A day before meeting up with his old team, New Orleans Pelicans star CJ McCollum cracked a few lighthearted jokes at the expense of the Blazers’ all-but-diminished postseason hopes. When the ball tipped on Monday night, McCollum and his teammates kept the proverbial “jabs” coming, roughing up the Portland Trail Blazers’ defense on the way to a demonstrative 124-90 win.
The Blazers took a 2-0 lead in the first, and then never saw another advantage again. On a night in which Brandon Ingram (29 points) outscored the Blazers’ starting five in its entirety (25 points) over the first three quarters, Portland trailed by as much as 35 and dipped to 32-43, and into a tie with the Orlando Magic (32-43) for the NBA’s fifth-worst record.
Below are a few quarter-for-quarter notes from the loss.
Why not open the recap with a question: what happens when you pit the NBA’s No. 1-ranked first quarter team over the last five games — on a four-game winning streak, no less — against a team merely playing for pride, and without all five of their Opening Day starters? The answer: exactly what happened tonight.
Albeit competitive to start, the game itself began a lot like the previous ones against the Pelicans. Struggles from behind the 3-point arc offensively; a painfully-slow offensive start; and perhaps most of all, the inability to defend one specific New Orleans Pelicans player — let’s call him Brandon Ingram.
Sporting some swagger with his recent Player of the Week nod, Ingram anchored a Pelicans attack that made a rent-free living inside Portland’s paint. The Blazers tried a little bit of everything. In man-to-man, New Orleans was just quicker and more calculated, getting to spots for open shots; when they went zone, New Orleans forced them into committing the cardinal sin, allowing them to go middle and right into the teeth of the zone, collapsing them on the way to kick outs to open 3-point shooters and pull-ups.
Even Bigfoot couldn’t have saved them tonight. It wasn’t particularly long before the game took on a varsity vs. junior varsity-type feel. You almost wished this was one of those games from the 1980s where the score only popped up every few possessions or so. Unfortunately, all were subjected to seeing it: the Pelicans opened up a convincing 34-14 lead over the first 12 minutes.
Already down by 20 and playing for pride, if nothing else, the Blazers elected for a different, more effective strategy, eschewing the 3-point shot and instead opting to get right into the teeth of the Pelicans’ defense. The plan would’ve been effective, if only they could’ve strung together defensive stops alongside those impressive scores.
Admiring Ingram’s first quarter from afar, CJ McCollum decided to put together his own personal takeover in the second frame. As the tape will show, the Moda Center rims remain friendly for the longtime Blazer. On Portland’s side, Kevin Knox continued adding to what’s been one of his finest weeks, routinely bodying his way into the lane to cut Portland’s deficit into something slightly less disrespectful.
For some, the whereabouts and happenings of one Shaedon Sharpe are the biggest takeaway from each of these late-season games. It’s helpful to note that by this time, Sharpe was in trouble with the zebras, with three early foul calls limiting him to no legitimate impact in the first half. From a developmental standpoint, it would be interesting to see how the young Blazer would react and adjust; the first half numbers — a -25 plus-minus, four turnovers, and zero points — weren’t kind.
To his credit though, none of the starters were impressive, combining for just 14(!) first half points. Predictably, the result: Pelicans, 58; Blazers, 35.
Apologies in advance for those assuming the tide would shift in the third quarter. On offense, the Pelicans deployed Herbert Jones on Sharpe to essentially play “shutdown corner” with lock-and-trail techniques and face guarding to prevent potential handoffs and passes; on defense, it got so bad that Portland lost Brandon Ingram — mind you, the game’s leading scorer — on a baseline out of bounds play, prompting a quick timeout from Chauncey Billups and the coaching staff.
Midway through the third quarter, Portland’s point total (44) and field goal percentage (35) resembled the weather forecast. The lead ballooned into the 30s, an ugly affair that had one wondering, “How many more times do these teams play?” Even with their lead, Ingram remained in the game, adding to his point and highlight total. He himself had 29 points. The Blazers’ starting five combined had 25. The score heading into the fourth: Pelicans, 89; Blazers, 55.
Perhaps most curiously, New Orleans kept a handful of their starters on the floor, even despite the 34-point edge. On Portland’s end, there were a couple of celebratory plays — mostly from Kevin Knox, the Blazers’ best player on this night — but they couldn’t string them together for more than a possession or two.
Needless to say, development and repetition are more important than wins at this juncture of the season, so, if there were any positives worth mentioning, Sharpe’s resilient finish in the fourth may have been it. Shaking off a nightmarish start, the Blazers rookie did put together some highlight-type plays in garbage time, something that should make both his box score and All-Rookie Team case a little bit stronger.
Ultimately, whenever the Blazers provided a highlight of their own, they gave one right back up, as the back-and-forth fourth quarter will attest to. As anticipated, they limped to another lopsided loss.
The Blazers look to summon their pride once more for a Wednesday night duel against the Sacramento Kings — the annual “Blazers Edge Night”” on Mar. 29 at 7:00 PM PT.
Ryne Buchanan will be taking an extended look at tonight’s loss. Keep an eye out for this post soon.