It’s been just seven months since Damian Lillard took that “bad shot” and waved goodbye to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and it seems as if nothing has really changed.
Sure, Russell Westbrook and Paul George left for greener pastures over the offseason while Chris Paul now suits up in the blue and orange, but it was still a close game between two competitive teams that do not like one another.
In what was ultimately a sloppy game in which no team shot better than forty-percent, the Blazers found a way to make more winning plays down the stretch as they defeated the Thunder 102 to 99.
Lillard paced the Blazers with 23 points and 13 assists while C.J McCollum added 22 points and four rebounds.
Sure, there was no wave this time, but what a satisfying win to finish the season-opening road trip with an impressive 3-1 record.
Here are tonight’s takeaways:
Over the past two games the Blazers saw strong starts dissipate in the second half. The Spurs clawed back from a 19-point hole on Monday while the Blazers couldn’t capitalize on an early nine-point advantage in Oklahoma City. Tired legs at the end of a long road trip are understandable, but it doesn’t make those unnecessarily close games in the fourth quarter any easier to stomach.
These slow starts also seem to transpose to some of the team’s best players. Lillard is one player who seems to start slow, but finish strong as was evidenced most recently in Monday night’s defeat to the Spurs in which he exploded for 18 points in the fourth quarter after having a combined ten points after three quarters.
Despite these struggles, the Blazers always seem to find a way to perform late and salvage any game. If anything, Portland might just need some home cooking to find their rhythm.
The Blazers know how to win close games
No matter how discombobulated this Trail Blazers team looks, you always know that they will somehow find a way to be in the game until the final buzzer.
Against San Antonio the Blazers looked dead in the water until Lillard put the team on his back and almost sent the game to overtime.
After combining for 21 points midway through the fourth quarter, McCollum and Lillard finished with a combined 45 points, showing once again just how well they can carry this team when needed.
Rodney Hood and Kent Bazemore came up with some big shots down the stretch, too
Should we start to be worried about the Blazers’ depth?
If you were to name a weakness of this Trail Blazers team before the season, odds are that the team’s overall depth wouldn’t be something that comes to mind. Remember the years when the Blazers boasted one of the league’s best starting lineups, yet also had one of the league’s worst bench? It’s kind of hard to forget. With Kent Bazemore, Anfernee Simons, Mario Hezonja, and Anthony Tolliver, this years second unit is a far cry from those benches of yesteryear, but there are still some worrying trends that need to be dealt with.
The Blazers have lost the bench battle 32-22, 50-31, and 33-30 over the past three games.
It may be early in the season, but that depth is being seriously tested already, especially in the front court with Zach Collins, Pau Gasol, and Hassan Whiteside suffering injuries in the opening five games.
There’s still too much talent on the bench to worry too much after roughly six-percent of the season, but it’s a trend that fans should at least keep an eye on.
Portland now returns home for its second home game of the season against *potentially* Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and the 4-0 Philadelphia 76ers.