Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers have compiled an impressive winning streak against the Los Angeles Lakers recently, but no matter how strong the dominance, ghosts of eras past still taunt the Blazers whenever these two teams meet. “Beat L.A.” is a regular chant in the Rose City, purple and gold uniforms having the same effect on Portland fans as a red cape does on a bull. After an uninspiring third period in Los Angeles on Monday night, it appeared the the Trail Blazers were destined to lose their streak, sending agonizing screams echoing across the Pacific Northwest. Then Lillard stepped up with a 19-point fourth quarter to carry Portland to a thrilling victory...their seventh straight. If all’s well that ends well, all’s better than ends flippin’ magnificently.
No Room For Separation
The Lakers opened with a clear plan to work the ball inside to Julius Randle and Brook Lopez against Jusuf Nurkic and the Portland bigs. The Blazers chose a contrasting style by trying to free Damian Lillard on the perimeter. Despite some space-clearing screens, Lillard was unable to connect on his first two three-point attempts. The Lakers defense focused on doubling the Blazers’ backcourt, but CJ McCollum effectively countered with four assists in the opening frame. Foul trouble for rookie Lonzo Ball started Isaiah Thomas’ night early, and the former Cleveland castoff answered the bell by injecting instant offense into coach Luke Walton’s attack. Thanks to an 11-3 run by the Lakers’ second unit, the Blazers were only able to escape the first quarter ahead 27-24.
After a quiet first quarter, Lillard put his stamp on the game early in the second with seven consecutive points. Dame’s hot hand transferred to Shabazz Napier. The point guards gave Portland a 10-point lead in the opening minutes of the second period. Turnover issues muted the effect somewhat. As possessions stalled for the Blazers, the Lakers regularly found the open man from beyond the arc. Los Angeles got within a single point before a pair of Lillard three-pointers in the final two minutes of the half saved Portland’s 58-55 lead.
It’s a Trap!
Portland’s hot start to the second quarter became a distant memory in the third. The Lakers’ defense tightened after halftime, resulting in dismal offense from the Blazers. Randle took advantage, capturing five straight points for Los Angeles. Portland compounded their shooting woes by committing five turnovers in the quarter. Along with capitalizing on the TO’s, L.A. benefited from attacking inside in a quarter tightly called by the referees. Despite a 12-0 run by Los Angeles at the midpoint of the period, Portland managed to stay within striking distance. The Lakers held a 80-73 lead after three.
You Were Expecting Something Different?
The Blazers continued to stay on the Lakers’ heels as the fourth quarter got underway. Two free throws from Thomas gave Los Angeles a sturdy 11-point lead with 5:26 remaining, but Damian Lillard is a walking rear-view-mirror warning: closer than he appears. Three remarkable three-pointers from Dame keyed a thrilling 14-0 run, recapturing the lead for Portland. After Kyle Kuzma stopped the bleeding, Lillard hit another triple, leaving Los Angeles fans clicking the “settings” button to see if they had cranked up the distance shooting marker too high.
Portland had the opportunity to seal the game with a 106-103 lead, 7.7 seconds to go, and McCollum at the free-throw line for two shots. CJ kept things interesting by failing to convert both of his attempts, which allowed the Lakers to get one more look. A dead-ball foul on McCollum on the ensuing inbound play led to technical free throw from Thomas, but he was unable to convert. The ball once again landed in Thomas’ hands for the final shot. Napier saved the team from disaster by deftly plucked the ball from Thomas before he could get his shot off. He was promptly fouled, which led to the game-clinching free throws and 108-103 final score.
Born To Run
The Blazers struggled with turnovers and contested looks in the halfcourt throughout the night, but they found success when pushing the pace. Whether it was a quick shot from beyond the arc or finding an open man filling the lane, Portland feasted on the young Lakers every time they went flat footed. The Blazers finished the night with 21 fast break points, L.A. with 14.
Portland couldn’t get anything going on offense (and struggled to overcome the whistle-happy refereeing) in the third quarter. They scored just 15. When things go bad for Portland, they go really bad.
The Blazers are the third-best free throw shooting team in the NBA, but they routinely missed crucial shots from the charity stripe against the Lakers. Portland nearly squandered their current 7-game winning streak by shooting a comparatively paltry 73.7 percent from the free throw line.
Lillard And Nurkic Overcome Adversity
Damian Lillard went 1-for-5 from the field to start things off against the Lakers, but eventually rallied for 39 points. He has now crossed the 30-point threshold three times since the All-Star break.
Jusuf Nurkic struggled with foul trouble for the majority of this contest, along with most of his froncourt teammates. Even with four fouls, Nurkic stayed aggressive on his way to 16 points and 16 rebounds. The big fella’s effort in the paint in the final minute helped the Blazers secure a exciting victory in Los Angeles.
Things weren’t pretty for Al-Farouq Aminu tonight. His 5 points were matched by 5 turnovers in 32 minutes of action. Aminu provided 2 steals and 7 rebounds, Julius Randle ran roughshod on him for the majority of the game.
Our friends at Silver Screen and Roll will be hoping that Portland’s winning streak against the Lakers will end sometime this decade. Or at least this century.
Portland has won seven games in a row, and Damian Lillard might be moving into legitimate MVP conversations.
Portland’s @Dame_Lillard scored 39 in comeback 108-103 win over the host Lakers. The Blazers have now won seven-straight. If Lillard can lead the Blazers to the West’s third seed, he has to get NBA MVP consideration.— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) March 6, 2018
The Blazers will hurry back home to host the Knicks on Tuesday.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com