The Portland Trail Blazers survived a 115-112 battle with the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night thanks to a dominant third quarter, spearheaded by Damian Lillard. Portland’s All-Star scored 41 points and had eight rebounds and four assists, while knocking down a franchise-record 10 threes in the game, seven of which came in the decisive third quarter. Nikola Vucevic led the Magic with 20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists on the night.
After the Magic shot 56% from the field and 57% from distance in the first half, racing out to an eight-point halftime lead, Portland clamped down on the defensive end in the third, while scoring a season-high 40 points and holding Orlando to just 21. Despite a 10-0 run from the Magic in the fourth, the Blazers were able to hold on for the one-score victory. The last couple minutes proved disastrous for both teams, ripe with turnovers and missed free throws. The win snapped Portland’s three-game losing streak, the longest of the season.
Let’s start with the good. After the Blazers looked a step slow on defense in the first half—gifting the Magic open looks by allowing their shooters too much space, collapsing on the dribble drive and not rotating properly—they turned things around in the third with a renewed sense of focus on the defensive end of the court. Jusuf Nurkic deserves a lot of credit, as he noticeably turned the intensity up a notch: deflecting passes, disrupting Orlando’s rhythm, and locking down on Vucevic, who had 11 points in the first quarter alone, but finished with 20 for the game.
Lillard, with some help from Nurkic, spurred the offense by knocking down a franchise-record seven threes in the frame. With the final score so close, the third quarter was truly the difference in this game, and the only reason the Blazers were able to survive for the victory on a night where they clearly didn’t have their best stuff.
Limping to the Finish
The final couple minutes of this game deserve the Yakety-Sax treatment. It was that brutal. The Magic were able to tie the game at 108 with three minutes left, thanks to a 10-0 run sparked by Evan Fournier’s hot shooting, during which Portland also went ice-cold from the floor. That’s when things got weird.
The Blazers missed eight free throws over the final two minutes, including four from Evan Turner with a chance to ice the game away. They held on because the Magic didn’t take care of the ball on the other end. Orlando had five critical turnovers during that time frame, including on the final possession, in which they threw the ball away with 0.9 seconds left, after a clock malfunction gave them one final chance to tie.
Nik Stauskus bounced out of his shooting slump in a big way, scoring 15 points over 14 minutes in the first half, with 12 of those points coming in the second quarter. The Blazers as a team only scored 22 points total in the period. Sauce was 5-8 from three-point land on the night, and also finished with a couple of solid assists. However, he only logged four minutes in the second half, finishing with 18 points.
Nurkic was aggressive early, and had 16 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, for his sixth double-double in the last nine games. CJ McCollum had 15 points and six rebounds, doing most of his damage in the first quarter. Evan Turner had six points, seven boards and seven assists, and while Meyers Leonard had an off shooting night, Zach Collins stepped up with seven points and seven rebounds, shooting 3-6 from the field.
The Blazers host Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Friday night, with a scheduled start time of 7:30 pm PT.