The Portland Trail Blazers came into the Moda Center on Saturday night in desperate need of a win, facing Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. Portland carried a five-game losing streak and almost zero confidence. Dallas carried a 24-19 record, a 37.5 scoring average for Doncic against the Blazers this year, and plenty of swagger.
It didn’t matter what the respective teams had in the bag at tip-off, though. Portland had this game there midway through the third period thanks to a powerful inside-out attack, 36 points from Damian Lillard, and huge energy-playmaking-defensive boosts from role players Josh Hart and Gary Payton II.
With every player who took the floor playing free and easy, Portland earned a 136-119 win. Lillard shot 11-20 from the field, 10-10 from the foul line to get his points, which put him above Glen Rice and tied him with Julius Erving for 74th place on the NBA All-Time leading scorers list. Anfernee Simons produced 21 points on 6-12 shooting, going 6-6 from the foul line himself off of strong commits to the lane. Jusuf Nurkic hit 3 of 5 three-pointers, 9 of 15 shots overall, adding 22 points and 11 rebounds to Portland’s attack.
Doncic scored just 15 points on 7-19 shooting in the loss. He did have 10 assists. Bad shooting and eager passing were both by-products of Portland’s blitzing attack against him.
The two teams combined for 92-170 shooting from the field and 39-87 from the arc, an offensive bonanza.
The first period started out rough for the Blazers. A Josh Hart miss beyond the arc and traveling violations on Hart and Jerami Grant comprised 3 of their first 4 possessions. The Mavs hit a pair of threes on the other end and took a quick 8-4 lead in the first three minutes. Then Jusuf Nurkic made like Superman flying over the horizon, hitting a three to bring the Blazers right back, and all of a sudden there was life in the building.
In the process, the Blazers tried to solve their Luka Doncic problem by charging at him early, as soon as he got anywhere near the top of the arc (or caught it below). They stalled Doncic for a bit, but Anfernee Simons also picked up two quick fouls in the process. You could tell they weren’t going to be able to keep up that tactic all night.
But Damian Lillard started churning points on the other end, not waiting for his team to get into trouble before providing a platform for victory. He keyed a 9-0 Portland run that gave the Blazers spirit. A couple of Mavericks strikes hurt, but Dallas needed those shots to keep up rather than streaking ahead. Portland led 15-13 at the halfway mark of the quarter.
Dallas’ three-point shooting deserted them in the middle sections of the quarter. When they ran plays, they tended to succeed. Instead, they settled. Portland had those attempts clocked and garnered rebounds easily, turning those caroms into surprisingly quick offense. Lillard continued pouring it in. Hart finally found success on the break. The Blazers were cranking out the offense in fine style.
The long triples eventually started to fall for the Mavs, keeping them in contact, but there was no question who was scoring better. Drew Eubanks played active defense inside. Turnovers also helped blunt the force of the Mavericks barrage. Dalllas eventually hit 8 threes in the period—including 2 in the final 30 seconds from Davis Bertans and Frank Ntilikina in succession—but 11 points from Lillard countered that adequately enough. So did 8 fast break points from the Blazers. Portland led 31-30 after one.
Gary Payton II got disruptive as the second period commenced, poking away steals into running opportunities. Simons was back, straddling the quarter break with nice shots. Dallas also offered no threat at all on the glass, allowing Portland to rebound, pivot, and run instantly. Portland took the threes Dallas offered, but didn’t obsess over them otherwise, continuing to attack the rim. Shaedon Sharpe had fun in the freewheeling offense, especially when he got close to the rim. With a little over 4:00 gone in the second, the Blazers led by 10, 46-36.
Hart continued taking an active role pushing tempo in the middle sections of the period, as Eubanks collected defensive stops like they were shells on the beach. Despite Dallas scoring on the non-Eubanks attempts, the Blazers kept their lead in the 6-8 range. They attacked the rim first, then went for jumpers off of the pass-out rather than keeping the ball at the perimeter. This was true of Lillard, Simons, Hart, and pretty much everyone who led the attack for Portland.
When Lillard actually started converting those drives, things got dire for Dallas. Dame converted an and-one with 2:48 remaining, sending Mavericks center Dwight Powell to the bench with his fourth foul and giving Portland a 62-49 lead. Incredibly, Lillard would hit two more relatively-uncontested shots in the quarter (and a couple of free throws) giving him 24 at the half and the Blazers a 71-56 lead at intermission.
When the Blazers started the third period with a Josh Hart chip shot, a Lillard three, and an alley-oop lay-in from Jusuf Nurkic to Jerami Grant, it seemed pretty clear the Mavericks were not going to be interested in defending well enough to mount a comeback. Their own shots fell: Reggie Bullock hit a corner three and Doncic a layup over Nurkic, but they needed those just to keep pace.
Hart continued to be a focal part of the offense, both setting up and finishing, halfcourt and on the break both. The Blazers seemed to be making a concerted effort to get their Swiss Army Knife small forward into situations where he mattered.
Bullock continued his game-long hot streak from three as the period progressed. Doncic hit a shot. Spencer Dinwiddie took advantage of his size, all but ignoring Blazers defenders once he got hot. All of that together was enough to get Portland’s edge down to 11, 95-84, with 3:00 remaining in the period.
The Mavs got no closer, though. Good ball movement in the halfcourt, much of it occasioned by Payton in the absence of Damian Lillard, gave the Blazers open lanes and even wider-open threes. Within two minutes, the Blazers had the lead back to 18. They finished the period up 106-90.
The opening play of the fourth period for Portland was a Jusuf Nurkic three. Their next play went like this:
- Jusuf Nurkic airballed another three-point attempt.
- Jabari Walker got the offensive rebound, cut under the bucket, and tried to put it back up, but put it off the bottom of the backboard instead.
- Walker tossed it up again against three defenders, but it flew over the basket entirely, with no hope of success.
- Nurkic had worked his way over there, grabbed it out of the air, and jammed it home.
Then Shaedon Sharpe hit an open three and Nurkic slammed down another dunk on the break.
Were the Mavericks coming back? No, they were not.
Doncic did his best, pouring in points and dishing assists like he was trying to make the All-Star team or something, but the lead was too big, Dwight Powell’s foul total too high, and Portland’s energy too dominant for Dallas to make a dent.
With 7:00 remaining, Lillard and Doncic got into a little scrap on the sideline, after which Lillard drove hard and converted a short layup. That gave Dame his 36th point and Portland an insurmountable 21-point lead. Tim Hardaway, Jr. was escorted to the locker room with an ankle injury, completing the Mavs’ perfectly awful night. The benches emptied as Dallas surrendered, Nurkic hit a couple more shots for fun, and that was the ballgame.
Stay tuned fordeeper analysis of the game, coming soon!
The Blazers will queue up for another game versus the Mavericks tomorrow evening at 6:00 PM, Pacific.