The Portland Trail Blazers face the Detroit Pistons today coming off of three precarious road wins in the state of Florida. They finally made victory look easy in the Motor City. Poor defense scuttled their first half, but they clamped down enough to made balanced scoring and yet another outrageous game from Damian Lillard tell in the second. It’s not often Portland carries a double-digit lead into the final three minutes of the game, but they pulled it off tonight, putting five players in double figures, assisting on two-third of their buckets, and cruising to a 124-101 win.
Lillard put up 33 points and 10 assists in victory, aided by 24 from CJ McCollum plus 16 points and 3 steals from Robert Covington and 16 more off the bench from Carmelo Anthony. Portland also shot 53.3% from the arc and generated 11 steals.
The first period of this game will surprise nobody who’s followed the Blazers over the last couple of weeks. Damian Lillard got off to a hot start, hitting a couple of threes. CJ McCollum would follow suit, ensuring Portland a 30-point period without too much sweat. But the Blazers couldn’t stop Detroit inside to save their lives. Jerami Grant destroyed them at the rim with dunks, layups, chip shots, two-for-one coupons...it was absolutely shell-shocking. When the Pistons hit as many threes as Portland did (5 for each team), you knew the Blazers weren’t getting any edge. Detroit led 33-31 after one.
The second period lacked the scoring punch of the first. It might have been good defense. It also might have been a bevy of open shots clanking and spinning out. Lillard missed all his shots, hampering Portland’s offensive effort. Robert Covington stepped in, hitting two long threes and a layup. The Blazers got out to the arc; Detroit hit only 1 of 9 three-pointers attempted in the frame. But their interior attack remained strong. 7 of their 9 conversions came within 6 feet of the hoop. Norman Powell wasn’t scoring, but he put in assists and steals, helping around the edges. When the shouting was done the Blazers trailed 51-52 heading into the half.
Lillard came alive again early in the third, scoring 7 points in the first 2:30. It felt like he was trying to earn separation, preventing yet another close finish against an inferior team. He’d hit a three a minute later to punctuate the point. His teammates obliged as well, cutting inside and passing for easy lay-ins. It was everything people expected of the team but seldom get in real life. Four minutes in, Portland held a double-digit lead.
Portland’s defense tightened up in the early part of the third. They forced turnovers and contested shots. But the intensity ebbed as the period wound onward. The Blazers don’t have the personnel or the energy to sustain aggression on that end. Lillard and McCollum kept pouring in points nevertheless, the classic Portland “defense”. The Blazers gifted the Pistons a few turnovers, but it was nothing fatal, especially when Carmelo Anthony came on late to score inside. Portland’s propensity to give up layups and fouls didn’t hurt them. Thanks to the scorers, they led 87-79 after three. Lillard had 16 in the period.
Portland kept up the offensive pressure in the fourth. Lillard and Covington stroked threes, each of which made a Detroit comeback more difficult. The Pistons kept scoring on and-ones, but they had to work harder for their points than the Blazers did. As the period progressed, Portland’s lead not only held, but increased. They played their starters to the bitter end, but they also finished smoothly and in style...a rare sight and a welcome one.
Stay tuned for analysis of the game in our extended recap!
Portland returns home to welcome the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday at 7:00, Pacific.