On the backs of a brilliant offensive performance from their backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, the Trail Blazers were able to rally past the Dallas Mavericks on their way to a 125-119 victory. That’s a sentence that Portland fans have waited far too long to hear again. The two guards combined for 63 points, including a barrage of big shots down the stretch to help the Blazers — now winners of six of their last eight — to a prime time victory.
The win helps the Blazers keep pace in the standings with the Denver Nuggets for the No. 5 spot out West. If you missed Dave Deckard’s instant recap of this wildly-entertaining matchup, here’s the link to that. And here are four more key takeaways from tonight’s win.
McCollum returns to form in a major way:
Call it a coincidence if you so please, but on a night dominated by March Madness unsung heroes and Cinderella stories, it only made sense that CJ McCollum looked an awful lot like that young, spry shot-maker that put the world on notice as a Lehigh Mountain Hawk nearly a decade ago.
The talented two-guard struggled with his touch in the first two games back, shooting just 6-of-27 from the field. Friday night provided the McCollum of old, with SportsCenter-esque dribble combinations, and most of all, buckets on buckets.
Those McCollum shots were especially critical tonight, given the knee injury Damian Lillard sustained late in the third quarter when Josh Richardson landed on his leg. Lillard returned, but the Blazers’ offensive struggles without him are well-documented — Portland scores 13.6 points fewer per 100 possessions without Dame, the fifth-biggest mark in the NBA — so having McCollum as a safety valve was key. That he did it on both Dallas’ lanky defenders and that he provided Portland with that fourth quarter boost both proved beneficial. McCollum finished with 32 points, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds on 11-of-23 and six 3-pointers. Together, he and Lillard combined for 63 points. Every bit of it was necessary.
Night-to-night defense remains anyone’s guess:
For the first 23 seconds of the Mavericks-Blazers game, it appeared fans might be treated to a gritty, defensive slugfest of a game. The next 47-and-a-half minutes served as proof that it would be anything but.
One night after holding an offensively-talented New Orleans Pelicans to a season-low 93 points, the Blazers promptly watched as Dallas surpassed that total in three quarters.
The recipe for those defensive failures were familiar: a lack of effort on closeouts, the inability to defend without fouling, and a lack of adjustment. Luka Doncic’s 38-point, stepback-jumper-filled night was to be expected, but the Blazers’ defense on Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber was more concerning. Hardaway worked his normal bag of tricks, using Iverson cuts, off-ball guile on sidelines out of bounds plays, and Doncic’s gravity to get open, and Kleber exposed Portland’s fatal flaw on coverage drops by staying on the perimeter. Together, the two dropped in 11 3-pointers, with Dallas hitting on 19 as a team.
It should be noted that for essentially the fourth time this week, the Blazers clamped up when it mattered most. With the game hanging in the balance, their defense has become serviceable. That played a key role in their 19-9 run to end it.
Dame, Blazers battle through pain:
If you felt a gust of wind through the Oregon area an hour ago, that may have just been the collective sigh among Blazers fans, watching as Lillard again gritted his teeth to play hero through another potential injury scare. As noted, Lillard and Mavericks guard Josh Richardson got tangled up in a collision battling for the ball, when Lillard injured his knee.
Lillard, ever the gladiator, walked off on his own power and played on, even though it seemed he initially didn’t have that blow-by speed. The story had a happy ending; Lillard hit clutch shots down the stretch, and again put on a clinic in punishing the Mavericks’ defense with their bigs dropped so far back. It wasn’t quite the 61-point game from last season’s bubble game, but it was just as important.
Being a Blazers fan means being equipped with extra stress, especially when players hit the ground and are slow to get up. That’s just a part of the terms and conditions when you sign the contract. This year’s Blazers seem to make getting hit in the face or hitting the ground a nightly occurrence. There was a stretch in this game in which Porzingis hit different Blazers on shot attempts with his arm, accruing fouls at a comical rate. There are enough nose shots and Sweet Chin Music to make the great Shawn Michaels proud. Fortunately, the Blazers just keep churning along.
Blazers’ Role Players Come Up Big:
Lillard and McCollum command the top fold of any story of tonight’s game, but what the Blazers’ role players have been able to do deserves a note. It might be a smart idea for someone to check Carmelo Anthony’s YouTube history. He’s picked up on a few AND1 moves to get into his 3-pointers, and they’ve provided this team with a boost off the bench.
It wasn’t his greatest game as a two-way force on the defensive end, but Anthony remains an effective spacer, helping draw attention away from Lillard when they share the floor. He came into this game averaging 4.8 assists over his last four, and he had some key plays down the stretch to secure this win.
One can go down the line: Derrick Jones Jr. and Robert Covington provided key hustle plays, and Covington hit essentially the game-winner on the right baseline. Enes Kanter gave Porzingis a showcase on what 7-footers do on the low block, and Gary Trent Jr. — for all of the shooting struggles he’s had recently — kept the Blazers afloat with crucial buckets to start the fourth. On a night where the Blazers’ stars prevailed, the supporting cast certainly had their moments as well.
Familiar foes unite once more, as the Blazers prepare to battle the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night at 7 pm PT.