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Lillard Sets the Stage for Upset, Blazers Outlast Lakers

Damian Lillard dropped 34 points in the Trail Blazers’ Game 1 victory over the top-seeded Lakers.

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers - Game One Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Trail Blazers opened their 2020 NBA Playoffs schedule with a 100-93 upset over the top-seeded Lakers. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 55 points in a tightly-contested game on Tuesday. For the Lakers, Anthony Davis and LeBron James carried the Lakers back from a double-digit deficit, only to come up short in the end, with a combined 51 points of their own. In the end, Portland’s clutch shooting gave them just enough of an advantage in a game that featured an abundance of foul trouble.

Before Game 2’s arrival on Thursday, here is another look at the Blazers’ upset victory.

Postseason Ready

The first few minutes of action could not have gone better for the Blazers. Wenyen Gabriel, working with Nurkic in a high-low action, opened the scoring with a smooth finish underneath. On the next possession, Nurkic got on the leaderboard himself with a quick three-pointer. Defensively, the Lakers made it a point to get downhill with their two stars. Nurkic and Gabriel held their own, with minimal fouls in the first four minutes. Once Gabriel picked up his second foul just before the seven-minute mark, Hassan Whiteside was summoned off the bench.

Buoyed by two towering centers, the Blazers alternated between zone and man-to-man looks on defense. Nurkic and Whiteside successfully patrolled the baseline, turning the Lakers’ ice-cold outside shooting into favorable opportunities in transition. Offensively, Lillard was sharp from distance and registered 15 points in the opening frame. Nurkic trailed just behind Lillard in scoring, but secured an impressive double-double in the first quarter. Unable to connect on outside shots, the Lakers found themselves in a 11-point hole after 12 minutes.

AD & LeBron Find Space

Facing a double-digit deficit, the Lakers clamped down on defense and committed to smothering the Blazers’ ball handlers. That increased pressure put a firm cap on Portland’s shooting. In a trend that would continue throughout the second quarter, the Blazers produced points almost exclusively at the free throw line. The Lakers’ offense did not suffer the same fate as their tertiary scorers opened up the lane for LeBron and Davis to go to work. Fueled by a 13-1 run in the first four minutes of the second frame, Davis utilized that momentum to pile up points from the free throw line and the field. LeBron notched seven assists in the quarter and Davis put 12 points of his own on the scoreboard.

The Blazers, by getting to the line, managed to cling to a slim lead. Portland finished the quarter with only three made field goals. The Blazers headed to the locker room with a 57-56 advantage.

Towering Tandem

The Blazers stopped the slide in the wrong direction in the third quarter. CJ McCollum finally got rolling on offense after quiet first half. Utilizing a perfect mix of step-back and driving looks, McCollum found the seams in LA’s defense. The Lakers, unable to produce points on the perimeter, once again returned to a bull-headed approach on offense. Freed from first-half foul trouble, the Blazers big men returned to duty in the post. During the middle of the quarter, Whiteside and Nurkic formed a stout backline for Portland. Along with their defense, Whiteside’s return to the court balanced a rebounding battle that the Lakers were running away with.

Outside of a few crafty plays from McCollum and an impressive shift from Whiteside, the third quarter was far from gorgeous. Both teams endured clunky dry spells in the third frame. Lillard notched just two-points in the third quarter, but the Blazers found a way to head into the final quarter with a 78-75 lead.

Last-Minute Offense

Whiteside’s formidable play in the third quarter carried over into the fourth quarter. The Lakers, unable to run away with rebounds, returned to a grinding, downhill-centric plan on offense. The physical, and often sloppy, style of play garnered the attention of the officials. The Blazers, who finished the contest with four players with five fouls, received the worst of it. Facing a Lakers squad better equipped to exploit halfcourt sets, coach Terry Stotts squad appeared on the verge of letting a tough back-and-forth contest slip through their fingers after LeBron supplied a go-ahead bucket for LA at the 8:46 mark.

Saddled with foul trouble and stuck behind a six-point Lakers lead (the largest of the game for LA), the Blazers put the ball in the hands of their most reliable producers. Lillard and McCollum reeled off an 8-0 run at the midpoint of the quarter to put them back ahead. Following that flurry, Carmelo Anthony and Gary Trent Jr. arrived on the scene with a pair of clutch three-point conversions. Unable to put the Blazers away down the stretch, the Lakers wilted in the final two minutes. Bolstered by Lillard’s nine points down the stretch, Portland escaped Game 1 with a 100-93 victory.

Whiteside Turns the Tide

This was not the biggest game Hassan Whiteside has had with the Blazers in terms of numbers, but this might have been his best performance since his arrival from the Heat. For the first time in the bubble, Portland’s two-big lineup looked dangerous. Defensively, it forced the Lakers to finish over two towering defenders when their outside shooting went cold. Offensively, the Blazers’ zone-like defensive coverage opened up unlikely lanes in transition. Portland exploited favorable cross matchups in transition early and often when Whiteside and Nurkic shared the court.

Individually, Whiteside shifted the momentum in the fourth quarter with his rim protection. The Blazers appeared to be in deep water once Nurkic exited the fourth quarter with five fouls. Whiteside quelled those concerns with competent and engaged play on both ends of the floor—effectively buying enough time for Nurkic to return for crunch time.

Melo Does it All

Like Whiteside, Melo has produced better single-game numbers since his arrival in Portland. But his ability to slow down LeBron for short stretches deserves attention. He maneuvered around the defensive end of the court efficiently and invaded passing lanes in the process. When loose balls occurred, the 36-year-old forward was not afraid to go to the deck. Offensively, Melo once again came through with a crucial three-pointer in the fourth quarter. With 2:33 remaining, Melo canned his second three-pointer of the night to give the Blazers a 95-89 lead.

Big Time Backcourt

Lillard finished the game with 34 points after an extremely quiet third quarter. The former Weber State star continued to shatter defenses with his gym-defying three-point range. Lillard finished 34 points, five rebounds and five assists. From distance, he connected on six of his 13 attempts.

McCollum took it upon himself to take the lid off the Blazers’ basket in the second half. Following a disastrous second quarter, McCollum opened up the entire floor for his teammates by challenging the Lakers’ defense from all three levels. He scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half.

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The Blazers face the Lakers in Game 2 on Thursday.