The Portland Trail Blazers faced the Charlotte Hornets tonight without either of their starting big men, as Jusuf Nurkic and Jerami Grant both sat nursing injuries. Cobbled-together lineups are nothing new for Portland, but this one almost turned fatal. The Hornets feasted on inside shots and offensive rebounds much of the game, making the Blazers work for every possession.
What the Blazers lacked in size they made up for in guard firepower. Damian Lillard brought them back from a terrible third-quarter deficit. Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons helped out, but no more so than Jabari Walker, Drew Eubanks, and Trendon Watford.
In the end, the Blazers emerged with a 105-95 win to take them to 8-3 for the season, 3-1 on the current six-game road trip, one of their toughest of the season.
Lillard finished the game with 26 points on 6-12 shooting from distance with 7 assists and 6 rebounds. He single-handedly broke the Hornets’ momentum (and the game) wide open in that topsy-turvy third period. Simons added 19, Sharpe 17. Eubanks had 14 points and 8 rebounds in Nurkic’s absence.
Here’s how the action went.
Drew Eubanks wasted no time making his presence known, snagging offensive rebounds and putting in his usual array of basic, bankable shots. The least-heralded member of the Blazers rotation was joined by one of the most, as Shaedon Sharpe canned a three and a couple of mid-range shots. That duo carried Portland’s offense—you read that right—because nobody else could have bought a bucket with an American Express Black and a discount coupon. Josh Hart missed all his shots, as did Lillard (albeit taking only a couple). Anfernee Simons went 1-4. The Blazers as a team shot 2-8 from the arc.
Fortunately the Hornets weren’t much better from distance, going 3-10 for the period. Unfortunately, they made up for it inside, converting a half-dozen shots in the restricted area, destroying the Blazers on the offensive glass...a theme for the half. Portland scored a respectable 25 in the period (considering 40% of their starting lineup was missing), but they gave up 30.
Portland was having none of it in the second period, though. Their inside attack didn’t improve much, but Lillard hit a trio of triples while Simons added a pair, giving the Blazers a solid 15 for the period from three-point land alone. Add in a couple fast breaks and Portland’s offense got healthy quick.
Charlotte went the other direction, however. Portland’s smaller lineups finally made life tough at the arc for them, as the Hornets went 2-for-a-billion in the period. Cutting off the free extra points helped the Blazers defense immensely. Portland also stiffened up inside. The Hornets continued to offensive rebound like crazy, but at least their inside shots weren’t lightly-contested. Defending the extremes outside and in, the Blazers didn’t have to worry about much. They outscored the Hornets 33-23 in the period and led 58-53 at intermission.
The third period started out as a nightmare for Portland. Charlotte hit two threes, a pair of free throws, and a Mason Plumlee fast break layup (of all things...turnovers were involved) and Portland’s lead disappeared quicker than Anthony Davis from an active roster. Lillard’s shots were missing, the Blazers still weren’t rebounding well...Stephen King couldn’t have penned a scarier start.
And THEN Charlotte’s assault on the rim started in earnest. Amid a bevy of Portland turnovers and bricks, the Hornets started the period on a 19-2 run. Oy.
Charlotte built a 12-point lead before Lillard came alive with a couple of threes and two free throws on a leaner. An assist on a three to Jabari Walker one play later tied the game with 4:00 left.
After the Blazers cleared up their three-point defense and rebounding problems, the quarter got a lot easier. Lillard kept scoring like crazy. Walker played Chester to his Marshal Dillon. When the buzzer sounded, somehow...improbably the Blazers led by 7, 86-79.
Needing only to hold serve in the fourth to win, the Blazers ran lots of screen action, drove the ball inside, and concentrated on high-percentage shots. The Hornets alternating between missed threes and turnovers didn’t hurt. Portland’s lead ballooned to double-digits, which was beyond Charlotte’s capacity to deal with, likely because they didn’t have Lillard in tow. It was a period of misses for both sides, but ugly or pretty, as long as it stayed equal, Portland was content. It did, and they walked away with the win.
Note: Lillard passed Magic Johnson for 83rd place on the All-Time NBA scoring list in this game.
Stay tuned for analysis from this game following shortly!
The Blazers get the New Orleans Hornets tomorrow night with a 5:00 PM, Pacific start.