The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Charlotte Hornets 125-116 on Friday night, riding a huge, 43-point effort from Damian Lillard along with 28 from hot-shooting Ben McLemore off the bench. Portland built a huge lead in the first half, then frittered it away slowly enough to walk away with a much-needed win.
If you missed the game, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After you’re up to speed on the proceedings, here are some points you may have missed in the excitement and flurry.
Offense Looks Simple
The Blazers got to run plays like they were in practice in the first half tonight. It was good. Once again, we got a glimpse of Head Coach Chauncey Billups’ ideal, as the Blazers got to shoot exactly where the X’s end up on the whiteboard. Their attack featured ball movement, centers starting outside the key and moving in to receive or make passes, and three-pointers coming off of action instead of in isolation. 81 points in the first half stood testament to what the Blazers are supposed to look like. They shot 51.8% from the field for the evening as well.
Portland set a team record for three-pointers made in the first half with 16 splashes in 25 attempts. That made the Hornets’ defense look lost and powerless. Portland finished the game with 21 made threes and a 44.7% shooting percentage from distance.
The Blazers actually got outworked in several aspects of the game. Their long shots made all of that moot. It’s strange how, after all the changes, attempted evolutions, injuries, and variables rolling through the season, one aspect of the game can still make the difference between Portland looking great or terrible. This roster grew up around the three-pointer. As long as the key players remain the same, I doubt it’ll ever get out of their system.
After giving Jusuf Nurkic a courtesy tip of the hat to start the game, Damian Lillard took over the ball and orchestrated Portland’s attack. He drove hard and took whatever shots seemed best to him, including deep ones. He was a powerful primary weapon, shooting 12-19 for 43 points with 13 of 14 free throws made. It was vintage Dame.
The distraction Lillard caused Charlotte was just as significant. The Hornets chased him everywhere, which opened up the floor for everyone else. Whether his teammates took advantage or not depended on factors beyond Dame’s control, but his mere presence gave them every chance in the world.
Ben McLemore was one of the main beneficiaries of Lillard’s big showing. At the start of the night, he stood somewhere around seventh on Charlotte’s five-man defensive priority list. McLemore got his evening rolling by setting up for standstill threes. Once the first couple went in, the lid was off and normalcy went out the window. Big Ben finished the game shooting 8-13 from distance with 28 points overall, including the dagger that finally put the game safely in Portland’s pocket. Wow.
Jusuf Nurkic is becoming a pivotal, polarizing figure on this squad. His positive contributions included paint points, a few great defensive stands, and a couple of nifty passes. But the Blazers continue to look quicker and more energetic on defense when he sits. It just clicks more on that end without him. Throw in his propensity to foul (he was DQ’ed with his sixth with 6:26 remaining in the fourth, not a one of them effective or memorable) and it just gets...weird.
The best way to describe Nurk right now is that he’s great until he’s not. Fouls aside, this was an efficient night for him. Defensively, at least, the Blazers played faster and looser without him.
Don’t let Charlotte’s 13-37 clip from distance fool you. The Blazers didn’t cover the arc that well tonight. It’s a familiar story. Sometimes it matters, and they get into trouble. For some opponents, or parts of the game, it doesn’t hurt them that much. Such was the case tonight.
Courtesy of a fairly-sloppy fourth period from Portland, Charlotte got a 30-point game within 6 as it was. Had they not gone 2-8 from the arc on wide-open looks in the fourth, they might have brought it back all the way.
Once again we’ll repeat the mantra we’ve echoed for years with the Blazers. Give them a single depth to defend on the floor and they look good. They can shut down the inside, the mid-range, or the three-point arc as needed. They just can’t do two at once, let alone all three.
The Hornets finally woke up and applied big pressure to Portland in the fourth period. That’s not unusual and doesn’t indicate that much, but it does bring up a relevant point.
With CJ McCollum out with injury and Nurkic down with fouls, Lillard was left on an island against basically everybody the Hornets could throw at him. He managed to bring the ball up the floor and bail out to teammates, who theoretically then had a 4-on-3 advantage situation offensively. It didn’t quite pan out that way. No matter who played alongside Lillard, they seemed to struggle.
This highlights the lack of shot-creators in Portland’s secondary lineup, a situation that must be borne in mind in any trade speculation involving the second and third best players on the roster.
The Blazers travel to Memphis to face the Grizzlies at 3:00 PM on Sunday.