The Trail Blazers’ uninspiring start to the NBA Playoffs is directly tied to the Pelicans’ suffocating defensive effort. Damian Lillard was the driving force behind Portland’s offense in the regular season, but he has been held to consecutive sub-20-point games in the postseason. Due to Portland’s struggles, the Pelicans will return home to New Orleans ahead 2-0 in the series.
Danny Chau of The Ringer took a closer look at how the Pelicans are making things tough for the Blazers through the first two games of the series. Unsurprisingly, point guard Jrue Holiday was awarded with the lion’s share of the credit:
Holiday’s game-saving block on Pat Connaughton in Game 1 and 33 points in Game 2 are the searchlights that have sent his national star rising, but it’s been his defense on Lillard that has been most important for the Pelicans’ success. Lillard was defended by Holiday on 127 possessions over four regular-season games (which the teams split, 2-2); after two playoff games, he’s already faced Holiday for 74 possessions. It’s been nightmarish for the MVP candidate: According to matchup data courtesy of Second Spectrum, Lillard has shot 2-for-18 from the field (11.1 percent) with Holiday as his primary defender. Against literally every other Pelican combined, he’s shooting 11-for-23 (47.8 percent). Holiday’s recent success against Lillard is simply an extension of what he’s done all season.
While Holiday is without a doubt the headliner, Chau elaborated on how the Pelicans are deploying a multi-faceted attack aimed at making things miserable for Lillard:
The Pelicans have created an almost impossible scenario for the Blazers, who rely almost exclusively on Lillard’s ability to break down a defense. New Orleans can live with McCollum having a good shooting night, but they’ve remained steadfast in denying Lillard every time he has the ball. Lillard has done a lot of self-talk during postgame interviews, and while there were a number of shots that Lillard missed in Game 2, self-actualization can’t always solve a systemic problem. The inherent utility of a pick-and-roll is to briefly create a two-on-one mismatch, but both Holiday and Davis are uniquely built as PNR busters.
The Blazers will get their third crack at the gauntlet that the Pelicans have laid out when they take the court in New Orleans Thursday night.
You can read Chau’s entire post on the Pelicans’ defense by visiting The Ringer.