In a game of changing leads, The Portland Trail Blazers were able to ride the tide in their favor to close the action, defeating the New Orleans Pelicans in a 106-95 win. Zion Williamson was a man amongst boys, but those same proverbial boys learned from their mistakes early, and showed great maturity in following the lead of Head Coach Chauncey Billups.
As has become habit, missing All-Star guard Damian Lillard was no bar to victory, as Jerami Grant stepped in with 10-20 shooting for 27 points in 42 minutes of play.
The Blazers stuck to their zone for the entirety of the second half. This was the first time they had reverted to such a scheme for the entirety of a half all season. It paid off, as they were able to hold the Pelicans to 41.8 percent shooting from the floor. Even though they got wiped 21-4 in the points off turnovers category, they were able to dominate in the paint, and hit timely trifectas, culminating in a game-clinching run that could not be extinguished.
Pelicans play-by-play announcers Joel Meyers, and Antonio Daniels were expecting a zone defense from the Blazers off of the opening tip, and a zone defense is what they were able to call. Portland came out in their now-patented 2-3 zone which Zion Williamson disregarded with brutish aggression, getting to the line off of a hacked layup attempt. After missing both free throws from the charity stripe, the Pelicans got hot from outside. Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas hit catch-and-shoot 3 pointers, and Herb Jones connected on a long two off the catch.
Portland answered New Orleans with inside play, as Josh Hart broke the game open for the Blazers with a driving layup off of a second chance opportunity. Justise Winslow was the first Blazer to go on his own scoring tear, connecting on two made layups and two made free throws for six consecutive points, after missing two point-blank bunnies at the rim. Drew Eubanks also exhibited good rim protection with a solid contest on a Brandon Ingram lay up, leading to a miss.
A timeout was all Jerami Grant needed to come out with a new energy. He commenced the next stretch of play with a 3 from the right wing. Ingram retorted with his best Kobe Bryant impression, stunning the defender with a shoulder fake and rising up for a post fadeaway. Grant brought it back with a second 3 off the dribble. He wasn’t done having fun on the offensive end, as the next possession, he gladly accepted the heat check, and kept the burner blazing with a pull-up two from 17 feet, lulling the defense to sleep. Portland had three second-chance opportunities in the quarter.
The Pelicans took a page out of their opponents’ playbook, starting the second quarter in a zone of their own. Their 3-2 zone was neutralized by a nice post finish from Jabari Walker over the smaller defender. On the other end, a missed shot was turned into a made one, off of a beautiful no-look feed from Larry Nance Jr. to Zion Williamson heading baseline like a freight train, before he drew the defense and kicked to Jose Alvarado for a corner trey. Zion must’ve realized that the defense couldn't contain him from the possession prior, as the next time down, he wasted no time catching the ball down low, utilizing a sharp jab step, before rushing in toward the middle for an off-handed push shot. Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups did not call a timeout in the midst of the Pelicans’ 6-0 run.
Portland had 33 points with a little over six minutes to go. They had only scored six points with Simons and Grant on the bench. Once they came back into the game, they matched that point total in just over 45 seconds. Rip City got a little too comfortable with the long ball, and did not implement enough off-ball movement, backdoor cutting, and screening. This could be attributed to New Orleans’ effective zones, which bothered the Blazers’ players. They shot 30 percent from deep for the half, taking seven more triples than the Pels. Grant was able to get Williamson off of the floor due to foul trouble, with a purposeful lay-up plus the harm.
How New Orleans started the game, is how they ended the half, making use of the middle man as a facilitator at the free throw line extended. In this case, it was Trey Murphy III creating a dump-off opportunity to the man in the dunkers spot for an easy deuce. Anfernee Simons cashed out on a two-for-one opportunity to close the half with a deep 3. But he didn’t have the last word, as Murphy III came up big yet again. He blocked a fast-break attempt from Hart, ran hard in transition, and was rewarded with a 3-point attempt. Winslow committed an ill-advised foul, sending him to the line, and the rest was in the history books.
It was evident that Coach Billups preached less contentment with the 3 and more assertiveness inside. There was more cutting from Portland, and on the defensive end, they forced several turnovers, including errant passes from the likes of Williamson, and back-court violations and charges from Ingram. Anfernee Simons was the man before the first timeout, with eight of Portland’s 15 points.
Boos could be heard in the Smoothie King Center after CJ McCollum walked on a play. Sloppy play was a detracting factor that hampered any efforts New Orleans made to keep their hand on their lead. Give props to the Blazers for their refreshed defense. A Herb Jones airball from 20 feet might’ve appeared to be the story of their quarter, but amidst all of this turmoil and inconsistency, the game was still close. The Pelicans only trailed by three points with 3:38 to go.
Someone needed to refer to the scouting report, because it should be common knowledge by now that whenever Murphy III gets a sliver of space from deep, he is liable to let it fly. He hit a corner 3, and a deep 30-foot bomb that tied the game. Nassir Little also hit a 3 in the quarter. He has been a model of consistency from beyond the arc this season. He is shooting a career-high 46.2 percent from distance this season. That is 13 percent higher than his career average. He has registered a 3 in all but two of Portland’s games thus far.
Zion Williamson brought the pain to start the fourth. He muscled his way to the hole, drawing the foul, hitting the layup, and dialing in the free throw. Coach Billups decided to keep Anfernee Simons on the bench until the seven minute mark of the fourth. Prior to his re-entry, Winslow hit a shocker of a 3 to beat the shot clock. And then, after Drew Eubanks forced two misses in close from Williamson, the Pelicans committed a cardinal sin, permitting a wide open dunk from Little off of the out of bounds pass.
Little put the stamp on a great team effort, with an and-1 layup. Halfway through the final quarter, both teams had five players in double figures. A Zion drive forced a foul, putting the Pelicans in the bonus with over half the quarter to go. It was all downhill from there for New Orleans. Trendon Watford connected with Little on a baseline cut for a dunk. A couple of possessions later, Jerami Grant completed a classic Charles Barkley, “dribble dribble dribble, dribble dribble dribble,” sequence before making something out of it with a monster two-handed jam. Grant iced the game with a catch-and-shoot trifecta from the left wing. Brandon Ingram fouled out with several minutes left to go and New Orleans was done for. Williamson’s 17-point quarter was spent in vain, and the Blazers skated on to improve their win-loss record to 9-3.
You won’t want to miss our extended preview from Marlow Ferguson, taking a deeper look into tonight’s game.
The Blazers will finish their six-game road trip against the Dallas Mavericks this Saturday evening, at 5:30 p.m. PT.