The Trail Blazers secured a crucial 106-101 victory over the Lakers on Friday. Led by Damian Lillard’s 38-point night, the Blazers secured the season-series tiebreaker over the Lakers with the win. Now with five games remaining, Portland is in control of its destiny when it comes to avoiding the play-in portion of the NBA Playoffs. For the LeBron-less Lakers, Anthony Davis nearly carried his squad past the Blazers with 36 points and 12 rebounds.
Before we get into the key points from Friday’s game, make sure you check out our quarter-by-quarter analysis by clicking here.
All Hail Dame
Regardless of LeBron James’ absence, tonight had the makings of a postseason atmosphere. For the Blazers, Lillard answered the call at seemingly every key moment. Thanks to his in-the-gym range, the former Weber State star routinely stretched the Lakers’ defense to its breaking point. Seriously, Andre Drummond and Marc Gasol both found themselves near halfcourt when applying added pressure. It was no surprise when Drummond was forced to exit with six fouls in just 22 minutes. From distance, Lillard connected on five of his nine attempts from distance.
But Lillard’s night was much bigger than an efficient three-point showing. Once the Lakers were on the ropes, Lillard feasted on aggressive downhill looks. Whenever Portland needed an answer for Davis’ output, Lillard would emerge to answer the bell. That aggressive style earned him nine attempts from the free throw line and he connected on all of them. The Blazers star finished with 38 points in 39 minutes.
After a slow start, Davis imposed his will for the final three quarters. He bullied Robert Covington inside the arc and feasted on mismatches when the Blazers were forced to switch or rotate quickly. On the boards, Davis dictated the pace of play by controlling the defensive glass and he created second-chance opportunities on the other end.
Late in the fourth quarter, it was Davis that jump started a 7-0 run that brought the Lakers within a single possession with just over a minute remaining. It is also important to note that Davis’ 36-point outing benefited from 15 attempts from the free throw line—only six fewer than the entire Blazers’ roster.
The Lakers’ performance on Friday was bookended by quarters that featured a plethora of turnovers. In the first quarter, Los Angeles sputtered out to a 22-point frame due to eight turnovers. Unsurprisingly, the Lakers erased the Blazers’ double-digit lead in the next two quarters by committing zero turnovers. But the Lakers regressed in the final frame, finishing the contest with 14 turnovers.
For long stretches, the Lakers’ careless possessions proved to be the biggest difference in the action. Los Angeles controlled the open floor and won the rebounding battle 49-44.
Postseason Preview: Two Guards
Following a sturdy run of games, Anfernee Simons endured a forgettable night against the Lakers. He failed to find his rhythm and missed the mark on all three of his attempts from distance. Defensively, Simons was subjected to the postseason treatment. When he was on the floor, the Lakers made a clear effort to find him. The third-year guard finished with two points and five personal fouls in 20 minutes of action.
Alex Caruso, for the most part, represented the opposite end of the spectrum. After developing in the G League and maximizing his opportunity on a two-way contract (yes, teams can find role players that way), Caruso went toe-to-toe with Lillard and served as the Lakers’ second option for extended periods. He finished the night with 18 points and did a marvelous job of playing the heel.
In 33 minutes of action, Kyle Kuzma connected on just two of his 11 attempts from the field and missed all six of his three-pointers. Kuzma had an opportunity to tie the game at 100 in the final moments with a transition three-pointer, but he couldn’t shake his cold shooting in that moment.
We Can Hear You
Last, but certainly not least, the sound of actual fans made its way through the broadcast. From M-V-P chants when Lillard was at the free throw line to booing the officials, the 10-percent capacity crowd was felt.
I’m not crying, you’re crying.
The Trail Blazers return to the floor tomorrow to host the Spurs.