The Portland Trail Blazers played one of the best quarters in modern memory against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night at the Moda Center. Their 45-13 drubbing of LeBron James and company will go down in history for its impressiveness. Unfortunately, getting down in the first period muted the significance of the achievement, and getting outscored 75-41 in the second half obliterated it entirely. Anfernee Simons led the Blazers with 31 points on 7-13 shooting from distance and Damian Lillard added 24, but it wasn’t enough to put Portland over the Lakers. The Blazers fell 121-112 as James scored 37 and center Thomas Bryant added an Anthony-Davis-like 31.
Portland scored an impressive 17 fast break points, but gave up 21 to L.A., plus 68 in the paint. Even hitting 7 more threes than their opponent wasn’t enough to stave off defeat under those conditions.
Here’s how the game went, quarter by quarter.
The game started out problematically for the Blazers. LeBron James cut down the lane for a dunk, then Thomas Bryant hit a three. Dennis Schroder canned a mid-range jumper, then James hit two more threes in a row. To top it off, Bryant cut down the lane for a drawn foul and two made free throws. That wasn’t their first-period run, mind you, it was the first three minutes. A baseline jumper from Damian Lillard and driving layup from Anfernee Simons were poor recompense. L.A. led 15-4 at the 9:00 mark.
And then Bryant hit another three. Ugh.
Some measure of sanity returned after the 18-4 start. The Lakers started normalizing on their three-point attempts, which for them meant missing a few. Portland rebounded and ran against their bigger opponents, finally putting points on the board. Fast offense brought the scoreboard up to 22-11 by the 6:00 mark. It was odd to breathe a sigh of relief at getting doubled up, but the start of the game had been so much worse, it was also understandable.
Josh Hart provided a spark during Portland’s comeback. His penetration caused the defense to collapse. If he didn’t score, he dished to open shooters and even hit a three. The Blazers got the lead down to 5, 22-17, before the Lakers remembered to go back inside against Portland’s soggy-tissue-paper lane defense. Then L.A.’s scoring started again in earnest, but at least the Blazers had offensive confidence going and were able to put up points in return. They went heavily to Jerami Grant, but the scoring stalwart was hit and miss. Nassir Little followed suit, except his shots were worth three instead of two. Those makes still counted, though.
While Portland’s second unit was carving into the lead, L.A.’s was busy turning over the ball behind Trying To Do Too Much Russell Westbrook. The Lakers not even getting shots up helped Portland’s points weigh more.
The Lakers were nervous enough to put LeBron back in for the final minute. He obliged with another score, just because he could. That completed a dozen for LBJ to go with 10 from Bryant. The Lakers led 33-26 after one.
James started the second period by driving the lane and scoring, just to underline that he could. But Portland kept playing fast and Little hit another pair of threes, completing a fantastic first tour off the bench.
The offense in the second continued to follow a pattern. Every time the Blazers struck before the Lakers’ defense got set, they looked good. When L.A. got down the floor and set up, Portland ended up driving into hopeless traffic or lofting covered threes.
Jusuf Nurkic picked up his by-now-predictable third foul at the 8:47 mark. This robbed Portland of his services and left them out-sized inside, but also helped them keep speed high. As long as the Lakers kept taking jumpers—which they seemed to do with frequency, though they had huge advantages in the paint—it was a win for Portland. They capitalized too. Two plays later, Drew Eubanks ran the floor, caught a pass from Dame, whipped it back to Lillard, who tossed it to Simons, who hit a three to put Portland up for the first time, 39-38. The Lakers responded by shooting more jumpers and missing. The Blazers obliged by running even harder. At that point, it was Portland’s game.
As the sixth minute of the period drifted by, Simons hit another pair of threes—Portland’s fifth and sixth of the quarter—while Grant converted a layup and a transition dunk. The Lakers were helpless against the onslaught. Their timeout with 4:02 remaining saw them down 14, 56-42.
Portland kept that margin through the remainder of the period. Simons stayed hot and the tempo stayed fast. Eubanks collecting three blocks to stop the Lakers at the rim helped. Best of all, the Blazers accomplished all this without Lillard scoring big...until he hit a three from the halfcourt logo with 33 seconds remaining, putting Portland up 68-46. When Simons splashed his personal fifth three of the period on the final possession, Portland led 71-46. They outscored L.A. 45-13 in the frame.
The Lakers obviously spent intermission getting their heads straight. They came out of the locker room going inside once more, not settling for long jumpers. They scored four times right at the rim in three minutes.
Unfortunately for them, their scoring didn’t come fast enough...at least not at first. An occasional three or rim dive for free throws on Portland’s end was enough to keep L.A. at bay, or at least down by 20.
That was about to change.
The Lakers leaped below the 20-point barrier mid-period when they got out on the run. The Blazers started missing. Los Angeles grabbed it and ran it right now their throats. In just over four minutes, between 7:53 and 4:40, Portland’s lead went from 21 to 7.
At that point, Damian Lillard tried to take over, hitting a three and a couple free throws. But LeBron took over harder with his own drives, conversions, and foul shots. Another Simons three stopped the Lakers tide, but only barely. After most of a quarter of missing and getting run, the Blazers led only 91-86 after three. Los Angeles housed them 40-20.
Grant tried to champion the second unite as the fourth period commenced. He hit Shaedon Sharpe for an assist, then scored off a couple free throws. Then his co-conspirators came to the rescue. Simons hit a pull-up from 13, then Eubanks blocked ANOTHER shot and posed on the floor in jubilation.
After that, the Lakers started to pressure Portland’s guards up the floor. Veterans Lillard and Gary Payton II handled it, but starting the offense farther outside kept Portland on the perimeter and contested. They missed two questionable threes. L.A. converted after both, the second a three from Bryant. With the clock winding past 7:30, the Lakers regained the lead, 98-97.
After that, the action got INTENSE. Grant hit a three, but Dennis Schroder stole the ball off the inbounds and put in a short layup, making the score 100-all. Then Grant hit a three. Then Schroder hit a three. The entire arena was hanging on every possession as if it were Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Vocal Lakers fans battled with vocal Blazers fans to out-cheer each other.
Damian Lillard had been rather cold up to this point. He tried to get it going but could only muster a couple free throws. Schroder continued to strike, though, hitting a three. Simons went a bit cold, still missing his threes. Portland sputtered and struggled a bit, but retained contact on the scoreboard. At the timeout with 3:21 remaining, the Lakers led 110-105. They kept that margin through the 2:00 mark. It was time for Portland to step up or go home.
Drew Eubanks tried to help, blocking a shot and grabbing a critical offensive rebound, but Thomas Bryant jammed home the rejection carom and Portland couldn’t score off of the extra attempt. The Blazers found themselves down 7 with 1:10 remaining.
At that point, Lillard got fouled again, but he hit only 1 of 2, leaving the Blazers down 6 with a minute left. When Troy Brown, Jr. hit a three, it was over. Portland had put up a huge effort, but ultimately couldn’t get it done.
Stay tuned for extended analysis, coming soon!
The Blazers welcome the San Antonio Spurs tomorrow night with a 7:00 PM start at the Moda Center.