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Blazers Play Sad Trombone, Fall Hard to Lakers in Game 4

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It’s easier to list what went right than what went wrong for Portland in this key game.

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Lakers at Portland Trail Blazers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers were blown out 135-115 by the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of their 2020 NBA Playoffs series. Damian Lillard exited the game in the third quarter with a right knee injury, finishing with only 11 points. Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum led the way for Portland with 20 and 18 points respectively.

LeBron James only needed three quarters to put up 30 points and 10 assists. Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma also finished with 18 points each, with Davis sitting out the second half with back spasms.

First Quarter

Portland’s offense seemed to pick up right where they left off on Saturday, as they went scoreless for the first four minutes of the quarter. The Lakers once again had no problem attacking the lane and drawing fouls. They scored the first 15 points of the game. LeBron James wasted no time pushing the ball up ahead and putting teammates in position for easy buckets. Even when he wasn’t on the floor the Lakers just couldn’t miss. The fouls also played a role early, as the Lakers got 16 free throws to the Blazers’ six. Multiple Blazers were visibly frustrated about not getting the same calls on their end, as they struggled to find the bottom of the net the entire quarter. Jusuf Nurkic found some success in the paint, but the rest of the starters struggled. Nurkic had 10 points while the rest of the starters only had four. The Non-Nurkic starters shot a combined 4-14 from the field. It was a first quarter where seemingly everything that could go wrong did go wrong, as the Blazers trailed 43-25 after one.

Second Quarter

The Blazers seemed to start putting things together offensively at the end of the first period, and that carried over in the second. The lid finally came off the rim as they hit over 50% of their shots to start the quarter, working to get the ball inside either through drives or post-ups. But that doesn’t matter too much if you can’t stop your opponent on the other end. The Lakers continued to make just about everything, either working it ahead for easy shots in transition or finding shooters for open threes. With Hassan Whiteside in foul trouble (three fouls in ten minutes), Nurkic was the only one left to anchor the paint. As good as Nurkic is, it’s difficult when he’s the last resort for every shot inside. On the perimeter, the Lakers had 11 threes in the first half. Portland double-teamed LeBron often, and the funny thing about a double-team is that it always leaves someone else open, and that’s a bad thing if the player you’re leaving open is as good as Danny Green at shooting. James had 22 once again in the first half as the Lakers led 80-51 at halftime.

Third Quarter

It was more of the same to start the second half. LeBron continued to dominate as he coordinated a perfectly in-tune Lakers offense. Whatever they wanted, they got it. Incredibly deep three for LeBron? No problem! Easy lob to JaVale McGee? Sure, why not! Everything was an option against a porous Blazers defense. There were a few good moments. They put together some positive possessions offensively — including back-to-back four point plays from McCollum and Carmelo Anthony — and they technically “won” the quarter. But the only truly notable thing that happened in this quarter was when Lillard exited the game with a right knee injury after landing strangely on a drive. He would not return. The Lakers led 104-80 heading into the final quarter.

Fourth Quarter

This was a classic garbage time fourth quarter. Wenyen Gabriel checked in for the first time all game. We had a rare appearance from the Jaylens (Jaylen Adams and Jaylen Hoard). Even Whiteside shot a three only to get pulled right after. Both teams were just playing to end this one. The Blazers lost 135-115 as the Lakers grew their series lead to 3-1.

Will the Lakers ever miss again?

My expert analysis is that it’s really hard to thrive in a game where you let your opponent make over 60% of their shots in the first half and the halftime score looks like the final score from a 2004 Detroit Pistons game. The Lakers have ranked in the bottom third of the league the entire season in three-pointers, but tonight they made 17 shots from outside for 43%. The thought of looking at a Lakers’ shot chart of tonight terrifies me because I know it’s just going to be an analytics nerd’s dream of shots at the rim and threes.

But saying that the Lakers just couldn’t miss doesn’t put enough blame on Portland’s “D”. The Blazers reverted to the ugliest form of an already bad defense. Defenders were constantly out of position and Nurkic was constantly put in tough positions where he had to foul or give up the points. It was the just a horrible night on that end. (Admittedly, that sentence feels like an evergreen statement at this point).

A quick note on officiating

I will keep this short and sweet; the refs did not cost the Blazers this game. I understand that there were some suspect calls against Portland and some convenient no-calls in the Lakers’ favor, but that doesn’t change the fact that Portland was atrocious defensively and didn’t do enough offensively to earn the win. Complaining about refs is one of the greatest privileges of being a sports fan, but they were not the reason for a Blazers’ loss tonight.

No Wenyen?

Terry Stotts did not play Wenyen Gabriel at all in this game until late in the second half. Gabriel had started the first two games against the Lakers and still saw minutes in Game 3 off the bench. But even as Whiteside and Melo battled foul trouble in the second quarter, Gabriel was left warming the bench until garbage time in the fourth. He finished with three points, two steals and one rebound in 12 minutes.

I don’t think Gabriel is the most important player on the team by any means, but surely in a game where the defense needs some type of boost it wouldn’t hurt to at least consider playing one of the most energetic players on the team. Gabriel can be a hit-or-miss guy. He’s either playing solid defense on Anthony Davis or over-hustling and drawing unnecessary fouls. But knowing that, it’s still interesting that they didn’t play him at all.

The Lillard question...

This is the other lingering worry after this loss...what’s the diagnosis for Damian Lillard? After landing awkwardly and leaving the game with a right knee injury, Lillard went for an MRI. As of the writing of this recap, we do not know the diagnosis. But regardless of what it is, Stotts is faced with an interesting question: should he even play on Wednesday when this team is down 3-1? Why risk further injury? Having him play doesn’t seem like it will serve anyone, and whatever the situation is with his knee it might be most prudent to sit him entirely.

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Portland will play what could be the final game of the season on Wednesday. Tip-off is at 6PM, Pacific.