening night home win for Portland, the longest such streak in the NBA. The Lakers struggled to find any hint of a shooting touch until it was too late, while the Blazers leaned on 28 points from Damian Lillard, 24 points off the bench from a scorching Nik Stauskas, and a terrific showing from the other reserves to hold the lead for the better part of the night and finish with the win.
Setting up Camp
The Lakers enjoyed life under the basket so much, they set up camp there and feasted. Portland, one of the better teams in the NBA last year at protecting the paint, struggled to do anything about the trespassers in the key early in the game. The Lakers scored 63 points in the first half, all but two came at the rim or at the free throw line. Let me repeat that. The Lakers scored 61 points at the line or the rim in the first half! That’s 25 made field goals on lay-ins or dunks in the half! That is substantial. The most notable stretch was 3 consecutive dunks, one by JaVale McGee, and two in a row from LeBron James that forced Blazers head coach Terry Stotts to call a timeout. The Lakers missed all twelve of their attempts from three-point range in the first half and failed on their first 15 attempts of the game.
The Lakers were getting to rim via the bounce, mostly by James, but they also found cutters darting through the lane. The size of the Brandon Ingram, James, and McGee in front court caused the Blazers problems and also led to easy buckets.
The New Blood
Stauskas, playing his first game in a Blazer uniform, made his presence known early. The Lithuanian wonder had a stretch during the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second where he scored 16 of 18 points for the Blazers. That unexpected lift from Stauskas changed the whole game. He finished the game 7-11 from the field and 5-8 from three, totaling 24 points. Sveikinimai to the Blazers best Lithuanian since Arvydas!
Second is the Best
The Blazers had 5 players in the negative on the plus/minus scale. Four of those players were starters. I rarely give much credit to the plus/minus of one game, but in this case, the analytics matched the eye test. The Blazers’ bench was phenomenal tonight—most notably, the defense of Zach Collins. The end of the Lakers’ feasting in the lane coincided with the extended minutes of Collins. The six blocks were a part of it, but he stymied the Lakers by clogging the lane and changing shots.
The Lakers took the lead on their first three-pointer of the game late in the third quarter with Portland’s second unit in the game. It was an important moment and Stotts stuck with his bench. The Stauskas, Collins, Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless, and Seth Curry lineup responded by playing the best basketball of the night both in terms of sharing the ball and defending. Offensively, Evan Turner had his hands on every offensive possession during that stretch allowing the Blazers starters to reenter the game with a bit of a cushion. Great showing from that group of guys.
It’s always a great feeling to beat the Los Angeles Lakers. Today was no exception as the Blazers led most of the way and gave something for Blazer fans to get excited about. The second unit was a question mark coming into the season, but was remarkable tonight. (STAUSKAS!) Also, the loss of Ed Davis’ offensive rebounding left uncertainty in an area of strength from last season. 14 offensive rebounds in Game 1 helped alleviate the worry.
Portland’s defense was concerning, considering they not only gifted the Lakers open 3’s all game, but also bled points on the interior until Collins decided to plug things up. Almost as concerning was the transition defense, giving up 34 points on the break. The open 3’s may have been part of the game plan, but if so, the key should have been locked up. The Portland defense didn’t shut down any aspect of the Lakers offense. Luckily the Lakers shot poorly enough to lose anyway.
Overall, the product on the floor was unpolished, but an opening day win against the Lakers is a great way to get the season started. It’s great to have Blazers basketball back.
The Blazers welcome the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night at 7:00 PM.