The Portland Trail Blazers came home on the second night of a road-home back-to-back to face the Indiana Pacers. Damian Lillard was back, scoring 21 in 32 minutes, but it was a balanced effort from all of the starters. All five scored in double figures, and all five knocked down at least one three pointer.
A huge third quarter for Portland was the main difference, when shots from deep came from every angle and buried the Pacers. Buddy Hield and Myles Turner tried to keep things close, with the former going for 22 and latter for 24, but the Blazers were able to respond to every run and won 116-100.
The Blazers started out the game in unfamiliar fashion, with their theoretically-optimal starting lineup intact. Seeing Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, Jerami Grant, and Jusuf Nurkic all take the floor together was something like hearing the brass notes of a marching band drifting down the street in anticipation of the Grand Floral Parade. Seeing Lillard’s first three fall within a minute was like the first glimpse of the float at the head of the column.
The pace was quick out of the gate, with both teams running the floor and whipping around the ball. Portland’s somewhat-shoddy defense showed, but no more so than Indiana’s. Open jumpers and layups were the order of the day. As long as they only watched one side of the court, each team’s fans could pretend that their squad was doing well. In practice, the scoreboard remained knotted, but in a stylistically-pleasing way.
As the middle moments approached, Indiana’s penchant for the three-pointer started to pay dividends, especially when combined with a few offensive rebounds. Their shots came relatively unchallenged, and thus started to fall with frequency. The Blazers simply couldn’t keep up. A three from Grant around the 6:00 mark made the crowd come alive, but Indiana still led 17-12.
A mid-quarter timeout, plus a defensive substitution or two—read: Justise Winslow and Drew Eubanks—helped clean up the defense, and thus the scoreboard margin. Portland’s shots still fell. When they stopped the Pacers from scoring even quicker, the game looked easy.
Dunks by Eubanks and Shaedon Sharpe, plus a free throw on a fouled dunk attempt from Sharpe, finally put the Blazers on top. Indiana could live with a long-ball shootout, which they’d probably win. But when Portland’s shots started coming quick and easy, the Pacers couldn’t quite match.
On the back of their second-unit defense, the Blazers came all the way back, leading Indiana 28-24 after one.
Sharpe started out the second with a quick, bold three-pointer, signaling his scoring run was neither limited to dunk attempts nor ending anytime soon. Except now it was Indiana’s turn to stiffen up the defense, pressuring the Blazers out of the lane and into contested long shots. The Pacers didn’t get to score in droves, but with the Blazers bottled up, they claimed control of the game once more, even with minimal point production. But back-to-back threes by Nurkic and Lillard gave the Pacers some of their own medicine, putting Portland on top again, 41-35. Another three a couple minutes later made the period feel in hand as halftime approached.
But Portland couldn’t keep up the defense forever. The Pacers got a couple of uncontested dunks, then a tip by Myles Turner. All of a sudden, it was even again. Hart stuck back with a drive, then an offensive-rebound put-back of his own, refusing to let his team flag. Back and forth the action went, neither team able to wrestle control from the other for long. In general, the team that controlled the inside tended to surge, but the identity of that team switched frequently. The Blazers ended up with the last run, though, finishing the half with a pleasing, but hardly secure, 54-49 edge.
The Blazers got early dunks from Nurkic and Grant, and then the floodgates opened. Three-pointers by Simons twice, Hart, Grant, then a HUGE bomb from Lillard broke the game wide open. That’s every starter but Nurkic hitting at least one three during the run. The Blazers beat Indiana at their own game. The quarter ended with the Blazers enjoying a 19-point lead. 93-74. Jerami Grant led all scorers with 22, while all five starters were already in double figures.
Simons opened the fourth quarter with a three, but Indiana countered with a Hield triple, a Hield steal and a Hield layup. Billups went for the Popovichian timeout just to settle things down with 11:02 remaining in the game.
Hield wasn’t done though. After the timeout, a Blazers miss and another Hield make from deep caused a few nervous ripples in the Moda Center crowd. The Blazers finally stopped the run with a pair of Grant free throws, making the lead 15 with 9:41 to go. That didn’t settle down the Blazers though, and the Pacers in general and Hield in particular kept whittling at the lead. The lead was down to 11 when Dame hit a deeeep three to give the Blazers some oxygen.
Just when it looked like the Blazers could cruise again, a missed contested fast break layup from Lillard led to a quick three from Turner, and the lead was down to 11 again with 5:19 remaining. From that point on, the Pacers went semi-cold and the Blazers kept churning. Nurkic split a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 17 with 2:09 to go, and starters began heading to the bench with the game no longer in doubt. Portland’s bench brought this one home, with the final score being 116-100.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of the game coming soon!
The Blazers finally get a little break in the schedule, getting to practice and rest until Thursday night, when they take on the Denver Nuggets at 7:00 PM, Pacific.