The Portland Trail Blazers rode a very balanced effort from their starters, and overcame the loss of LaMarcus Aldridge and Mo Williams (not to mention Anthony Davis’ career-high 36 points) to beat the Pelicans 111-103 and end their road trip 1-4.
While Portland managed only 8 points from a depleted bench, no Blazers starter had fewer than 15 points, the first time that’s happened in I don’t know how long. It was the sort of free-flowing, balanced effort that characterized the Blazers’ early hot streak, and one can only hope that they can figure out how to keep that going once LaMarcus Aldridge comes back and commands some attention in the paint.
Of special note: Nicolas Batum had his best game of the year, tying a career-high (set last week against Atlanta) 18 rebounds, while adding 5 assists and 22 points on 8-16 shooting. He was aggressive, curling into the paint for dunks and showing comfort handling the ball. If Batum can play like a first option among first options, he fares much better than being mentally relegated as a third option with two other, better players (usually Damian Lillard and Aldridge). He just needs to get it in his head once and for all: he’s JUST AS GOOD as those guys, sometimes better on his very best days. He ought to play like it.
The Blazers jumped to a 9-point lead early, gave it all back, then battled to trail 55-53 at halftime.
Portland faced a 6-point deficit late in the 3rd before grinding it to 81-80 heading into the fourth, then slipped again to face a 5-point deficit exactly halfway through the final period. The Pelicans’ pick and rolls were shaking Portland defenders enough to free up open looks which were falling one after the other.
Thomas Robinson (2 and 3), in his limited minutes, played with an urgency that rubbed off on everyone else. Unfortunately, the Blazers had about a half dozen open looks (many of them threes) that just… wouldn’t… go… down! Those momentum-changing shots, or, rather, the lack of them, can make or break a team trying to come from behind down the stretch, and many in Blazer Nation wondered if this would be yet another late-game chokefest.
Mercifully, the Blazers’ caught up with the Pelicans with swarming defense and generating (if not hitting all of their) open shots, including a wide open corner three from Lillard to tie it at 94 with 4:40 to go. Portland kept pushing, and a Batum tip-in off a Lillard drive (who had 27 points and 5 assists himself) made it a 9-0 Portland run to secure a 98-94 lead and force a Pelicans timeout with 3:45 left.
Back and forth it went over the ensuing possessions, which can be afforded when you’re ahead.
And after a frustrating week, after facing heartbreak after heartbreak, all the bad thoughts just melted away as the Blazers inbounded with a minute and change on the game clock and 14 seconds on the shot clock. Lillard, instead of stalling to nurse the lead, rose up from a step behind the arc and just drilled it with Anthony Davis in his face. 107-100 Blazers. Dagger. Game.
The 43-23 Blazers fly home all smiles after a rough road trip, and face the 41-25 Golden State Warriors in Portland on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. PST.
Wesley Matthews had 20 points on 6-13 shooting (3-8 from deep), and instead of looking pissed off beyond belief as he has these last few losses, he looked just “pissed,” which is about where you want him for the Blazers to be successful.
Robin Lopez got a ton of looks, going 9-13 for 19 points, but was often pulled from the paint and so managed only 4 rebounds. No matter: his 3 blocks spoke volumes more than his (necessary) orbit far from the paint that prevented his rebounding totals from being higher.
Dorell Wright went 4-6 from deep for 15 points, and was TWICE fouled while shooting a three, one of which went in. He’s the master at drawing a foul while shooting, and his 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and block told the rest of the story: he was involved, active, and very much a part of a Blazers’ offense that needed every extra spark they could muster, as they were missing over 30 points a game to injuries.
- Anthony Davis’ career high 36 points often came from jumpers, which was not something he could do even a year ago. He’s going to be good. Very good.
- The Blazers avoided their first 0-5 road trip since…. wait for it… 1974.
- Nicolas Batum is the only Trail Blazer to ever record at least 22 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and four 3-pointers in a game. Per Trail Blazers PR.