The 2022-23 Portland Trail Blazers might just be a team of destiny. After falling behind in the second half to the winless Los Angeles Lakers — and trailing 102-95 with under two minutes remaining — Damian Lillard and the Blazers stormed back to win 106-104.
Lillard, who popped off for a second straight game, did most of the heroics. Russell Westbrook and the woeful-shooting Lakers helped out with some key misses. And Jerami Grant scored the game-winning bucket with 3.0 seconds left.
The game marks Portland’s second straight win by two points and keeps the Blazers a perfect 3-0 on the young season, while sending their hated rival to 0-3.
Here are five observations from the Sunday matinee.
The Same Dame
For the second straight game, Damian Lillard was electrifying. He followed up his 41-point coming-out-party against the Phoenix Suns with another 41-point performance this afternoon, shooting 15-25 from the field and 6-13 from deep.
From jump, it was clear Portland tried to get the six-time All-Star cooking, running several early plays to get Lillard open for off-ball threes. He missed his first four attempts, all of them jumpers, but then caught fire. Lillard closed the quarter 6-6 from the field for 14 points and finished the first half with 21 points. He again produced the offense on an array of jumpers and hard-nosed bursts to the cup, showing no signs of regression in his game.
Is Damian Lillard healthy?— Jackson Lloyd (@JacksonLloydNBA) October 23, 2022
Well, he can reject pick and go R -> L cross and finish w/ a reverse w/ his dominant hand for the and-1 pic.twitter.com/pDFDUgizbn
Trailing in the fourth quarter, Portland’s offense basically reverted to an old classic: The “Please, Save Us Dame” package, setting up several high pick-and-rolls and isolations for Lillard. He met the challenge, scoring 12 points in the quarter to bring Portland back, including a clutch step-back three to get a 104-102 lead with 12.4 seconds left. With another stellar performance in the books, this should probably be the last time we all note, Dame is back. It looks like he’ll be having big nights on a consistent basis.
Lakers, Westbrook Shooting Woes
The abysmal shooting of Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Lakers was everything it was advertised to be. Holy Moly. LA shot 6-33 on three-pointers for a grand total of 18.2%. For the first half, the Lakers shot 1-16 from deep.
Despite the poor percentage, LA kept launching threes. Even more maddening, the Lakers were carving up Portland’s defense when they attacked the basket, especially in the fourth quarter. LA outscored Portland 66-38 in paints in the paint — with 20 of those coming in the final period — but still attempted six more three-pointers than the Blazers (10-27 3PT).
The Lakers did largely stray away from the three-ball in the fourth, only attempting four shots from beyond the arc. Yet, when the game was on the line, they went right back to the jump shot. First, LeBron James settled for a difficult side-step three-pointer over Jerami Grant with a minute left. Then Westbrook (4-15 FG, 0-3 3PT) took a quick, ill-advised midrange jumper with the Lakers up 102-101 with 29 seconds left. Jusuf Nurkic had been baiting Westbrook to take jumpers down the stretch by playing wayyyy off him. Westbrook took the bait at the worst possible time. LA’s shot selection down the stretch gave Portland life.
RUSS, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?— Nekias (Nuh-KY-us) Duncan (@NekiasNBA) October 23, 2022
NURK, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? pic.twitter.com/dPLqYlMbbd
Winning the Rebound Battle
The Lakers have Anthony Davis, yes. But the Blazers have Josh Hart. Hart led Portland with a game-high 16 rebounds, helping the Blazers out-rebound Los Angeles 52-40, despite Grant only securing two boards. With Hart leading the charge, Portland’s effort on the glass was noticeable up and down the roster, as several Blazers flew into the paint and scrapped for loose balls. Nurkic had 13 boards and five different Blazers had at least two offensive rebounds, including three from Shaedon Sharpe.
Sharpe Displays Two-Way Capabilities
Speaking of Sharpe, the rookie didn’t light up the scoreboard in his third NBA game, but he impacted the game with his athleticism. In his first shift, Sharpe sent shockwaves through NBA Twitter with this soaring jam.
SHAEDON SHARPE MY GOODNESS.— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) October 23, 2022
Then in his fourth quarter stint, Sharpe showed off some high-level defensive tools. Moments after strongly contesting a dunk attempt at the rim, Sharpe snuck behind James to steal the ball for a breakaway layup. Sharpe’s offensive game has been well-advertised, but his elite athleticism and instinct is also making his defense a factor.
A More Aggressive Jerami Grant
After Portland’s win against Phoenix, Nurkic said he wanted Grant to be more aggressive on offense. The new Blazer followed up his team-high 23 points in the season opener with only eight points against the Suns. Maybe more egregious, he didn’t take a single field goal in the first half. Not making the same mistake twice, Grant looked for his shot against LA and again found success. Grant was Portland’s second-leading scorer with 16 points, shooting 5-11 from the field and 2-3 from deep. His catch-and-shoot, quick release three-pointer has been nearly automatic in the early season. He also tried to end Davis with a ferocious dunk attempt on a fast break.
Grant’s biggest play came in the final seconds. With the score tied at 104-104 with 7.7 seconds left, Portland tried to get the ball to Lillard, but pressure forced the inbound pass to Grant in the mid-post. Isolated against James, Grant didn’t defer back to Lillard. Instead, he drove and finished at the rack over James and Davis to win Portland the game. He must’ve taken Nurk’s advice to heart.
— If you haven’t yet, take a look at Ryan Rosback’s instant recap of tonight’s game.
— The Blazers have little time to celebrate. Portland takes on the Denver Nuggets at the Moda Center tomorrow night, Oct. 24. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. PT.