The Portland Trail Blazers welcomed fans to the Moda Center for the first time this season and earned maybe their most important win so far, holding on to defeat the limping Los Angeles Lakers 106-101 Friday night.
With the victory, the Blazers improve to 38-29 and gain sole possession of 6th place in the West, one full game ahead of the Lakers. They also hold the head-to-head tie-breaker for the season against the Lakers in the event of a direct tie for seeding position in the 2021 NBA Playoffs.
Damian Lillard was exceptional, honoring the Rip City faithful with a 38-point gem to go along with 7 assists and 2 steals. He also snagged an important rebound down the stretch and delivered the game-sealing free throws while being serenaded to genuine, non-artificial MVP chants.
Playing in front of a home crowd for the first time in over a year was clearly as energizing for the Blazers as it was for the fans. Portland looked locked in from the opening horn, particularly on defense. The Blazers opted to match L.A.’s, slow, methodical tempo with their own tenacity, holding the Lakers to just 6 points through the first nearly 8 minutes of the contest. With no LeBron James or Dennis Schroder to dominate the ball, Anthony Davis became the clear focal point of the Lakers’ offense, but a smothering Robert Covington made him work for every inch of floor space. Covington had a whole night’s worth of steals, blocks and deflections through the first few minutes, making Davis’ 8 points in the quarter seem pedestrian compared to the effort to get there. Lillard found his range early and set the pace with 12 points as Portland built a 34-22 lead heading into the second.
With Lillard resting on the bench, Portland’s second unit struggled to keep up the pressure. Credit the Lakers being aware as anyone that the Blazers would like nothing more than to set up shop from behind the 3-point line. They did a good job denying them the chance. L.A.’s hounding defense managed to keep Portland honest; the Blazers could not have been chased off the arc faster if they were teenagers in a 1990’s horror flick. More magic from Lillard kept the ship chugging along, but they were now taking on water. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope took advantage of a plus matchup with Anfernee Simons to bully his way to easy buckets as the Lakers chipped away at Portland’s lead. The Blazers held on to 59-55 advantage heading into the break.
The entire third quarter was back-and-forth, with L.A. briefly seizing a lead but neither side pulling ahead by more than four points. The Lakers continued to ride Davis into the ground and he responded with 12 points, while Lillard remained in attack mode with 11 of his own. With the circumstances of tonight’s result perhaps finally sinking in for both sides, it was clear neither was willing to give an inch. A couple well-executed drives to the hole from Lillard down the stretch handed the momentum back to Portland, who took an 82-78 lead into the final frame.
While the Blazers struggled to deliver the knockout blow, the Lakers didn’t exactly run through the door left wide open for them in doing so. Both sides labored through a poor shooting and turnover-riddled closing stretch, but in the end it was advantage-Lillard. Dame knocked down a 27-foot straightway dagger, which gave Portland a much needed gasp of air: a 7-point lead with just under four minutes remaining. A minute later, CJ McCollum willed in a contested 26-footer of his own which provided the icing on the cake.
Stay tuned for Steve Dewald’s extended analysis of the game!
The Blazers will be back to work again tomorrow night when they host the San Antonio Spurs - tip is set for 7 p.m. Pacific.