Despite playing their third game in the last four nights and the second of a back-to-back, the Portland Trail Blazers looked fresh and energized as they slaughtered the Philadelphia 76ers 129-95. One night after an emotional loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Blazers bounced back with perhaps their finest performance of the season, taking care of business on both sides of the ball all night long. CJ McCollum led the charge with 35 points, while Ben Simmons led the Sixers with 19 of his own.
Portland jumped out to an 11-point lead after the first quarter and never looked back, extending the lead to 29 at halftime. They didn’t let up in the second half, leading by as many as 42 as they cruised to the 34-point win.
Playing Both Ends of the Court
The Blazers shot an incredible 59% from the field, including 55% from distance, while holding the 76ers to just 35% and a dismal 19% from three-point land. The team racked up 28 assists, putting four starters into double figures despite the reserves playing the entire fourth quarter. Rapid ball movement and dribble-drive penetration led to open looks, which they were able to knock down consistently.
On defense, the Blazers were just as solid. While Philly certainly had an off night shooting, a tremendous amount of credit belongs to Portland’s defense for forcing them into tough shots and generally discombobulating the 76ers offense. The Blazer D was locked in from the opening jump up and down the lineup. Jimmy Butler was a non-factor, starting the game 0-7 and finishing just 2-12. He was hardly alone, as no one on the Sixers could find any kind of a rhythm outside of Simmons and TJ McConnell, who scored 14 off the bench. The Blazers also dominated the battle of the boards, out-rebounding Philadelphia 59-36.
Embiid’s Absence Felt
Of course, the fact that Philadelphia was playing without Joel Embiid, who missed the game due to a knee injury, certainly factors into why the team looked so off. The big man is averaging 26.5 points and just over 13 rebounds a game and is a big part of Philly’s attack on offense, in addition to serving as their defensive anchor in the post.
His defensive contributions were especially missed, as the Blazers were able to finish at the rim with ease all night. Mike Muscala logged 24 minutes in Embiid’s absence, and Jusuf Nurkic made mincemeat out of him in the low post. In fact, all seven of Nurk’s field goals were in the painted area, with Muscala providing as much resistance as a wet paper bag.
Too Many Turnovers
One negative to take out of this game was the fact that the Blazers committed 21 turnovers, including eight in the first quarter alone. The Sixers score 16 points off of the miscues. Normally, it would be tough to win being so loose with the rock, but thanks to hot shooting and solid defense, the Blazers were able to get away with it tonight.
Nonetheless, the high turnover rate is a bad sign as the season progresses, as giveaways have plagued the team all year long. Portland has done a better job taking care of the ball as of late, but tonight was a giant step backwards in that department.
McCollum’s 35 points came on 13-18 shooting, including 4-7 from distance. He logged a team-high 28 minutes.
Nurkic had another solid performance with 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists, in addition to a block and a steal.
Damian Lillard had a relatively quiet night after his 40-point explosion against the Warriors, but still finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists. He also committed seven turnovers on the night.
Al-Farouq Aminu had 16 points and eight boards, shooting an extremely efficient 5-6 from the field, in addition to leading the defensive charge.
Evan Turner earned the start in place of the resting Maurice Harkless, and finished with eight points and seven rebounds on 4-6 shooting
The Blazers bench had a solid night, with Zach Collins (7/6/4) and Meyers Leonard (9/8) leading the way.
The Blazers head down I-5 for a New Year’s Day match-up in Sacramento against the Kings.