The series tie between the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers was broken tonight, but it did not break Rip City’s way. The Blazers fell 116-108 in Game 3 of their first round matchup. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum led Portland in scoring with 34 and 28 points respectively while Carmelo Anthony scored 20 points along with four steals.
LeBron James almost quadrupled his scoring total from Game 2, pouring in 38 points along with 12 rebounds and eight assists. Anthony Davis put together a strong second half to finish with 29 points along with 11 rebounds, eight assists, three blocks and two steals.
This game started out ugly, with both teams coughing up early turnovers and missing shots. Fortunately for the Blazers, an 8-0 run, jump-started by Damian Lillard, pushed the momentum in Portland’s favor. After making only one three last game, Lillard hit three in the first quarter alone, looking like his finger wasn’t bothering him much. CJ McCollum also provided a scoring boost, utilizing his superb shot-creating skills to put defenders in a trance and pull-up from wherever possible. The Lakers’ halfcourt offense was sloppy with LeBron James off the court, but behind James, Anthony Davis, and Kyle Kuzma, their stellar transition offense returned to form. Despite a late-quarter push from LA, the Blazers led 29-25 after one thanks to 21 combined points from Lillard and McCollum.
McCollum came out swinging in the second, toying with defenders for a quick eight points. He’d finish with 20 in the half. Meanwhile Los Angeles kept attacking the rim and drawing fouls, creating a significant free throw disparity (31 free throw attempts to Portland’s 8). The Lakers didn’t have a problem getting to the rim, but they struggled to convert once there. They made only 18 of 31 free throws in the first half. Still, when you get to the line that much you have the luxury of missing a few times. But even with LeBron surging for 22 first-half points, the Blazers never fully let up. They did an excellent job containing Davis, swarming him in the post early and often, getting physical with him and holding him to only six points at the half. Carmelo Anthony was especially notable for his disruptive play. McCollum’s buzzer-beating three capped a 41-point half for Portland’s starting backcourt. The Blazers led 57-53 at the half.
LeBron made it his mission to set the tone early in the third quarter, scoring 9 of the Lakers’ first 17 points. Carmelo Anthony responded with 13 points in the quarter, generated by his trademark mid-range jumpers and one three. It didn’t matter who was in front of him; if Melo thought he had a shot, he took it and usually drained it. That helped Portland’s offense, but not the defense. The Lakers continued to draw foul after foul, with Lebron and Davis leading the way. Davis played more aggressively in this quarter, scoring 11 in the third after attempting only three shots in the first half. The mid-range game was working for The Brow. While it’s usually the shot Portland wants Davis to take, it hurts when he makes it over and over again. Giving up 40 points in a quarter generally doesn’t bode well. It was yet another third-quarter collapse for Portland, as they trailed 93-86 entering the final period.
LeBron and company continued to make things difficult for the Blazers in the fourth. The instant Portland missed ,the Lakers pushed the ball in transition, with James either throwing the easy alley-oop to Davis or Dwight Howard or finding another teammate on the perimeter. James didn’t score a ton in the fourth, but his attacking opened up the Los Angeles offense even more.
Jusuf Nurkic tired out in this quarter as Davis worked him for bucket after bucket. Davis continued to hit the shots Portland gave him, making the Blazers pay for sagging off ever so slightly. It didn’t help that the Blazers were thoroughly dominated on the glass. Lillard struggled from the field in the final quarter, shooting only 1-6 . His team struggled too, making only eight of their 24 attempts. Increased physicality and constant double-teaming of Lillard made it nearly impossible for Portland to get a good look. The end result was a 116-108 Blazers loss, leaving Portland down 2-1 in the series.
The Blazers did nothing to help themselves in the second half on offense, especially in the fourth quarter. Lillard and McCollum shot only 4 for 13 from the floor combined. Melo had two points in the fourth while Nurkic looked gassed from guarding the Lakers’ bigs on defense. There was just no coherent offense. The Lakers disrupted Lillard as much as possible and one else was able to pick up the slack.
Containing the stars
The biggest question going into this series was how the Blazers would slow down the Lakers’ stars. In Game 1 they successfully contained Davis. In Game 2 — although it didn’t ultimately matter — LeBron had more turnovers than made field goals. In Game 3, both L.A. bigs entered attack mode and the result was near triple-doubles from both. A lot of AD’s points came off mid-range jumpers that the Blazers usually live with. That strategy didn’t pan out this time. Meanwhile, LeBron actually attacked with a ferocity the Blazers hoped would not surface.
This game showed that Portland can’t just bank on one of the Lakers’ stars having a bad game. When James and Davis really want to, they can turn it on and make life difficult for any team, especially one that struggles defensively like the Blazers. They might be able to force Davis into more jumpers, but that doesn’t always work. LeBron is just LeBron, and there’s only so much one can do to stop him. In the end, no one on the Blazers is really equipped to deal with these two guys.
The great free throw disparity
I am never one to blame a loss on the refereeing. There’s usually plenty of other reasons for a loss than calls that didn’t go the way you would like. However, the stark difference in free throw attempts cannot be ignored. L.A. shot 43 free throws to Portland’s 19. Nurkic and Anthony had to battle foul trouble for most of the game. The Lakers didn’t even shoot well from the line (only 65%) but it didn’t matter because of the sheer amount of attempts they got.
This loss cannot be blamed on officiating. The Blazers were outrebounded 55 to 38 and became completely inept offensively towards the end of the game. But when the gap in free throw attempts is this large even though both teams were aggressive in attacking the paint (the Blazers had 34 points in the paint while the Lakers had 42), it’s worth noting how one team got the advantage.
Game 4 of the series tips off on Monday at 6 p.m. PT.