The Portland Trail Blazers played a terrible version of the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night, marching to a 127-115 victory while trying not to step in the Lakers’ game plan. Damian Lillard scored 40 once again as LeBron James sat out with a foot injury. The Blazers controlled the game from start to finish, with L.A. barely able to put up resistance against the onslaught.
If you missed the action, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are some of the why’s and wherefores in the blowout,
You almost don’t need to go further than this stat. The Blazers shot Blazers 10-14 from distance in the first quarter. That percentage cooled down because it HAD to, but they still fired 23-47 for the game, setting a franchise record for makes in the first half (17) and just missing their full-game record (24). The Lakers, meanwhile, went 12-37, and they had to catch fire during garbage time to manage that. They spent the whole first half with a single-digit percentage.
You could resurrect every center who’s ever played the game and stick them three feet from the rim to score. They’re still not going to overcome that kind of deficit on threes. Anthony Davis and company didn’t stand a chance.
Dame Again (and Again) (and Again)
If the Lakers had a plan to stop Damian Lillard tonight, it wilted in the face of 8-14 three-point shooting for him, personally. If he wasn’t coming off of screens, he jab-stepped overeager Lakers defenders, let them fall back a smidge, then launched from 23. Or 33. Or 43. It just didn’t matter.
When the Lakers tried to solve that problem with an extra defender, Dame just looped the ball over their heads to an open teammate, often from three-point land as well, as described above.
Thybulle Gives You Wings
Matisse Thybulle got the start tonight as Jerami Grant sat because of concussion protocols, leaving a forward spot open. Thybulle produced 14 points on 5-9 shooting, 4-6 from distance, but his main contribution was a quickening of the defense, particularly getting back in transition. The Lakers not providing any threat from deep made him look even more effective covering ground. It was a nice debut for the newest Trail Blazers guard.
Points in the Paint
The Lakers wanted to score inside against Portland’s smaller, undermanned frontcourt. For perspective, the Blazers started Drew Eubanks in place of the injured Jusuf Nurkic, Cam Reddish in place of the injured Grant, and Thybulle in place of the departed Josh Hart. If you had called that lineup at the beginning of the season, you would have predicted exactly -2 wins.
Let’s get real. The Lakers did outscore Portland in the paint 54-38. But it made relatively little difference because of Portland’s high overall shooting percentage (47.4%, higher before the third unit got in). The Blazers didn’t have the best front three in the game tonight, but the players they fielded didn’t cost them (in this instance, anyway). Good enough.
Getting hammered in the paint and losing the rebounding battle 56-42 (14-8 offensive) doesn’t speak well for Portland’s chances with this lineup when they’re not scoring six million points beyond the arc, though.
Of late, Blazers wins have been accompanied by a flood of foul shots. They neither needed nor gave them tonight. This was a huge accomplishment, considering how often the Lakers put the ball in the paint. Defending without fouling helped Portland’s offense create a huge margin instead of just a chance to win. At the end of three quarters, L.A. had 9 free throw attempts, the Blazers 7. They finished with 21 and 13, respectively.
Portland’s second unit has been getting shredded all year, but tonight, even with a couple players inserted into the starting lineup because of injuries or trade-deadline shuffling, Portland’s reserves destroyed their Lakers counterparts. Of the four Blazers bench players who played 17 or more minutes, only Jabari Walker had a plus-minus below +19. Jarred Vanderbilt posted a -29 for the Lakers, Austin Reeves -25.
Shaedon Sharpe got some quality minutes tonight because of the rotation gaps. In the first half, he accumulated 4 assists. In the second half, he took up the scoring. Unlike his teammates, he didn’t loft from distance. Instead he took his man off of power dribbles into the short-mid-range, then rose for lightly-contested, and almost unstoppable, jumpers. Sharpe finished with 15 points on 6-10 shooting, 3-5 from the arc, with 4 assists, 5 rebounds, and 3(!) steals.
The Blazers turn around to play the Washington Wizards tomorrow night at the Moda Center, their last game before the All-Star break. The game starts at 7:00 PM, Pacific.