With two starters out of the lineup—one at the tip and another at the half—Damian Lillard assumed control of the Portland Trail Blazers, leading them in a huge scoring barrage against the Atlanta Hawks. Jusuf Nurkic did not suit up and CJ McCollum left the game at the half, but that didn’t stop Lillard from scoring 36 to lead the Blazers to a 112-106 win
Both teams started the game at a blistering hot pace, seemingly getting up shots every three seconds or so. Portland penetrated, then dished to CJ McCollum for longer-range strikes. Atlanta ran misses down the floor and crammed them inside to streaking frontcourt players for layups. The scoring ended up about even, and scoring all either team did all period. It was fun, but not precisely basketball-ish. The Hawks led 38-34 after one,
The fun stopped in the second period. Portland’s bench unit couldn’t score like the starters, but their defense was just as bad. They extended the lead to double digits without much effort. The Blazers had nothing inside and the Hawks took full advantage. When Clint Capela looks like Hakeem Olajuwon, something is going wrong. Whenever things go wrong for the Blazers, though, there’s one man to call. Damian Lillard torched the nets inside and out as the period waned, bringing Portland back to within 66-59 at the half. Lillard had 19, but Capela had 19 as well and Trae Young 17 at the break.
Anfernee Simons started the third quarter for McCollum, who got stepped on by Capela earlier in the game. This left Lillard at the explicit forefront of Portland’s attack. He continued to score, but the question was, who would help him? Robert Covington ended up open on multiple possessions but couldn’t hit a shot. In the end, they kind of gave up on it. Lillard took the offense on his shoulders, faking at the perimeter and driving to the hoop. Atlanta got sloppy on offense, settling for deep shots. The Blazers upped the defense late as well, resulting in an 86-86 tie after three. Lillard had 30 points through three quarters.
The cavalry came over the hill in the fourth for the Blazers in the form of defense. They got into passing lanes, hounded dribblers, and managed to offer more resistance at the rim than they had for the last three quarters combined. When the tempo slowed and the Hawks had to work for points, they didn’t look quite as good. Without McCollum, Portland was hampered by their own lack of reliable scoring. It made for a tense duel. The Hawks got in Lillard’s grill, preventing him from getting good looks. Gary Trent, Jr. and Carmelo Anthony took turns stepping up. Then a Lillard-to-Derrick-Jones-Jr. alley-oop set the Moda Center fan cutouts on fire. But Portland suffered clock-management issues as they tried to nurse a lead to the final horn, squandering possessions early. Lillard still couldn’t score, which left Portland’s offense at the mercy of long-shooting forwards. Atlanta crawled to within two, 106-108, with the ball and 18.4 seconds left. It was time for the Blazers’ defense to step up. The decisive play came from Lillard, who stepped in the way of a Trae Young drive and drew a charge. The Hawks were left intentionally fouling. Lillard hit all the necessary free throws and the win was in the bag.
Lillard scored six points in the final period—all on free throws—after posting 30 in the three prior.
Derrick Jones, Jr. provided energy and defense in the fourth period, his best overall effort in a Trail Blazers uniform so far.
Gary Trent, Jr. scored 18 off the bench, hitting 4 of 8 three-point shots.
Enes Kanter contributed 5 blocks and 15 rebounds to the winning effort in his first start this season.
McCollum’s injury was termed a sprained foot, though he’ll require an MRI on Sunday to determine the extent of the damage. Tonight he passed Mychal Thompson for 9th on the Trail Blazers all-time scoring list tonight. He’s roughly 500 points away from 8th-place Geoff Petrie.
Stay tuned for the extended recap, coming up later this evening!
The Blazers will take on the San Antonio Spurs at noon, Pacific on Monday.