The Portland Trail Blazers used three-point shooting and high-octane scoring from Damian Lillard to put away the Philadelphia 76ers tonight, 118-111. The Sixers were playing without All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but they beat the Blazers under similar circumstances back on November 1st. They threatened to do the same tonight, outscoring Portland 52-36 in the paint and cutting off the Blazers’ seemingly endless supply of rebounds. But 39 points on 5-13 three-point shooting from Lillard (plus 30 more off of deep strikes from his teammates) kept Portland in the lead throughout and ultimately secured the game.
Portland hit 23 of 23 free throws, including 14-14 from Lillard. CJ McCollum added 18 to Lillard’s tally to help his team to the win.
The Blazers jumped out to a 7-0 lead, going inside to Jusuf Nurkic and Norman Powell before Damian Lillard drained a solo three. Seth Curry answered with a four-point play on the other end, but CJ McCollum hit his own triple to re-counter. It looked like a score-heavy game, which usually favors Portland.
In this case, the Blazers had a hard time creating separation on the scoreboard. Their own defense was as bad as Philly’s. It looked like each squad had made a compact to let the other score, especially if the attempt involved any kind of layup. As it turns out, 60% shooting makes you look pretty good no matter what uniform you’re wearing.
The respective bench squads couldn’t quite keep up the pace. Turnovers and missed short-range attempts interrupted the flow, preventing a Mad Dog quarter (40-40). But that was a fault of imperfect offense more than defensive intensity. Frankly, it looked like both teams were willing to push the matter of winning to later periods. Portland led 30-25 after one.
The Blazers made a game effort to get inside at the outset of the second period. They went 0-4 in the lane in the first 4 minutes. A pair of threes from McCollum—one Lillard-deep—saved them. Their perimeter defense looked somewhat more energetic but they still couldn’t stop Philly in the paint. As the period unwound, the Sixers stopped going in there. They went iso on the perimeter without any players who can actually score in isolation from the perimeter. That was all Portland needed to extend the lead. The Blazers went into a timeout up 45-34 with just under 5:00 remaining.
Portland started going back inside as the half closed. Easy conversions and foul shots helped them protect the lead. So did Philly’s awful perimeter shooting...ugly enough to put an eye out. But this is Portland and nothing comes easy. The Sixers started playing fast, rebounding hard, and making a concerted effort to get the ball back in the paint themselves. 9 points in the final 3:30 helped them stay alive, despite the Blazers scoring consistently. Portland’s lead stood at 55-46 at the half.
The Blazers came out hot to start the third, with Robert Covington hitting a three and Powell a runner in the lane. Once again they had trouble stopping the Sixers in the paint. Portland’s defense was more energetic as a whole...it looked like they were trying. Philadelphia just out-waited them. They made extra passes, forcing the Blazers to overextend, then reaped the benefits from 10 feet and in. What could have been a 17-point Blazers lead stood at just 7 with 7:30 remaining. It took threes by Powell (twice!), Jusuf Nurkic, and Dame to keep them ahead by double digits. When you need four threes just to tread water, your defense is not doing that well.
But hey, give the Blazers a game they can win by shooting deep and they’re probably going to do it. Portland would end up hitting 8 in the period, including a Logo Lillard bomb. Philly still couldn’t throw it in the fat part of the Willamette. Portland finally broke it open...
...or did they? A 15-point lead with a couple minutes left melted back under a few missed shots and some smart Philly offense. After ALL THAT SHOOTING SUCCESS, Portland only led by 8, 86-78 after three.
Holding true to form, the Blazers attempted four threes to start the deciding final quarter. They hit but one. Philadelphia scored inside and cut the lead to 5 within three minutes. Play would continue in similar fashion through much of the period. When the Blazers hit deep shots, they looked unbeatable. When those shots didn’t fall, Philly shrank the gap uncomfortably close. 4...3...2... it boggled the imagination.
But when the edge got down to a single bucket with 6:00 remaining, Portland finally woke up, converting three straight layups and then drawing two Lillard free throws from a shot in the lane. A forced turnover and a Nurkic block helped their cause. In 90 seconds, the lead was back to 10 and the game secure. Behind Tyrese Maxey, the Sixers would cut it to 5 mid-period and again at the end, but thankfully they got no closer.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of the game, coming soon!
The Blazers get a rematch with the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night at 7:00 PM, Pacific.