Damian Lillard put on a show as the Portland Trail Blazers blew out the Los Angeles Lakers 127-115 Monday night at the Moda Center.
With Jerami Grant a scratch under concussion protocol, Cam Reddish’s status as shortest-tenured starter on the team was usurped after just one game, as he was now joined by fellow newcomer Matisse Thybulle in the opening lineup. Blazers Head Coach Chauncey Billups clearly had no qualms with the “into the fire” approach of getting his new players up to speed, and even without the dribbling semi-truck of LeBron James to defend—the Lakers star was down with a foot injury—Portland still needed all the size available on deck.
Thybulle was downright outstanding in his debut, finishing with 14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists in 26 minutes. He showcased his signature hustle and defensive prowess on a number of plays. He was also deadly from beyond the arc, where he shot 4-6.
Lillard finished with a game-high 40 points, which moved him to 65th on the NBA All-Time scoring list ahead of Jason Terry.
Shaedon Sharpe had one of his best games as a young Blazer, scoring 15 points to go along with 5 rebounds and 4 assists. He had a number of highlight-worthy plays and was effective from long range.
The Blazers got the ball in the hands of their newest teammates early, but at first it didn’t lead to much success. Both Reddish and Thybulle missed on open looks, while the Lakers leapt out to an early 14-5 lead behind Anthony Davis and D’Angelo Russell. Davis was able to put his head down and take it into the teeth of the Portland defense where he could easily muscle around Drew Eubanks at the rim. Russell got up to his usual midrange mischief. L.A. was already doing wheelies around the neighborhood on their new bike while the Blazers were still trying to get the wheels attached.
After a timeout to regain composure, the Blazers needed a boost. They got it from their newest addition. Thybulle’s shooting stroke started to find him midway through the quarter, as he knocked down a pair of triples. From there it was contagious. Sharpe and Anfernee Simons were next to join the three-point party and it wasn’t long before Nassir Little and Trendon Watford joined the show. Portland’s last five field goals of the period came from beyond the arc, capped with a buzzer-beating 40-foot rainbow by Lillard.
The Blazers outscored the Lakers 29-5 over the final six and half minutes to take a 34-19 lead after one.
What had to have been most worrisome to L.A. about Portland’s first quarter run was most of it happening with Lillard off the court. Dame came into the second relatively fresh and determined to make his presence felt. Boy did he. Lillard dominated the offense for the Blazers, and with good reason, pouring in a franchise record-tying 24 points in the quarter, including 6 threes. It was not subtle. The fans knew who the ball was going to. The Lakers knew. Lillard knew they knew, and it did not matter one bit.
The Blazers as a unit made 17 triples in the half alone, which is a franchise record for any half. It was just that kind of night.
L.A. started to regain some offensive rhythm after looking miserable to close out the first quarter, but behind Lillard, Portland was still able to keep pushing their advantage, taking a 65-48 lead into the break.
We’ve seen this before. At this point in the game the opposing team must decide: subscribe to to the sunk-cost fallacy and sell out to stop the man having a career night at their expense, or just hope he tuckers himself out. Many have chosen the latter, to their peril. Tonight, the Lakers wisely chose the former. They started giving Lillard the “mindful eye” treatment, keeping at least one defender locked onto him at all times.
Dame saw it coming and was ready for it, eagerly playing the “distraction and distributor” role. The Blazers were able to work the ball to open shooters and those shots were falling. They made it look easy. Thybulle and Sharpe were again standouts. A three from Little with about a minute to go just about put the nail in the coffin, giving the Blazers a commanding 101-79 lead.
Starters stuck around for a little while, but L.A. never got back within striking distance. Laker fans in the arena were heading for the exits longs before the final horn sounded and Portland was able to cruise to victory. After Lillard sat with his 40-piece, Kevin Knox II and Ryan Ryan Arcidiacono saw their first action in a Portland uniform. That provided far more excitement than the comeback that the Lakers were never able to make.
Stay tuned for our extended analysis, coming soon!
The Blazers will host the Washington Wizards tomorrow evening with tip set for 7 p.m. Pacific.