With injuries piling up, the Portland Trail Blazers refused to say die, banding together to blow out the Philadelphia 76ers 121-105 in one of the most entertaining games of the season. It wasn’t even that close.
Just as we all expected.
With Damian Lillard riding the pine nursing an abdominal strain, the Blazers found themselves down four starters facing the hottest team in the league on the road, which would normally signal a five-alarm disaster. But with expectations non-existent, Portland’s backups (along with Robert Covington, the sole survivor of the starting lineup) put forth an inspired, scrappy performance worthy of going down in the annals of memorable and exciting (if not otherwise mostly inconsequential) regular season lore.
Even with the only true point guard remaining in the rotation (Anfernee Simons) on a minutes restriction, the Blazers somehow found themselves the most poised and energized team on the court throughout the evening. If you look up “ragtag” in the dictionary, there should be a photo of this group digging out an offensive rebound. Six Blazers scored in double-figures (Covington barely missing out with nine), making for a solid group effort to keep Portland alive in the standings, where they improve to 12-9.
They did it by setting the tempo early with outside shooting. It was by no means a barrage, but they got a few threes to fall and that seemed to give them enough confidence to keep it rolling. The team finished 13-31, which will set no records, but in contrast to the Sixers’ paltry 7-27, most of which coming after the game was already out of reach, provided enough of a boon to overcome the glaring lack of personnel, even with Philadelphia playing without Ben Simmons.
Philadelphia got a big scare early when Joel Embiid, who has been on a MVP level so far this season, came down on his knee awkwardly after blocking an Enes Kanter layup in transition. Embiid went to the locker room, but returned to the game shortly after and any fears were quelled immediately as he proceeded to absolutely gobsmack the Blazers. 31 of his 37 points came in the first half, and even with the team firing on all cylinders, a tie game going into the break made it look like another grind to the finish awaited.
It was anything but. Portland demolished the Sixers in the third quarter 40-19 behind Simons and the coming out party for CJ Elleby, who turned in the best game of his young career with 15 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal. After the starters set the tone for maximum effort, Elleby dialed the intensity up to 11, taking part in several hustle plays that turned this one from a contest into a laugher.
There are praises to be sung up and down the roster. Gary Trent Jr. led the scoring attack with 24 points, although he did take a hard fall late in the fourth quarter after taking a hard shot from Dwight Howard on a layup attempt. Kanter was a beast in the paint, posting another double-double of 17 points and 18 boards. Carmelo Anthony was efficient with 22 points on 14 shots. Accolades could be thrown out like candy - stay tuned for more in the extended recap.
The Blazers get a day off before heading to the Big Apple to take on the New York Knicks Saturday morning at 10am.