It was a powerful night in Los Angeles as the Lakers returned to the floor for the first time since Kobe Bryant’s death. Following a ceremony that honored all the victims of Sunday’s tragic helicopter crash, the two sides returned to action.
Like the previous four games for the Blazers, Friday’s contest produced a similar result for Damian Lillard. Energized by a series of non-calls right after halftime, Lillard notched 23 of his 48 points in the third quarter. Along with Lillard, Hassan Whiteside dominated on offense. The big fella connected on 13 of his 14 shots from the field.
It was an unforgettable night that led to a surprising victory for the Blazers.
Following an emotional pregame ceremony, the energy level for both squads fluctuated in the first five minutes of action. The Lakers created wide-open looks with halfcourt passes to players snaking behind the Blazers defense. Portland answered with isolation plays that routinely finished with shots inside the paint. For long stretches, it felt like a low-energy all-star contest.
The final six minutes of the quarter unfolded in a different fashion. The Blazers tightened up their defense and the Lakers successfully funneled their offense through Anthony Davis. The former Pelicans star led all players with 18 points in the opening frame. Buoyed by a three-point flurry from Lillard and McCollum, the Blazers finished the quarter with a 38-36 lead.
The Lakers unloaded their bench to start the quarter—allowing each player on the bench to see the court. The understaffed Blazers held their ground and mitigated the transition issues that plagued them in the opening quarter. Wenyen Gabriel, Hassan Whiteside and Nassir Little did a solid job of invading passing lanes early in possessions.
Offensively, both sides were unable to find a rhythm that extended longer than a few minutes. Thanks to a foul call on Trevor Ariza to close the half, the Lakers entered the locker room with a 62-60 advantage.
The third quarter belonged to the hottest player in the NBA, Damian Lillard. Fueled by a series of questionable calls from the officials that resulted in a technical foul, Lillard erupted for 23 points. The Lakers tossed the kitchen sink at the Blazers star, but nothing could slow him down. He split double teams, connected over the top of close outs and fought through contact. Eventually, Los Angeles forced the ball out of Lillard’s hands with pressure that started at mid court. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Gary Trent Jr. was up to the task. The former Duke standout feasted on open opportunities late in the quarter.
The Blazers finished the third with a 103-96 advantage.
The last quarter set the stage for a heroic come-from-behind performance for LeBron and it looked like he was poised to deliver through the first six minutes. James was aggressive and effective. During that stretch, he sent Gabriel to the bench with his sixth foul on a three-point play and connected on a transition three-pointer over Mario Hezonja.
Lillard was summoned from the bench with just over eight minutes remaining. With the Lakers rolling, the threat of Lillard’s offense opened up the court. He never regained his red-hot form from the previous quarter, but he created open lanes for his teammates and repeatedly found Whiteside rolling to the basket. When Whiteside wasn’t connecting on virtually every shot he attempted, he was stifling the Lakers’ advances in the post. Outside of a missed box out on Davis, Whiteside played an almost flawless quarter.
On an emotional night in Los Angeles, the Blazers rode Lillard’s hot hand to a 127-119 win.
Lillard’s Run Continues
Damian Lillard is in the middle of an unbelievable streak. Fueled by his seemingly limitless range, Lillard has recorded 40 three-pointers in five games—the most by any player over a five-game stretch.
Stats aside, Lillard’s impact was obvious in the second half. Following a technical foul, Lillard focused his frustration into production. No matter what defense the Lakers utilized, the former Weber State star found a way to exploit it.
Hassan and Company
Outside of Lillard, Whiteside and Trent Jr. provided much-needed results in big moments. Whiteside continued his streak of mostly-focused impactful play. He was a monster on the glass, rejected shots and most importantly, he couldn’t miss. On a broken possession with the Lakers surging in the final moments, he connected on an improbable step-back shot from the baseline to preserve Portland’s lead.
Trent’s performance was less noticeable, but it was still crucial to the Blazers’ victory. When the Lakers forced the ball out of Lillard’s hands, it was Trent that served as a reliable safety valve on offense.
Whiteside recorded an impressive 30-point, 12-rebound double-double. Trent, in 22 minutes of action off the bench, recorded 10 points.
The Blazers return to the Moda Center on Saturday to host the Jazz.