Fresh off of twin home losses to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Portland Trail Blazers needed a big win against the Indiana Pacers tonight, the outset of a six-game road trip that could well decide the fate of their season. And a big win is just what they got. Damian Lillard came out aggressive early, towing CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic in his wake. But all three gave way to the player of the night, Anfernee Simons, who set a franchise record by shooting 9-10 on three-pointers for a game high 27 points. Lillard scored 23 and McCollum 20 while Nurkic notched an 11-10 double-double. Combined, they led Portland to a 133-112 victory.
15 Blazers played in this game, a rarity this season. Portland held the Pacers to 33% shooting from distance, firing 57% on 20-35 shooting themselves.
Damian Lillard looked to put his imprint on the game early. Unfortunately he missed his first three shots, but at least he brought defenders with him. CJ McCollum took advantage, dribbling and hitting in the mid-range. Robert Covington also found himself open from distance, hitting a pair in the period. But Malcolm Brogdon and Caris LeVert absolutely destroyed the Blazers on the other end. In an all-too-familiar refrain, the game became an Indiana-Jones-like race for Portland as they desperately tried to outrun the rolling scoreboard torrent spurred by the opposing guards. It worked until Oshae Brissett started hitting threes. Those strikes, plus a few run-outs for the undersized-but-quick Pacers, were enough to put the period in jeopardy. Fortunately Lillard and Anfernee Simons each hit from deep in the final two minutes. That was enough to bring Portland back from a modest hole. Portland shot 52% but still trailed 34-35 after one. Brogdon had 14 points in the period.
The latter parts of the first quarter and the early minutes of the second had a common theme: Indiana drove the lane and scored at the rim whenever they wished. The Blazers answered as they always do: jumpers from McCollum, post-ups from Carmelo Anthony, and solid screens from Jusuf Nurkic. It was enough to keep them above 50% shooting, but the Pacers stayed there too. Indiana’s scoring calmed in the middle minutes of the quarter as they started settling for mid-range jumpers instead of driving hard inside. Portland’s guards—particularly Simons—were still sweet from deep range. Enes Kanter also played Bully Ball against Indiana’s shorter players. Looking confident for the first time in weeks, the Blazers took the lead. A half-dozen three-pointers later (thanks, Ant-Man!) and it was a BIG lead. A Flagrant 1 as McCollum grabbed Bissett by the face on a layup attempt was the only thing that slowed Portland’s momentum once they started rolling. The Blazers led 73-62 at the half.
The Blazers played their greatest hits as the third quarter commenced. Lillard drove for a layup and hit a three. McCollum scored on a jumper, Nurkic inside. The Pacers offered only a fairly weak pair of mid-range shots. It didn’t stop either. Lillard and Covington would strike deep, pushing Portland’s lead towards 20. A Simons three with 4:53 remaining would put the margin above. An Anthony three with a little over a minute remaining took the lead to 30. And then Simons hit ANOTHER, continuing his perfect night from deep. As the scoreboard would indicate, the Blazers also clamped down on defense during this stretch. It was only for a few minutes, but when you’re hailing enough triples to dent the arena, that’s enough. A 40-16 period gave Portland a 113-78 lead heading into the fourth.
At the start of the fourth, Simons hit his 8th and 9th three-pointers without a miss, setting a franchise record. He’d miss his 10th attempt, but you know what? 90% three-point shooting is pretty good. Simons’ strikes were enough to clear the benches for both teams. Harry Giles III poured in a bunch of buckets as the Blazers romped to victory.
Stay tuned for Ryne Buchanan’s extended analysis of this game coming up soon!
The Blazers will match up with the Memphis Grizzlies for the third time in the last week tomorrow night at 6:00 PM, Pacific.