The Portland Trail Blazers opened the NBA Playoffs with a thud, losing at home against the New Orleans Pelicans. A poor first-half offensive performance — only 36 points at halftime — put the Blazers in a hole they spent all second half cracking away at. The clearest sign of troubles? Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Portland’s back-court tandem struggled in the first half, combining to go 1-for-15, with McCollum 0-for-6 with zero points.
After the loss, McCollum said, “If I played better in the first quarter, I think we’d win that game.” But the first quarter was not the only letdown; after halftime, the Pelicans grew their lead, culminating with a 69-50 score with 4:25 left in the third. “I think the third quarter was tough. They went on a little run, they got up by 17, 18, I can’t remember how many points it was exactly. But that kind of change the game, blew it open a little bit,” McCollum added.
But the Blazers kept at it. McCollum’s shooting turned around, culminating with a 7-for-12 second half performance. Meanwhile, Lillard went 5-for-14 (with three 3-pointers) after intermission, and Portland found its spark on offense. At the same time, Portland’s defense prevented New Orleans from responding. “Mentally, we’ve got to be better. But I didn’t think we had a bad defensive game,” Lillard told reporters. With the strong effort at both ends, Portland stormed back, climbing within four. And when Lillard fed McCollum for a key 3-pointer, it was a suddenly a one-point game with 59 seconds left. The home crowd was ready to erupt.
Then it became the Jrue Holiday Show.
Evan Turner got a steal and McCollum took it in transition, but he turned the ball over as Holiday absorbed his pass. The very next possession, Lillard also had a chance to take the lead, but threw up an off-balance shot with Holiday hounding him and missed. Terry Stotts stood by that decision. “I wanted to get the ball in his hands,” he said, later adding, “If Dame has the ball in his hands, I feel good about it.”
Next up? The Meyers Leonard Play with 12 seconds left, where Holiday disrupted a bucket that would’ve cut Portland’s deficit back to one. Then Portland’s chances of winning went out the window when Holiday erased Pat Connaughton’s layup. “I have a lot of respect for his game,” Terry Stotts said after the game about Holiday.
Lillard broke down the play that Holiday messed with in post-game:
I know [Evan Turner] was trying to find me on that play -- we talked about it -- but [Pat] was wide open, slipping right underneath the basket. Jrue just made a great defensive play.
The Blazers could dwell on what went wrong, but instead they’re focused on not repeating the same effort in Game 2. Lillard acknowledges the pressure from dropping Game 1 with home-court advantage:
I think it puts some pressure on us. You come in with home court the first two games on your floor, and you lose the first one. And now they’re saying in their locker room, ‘we got one, why not go get another one?’
Portland has its next chance against New Orleans on Tuesday, the second game of a potentially long series. The players echoed that sentiment. “You never want to drop a game at home, but, you know, it’s the first of four,” McCollum said.
The playoff-veteran Lillard is prepared. “Our job is to defend the home court. So it’s one game at a time.”