One night after being blown out in their own building against the worst team in the NBA, The Portland Trail Blazers upset the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday evening in a rowdy 107-105 scrap-fest at the Moda Center.
Despite being forced to explore the deepest, darkest depths of their roster, the Blazers delivered a committed and energized performance, giving Los Angeles all they could handle and more, overcoming 30 points from LeBron James.
The Blazers remain in the strange limbo between making franchise-altering roster changes and waiting for those new faces to actually join the team, or for that matter, knowing who exactly those faces will ultimately belong to. Of the Island of Misfit Toys grab-bag of players Portland has acquired over the past few days, only Justise Winslow has suited up for the team and he did so again tonight.
The Lakers, on the other hand, were nearly at full strength, missing only Russell Westbrook of its trio of stars (there’s a case to be made this makes them even more dangerous). Portland certainly had their work cut out for them, but to their credit, never looked to shy away from the moment.
Anfernee Simons was the hero of the night and came up big down the stretch, scoring most of his 29 points in the second half.
If one were to judge from just the first quarter of this contest, it would be hard to discern which team has championship aspirations and which has nightly dreams of numbered ping pong balls. Despite facing a gutted Blazers squad with the intimidation factor of a bed of kittens, Los Angeles somehow looked like the inferior team.
Anthony Davis sleepwalked through the whole period in one of the more puzzlingly cathartic shifts Blazers fans will see. Jusuf Nurkic worked him in the post, Winslow challenged him on defense and even CJ Elleby got the best of him in a frantic sequence where Elleby muscled his way to an offensive board and putback while Davis barely raised an arm of resistance.
Portland didn’t exactly find much offensive rhythm themselves, but Nurkic went a perfect 4/4 from the field and that was enough to match LeBron James and keep the Blazers even with the Lakers at 18 apiece after one.
When it was time for the reserves to jump into action, the pendulum began to swing towards L.A. The Lakers bench responded with urgency and torched Portland with a three-point barrage. Talen Horton-Tucker led an early onslaught of triples along with Wayne Ellington and Austin Reaves. That gave L.A. the edge in the period.
Nurkic continued to bust heads in the paint, adding 7 more points, but the Blazers were struggling to keep up. The Lakers took a 54-47 lead into the break.
If this was the part where Portland was supposed to roll over and die, somebody forgot to tell Simons, who came out of the locker room like a man sensing a hefty payday on the horizon. Simons was lights out to begin the third, knocking down three straight from beyond the arc as part of an 11 point outburst where the Blazers quickly closed the gap and even stole a brief 61-58 lead. He cooled off a bit after that, but here Portland was, hanging around much later than you’d think they had any business to be.
Simons ended up with 15 points in the quarter and the Blazers only trailed by a bucket at 78-76 after three.
Back-to-back zero hesitation threes from Keljin Blevins to begin the final frame regained the lead for Portland and brought the conflicted Moda Center crowd to its feet, which might be my favorite sentence I have ever written for Blazer’s Edge.
The energy was contagious, and everybody was getting involved. A confident straightway triple from Greg Brown III in crunch time? Why not. A no-look dish from Dennis Smith Jr. to a trailing Trendon Watford on a 3-1 fast break? Have yourselves a night. The Blazers were playing with house money and had no reservations from putting it all on the table.
Portland built their lead up to six at 87-81 before LeBron was forced to go into full tryhard mode. James almost completely took over the offense for L.A. and briefly helped the Lakers retake the lead midway through the quarter, but Simons answered loudly, knocking down back-to-back triples with 1:44 remaining which gave the Blazers a 105-100 lead that would prove to be insurmountable.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of the evening coming soon!
The Blazers will get a couple days off before hosting the New York Knicks on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.