The Portland Trail Blazers rode out an inconsistent game, alternately falling behind and leading in a contest that felt like it mostly favored the Pelicans, and held on to eek out the 110-107 win. One recurring theme for tonight you might catch in the player highlights: the Blazers didn’t play well, but they played well enough. Portland heads into the Christmas break with a 23-5 record, good for the most wins in the NBA.
Damian Lillard struggled early, put it on before halftime, then largely faded before coming on strong when it counted, once again showing why he’s one of the NBA’s most clutch players. His 8-point burst before halftime and his two 3-pointers near the end of the game were very timely. He shot 11-21 and 4-10 from deep for 29 points while kicking in 5 assists.
LaMarcus Aldridge did not look like his dominant self. He had an atrocious shooting night (8-24), and at no point did you feel that feeding him was the sure thing it’s so often been this year. Still, 18 and 8 with 4 assists is a wonderful off game. He also had a very nice oop from Batum that saw him dunk through Anthony Davis and wake up the crowd early in the game when the Blazers had fallen behind.
Nicolas Batum couldn’t find his shooting rhythm, but stayed involved in other ways. It’s huge for his development as a consistent, reliable player that his off-shooting games are still reliable for a near triple-double: tonight he finished with 11, 8, and 7.
Wesley Matthews had a less-than-stellar shooting game from deep, going just 2-6, but finished with 18 points and 6 rebounds overall. The effort was there, but like a lot of other Blazers today, a lot of good shots just didn’t stay down.
Robin Lopez single-handedly kept the Blazers afloat in key moments with offensive rebounds and, surprisingly, offense. He had 14 and 7 with a block, and moved better than he has in the last few days (during which he was reportedly dealing with some back pain).
Mo Williams had some very nice lobs, including one that wasn’t converted to Damian Lillard that would have been on a highlight reel. You could forgive his 2-8 shooting as he kept the energy up and kept the defense honest. That tradeoff (efficiency for Portland to have a threat off the bench) is one the Blazers will gladly make so long as they’re winning. He finished with 7 points and 5 assists.
Joel Freeland had 4 and 6, and kept possessions alive when the Blazers were struggling. It’s nice to have a semi-reliable tall presence on the bench.
Meyers Leonard saw some meaningful minutes as Thomas Robinson sat for matchup purposes. Meyers looked not at all comfortable, and has shown none of the growth you’d hope from someone competing for minutes on a winning team. He had 2 and 4 with a block.
New Orleans started hot, and the Blazers were down 16-7 with 7:40 left in the first when Stotts took his first timeout. By the end of the quarter, it was a 26-21 Pelicans lead.
The Blazers pulled it to within 2 in the second, only to have the Pelicans push back and open their lead to 13 with 4 minutes left, but the Blazers went on a 13-0 run to tie it with 40 seconds left before halftime, led by Damian Lillard’s 8 points in 62 seconds.
The Blazers finished the half down 53-52, and Lillard’s poor start was forgotten: he was 5-10 for 14 points, and LaMarcus Aldridge had 10, 6, and 4.
The Blazers worked their typical third-quarter mojo, building a 10-point lead before the Pelicans pushed back. The Blazers were up 3 with less than 2 seconds left with Batum throwing it out of bounds, he lobbed it at the hoop, it hung for about 20 seconds, and Lillard flew up, grabbed the ball, and kissed it high off the backboard and let it fall in. The Blazers went into the fourth up 83-78.
They opened the fourth with a pair of threes; one by Wright and one by Lillard. Add a jumper by Meyers and a foul, and the Blazers were up 93-84 with 9:30 left in the game. Lillard had a very strong drive and was probably fouled, but there was no call and Lillard fought for the rebound instead, getting the and-one: a great example of why hustle is so important, as Lillard created 3 points where most might have quit.
The Pelicans then contested every shot, and capitalized on offense. Portland’s effort wasn’t terrible, nor was it urgent. The Blazers’ lead had evaporated, and the Pelicans tied it at 101 with 3:14 left. The Blazers just couldn’t hit the door-closing shots they needed to put the game away. The Pelicans were on a 14-2 run when they took their first lead since halftime with just under 3 to play.
The Blazers picked a really bad time to look discombobulated when they were forced to call timeout with 3.7 left on the shot clock and just under 2 minutes to play. They needed something that would swing the game in their direction one final time. They couldn’t capitalize, but Lillard took a crucial charge (risking a sixth foul), then buried a very deep three to give the Blazers a 106-105 lead with 1:20 left.
They locked down on defense, almost giving up two tap-ins but held on for the board. Matthews then showed off his new-found ability to drive and finish, cutting through traffic to give the Blazers a 3-point lead. New Orleans scored, and fouled Batum with 12 seconds left. He hit both to give the Blazers a 110-107 lead with 12.4 left, giving the Pelicans a final shot to tie. They couldn’t capitalize, and the Blazers were greeted in the locker room as winners.
Portland gets a few more days off before facing the Los Angeles Clippers at 7:30 p.m. Thursday Dec. 26 at the RoseModa GardenCenter. As a nice turn of fortune, the Clippers will be on the second game of back-to-back road games.
- Lillard went to get an AMAZING oop from Mo, and Anthony Davis came over to block it, slamming into Lillard. It looked bad. Lillard made the oop, but missed the free throw and went to the bench to get checked out. He was fine.
- Mo took a shot to the hip with 6 minutes left in the fourth and didn’t return. Here’s hoping he’s fine as well.
- Everyone on Twitter made a big deal that Meyers started the 2nd quarter. Even the Pelicans announcers noted that he wasn’t a rotation player. Thomas Robinson was the casualty of Meyers’ minutes, and it’s a reasonable experiment. Meyers will need minutes at some point, and T-Robb hasn’t really earned them of late.
- The Pelicans announcers called Joel Freeland “Free Land” over, and over, and over again. It was way more annoying than it should have been.
- Pelicans announcers also loved the term “putting the brakes on” to describe a player coming to a stop. As in, Robin Lopez couldn’t put the brakes on, but instead has “the brakes of an 18-wheeler;” Tyreke Evans and Nicolas Batum, however, as we were assured by the announcers, each know suitably how to apply the brakes.
- Per @TrailBlazersPR, “The Trail Blazers have scored 105+ points in 13 straight games, the longest streak in the NBA since Denver went 16 straight games in 2008.”
- The Blazers are starting to get more consistent national recognition (see below)
Damian Lillard, you are RIDICULOUS. Long three with just over a minute left puts the @TrailBlazers up one, Portland holds on to win 110-107.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 22, 2013