The Portland Trail Blazers defeated Philadelphia for the second time in a week; despite both wins being impressive, what made this one stand out?
Blazers star Point Guard Damian Lillard missed the first of the games against Philadelphia with an abdominal strain but was ready and available for the second match-up, played at home in the Moda Centre.
Lillard started on fire, with 19 points by the end of the first quarter and it looked like a Dame Time masterpiece was ahead of us. However, the 76’ers coaching staff and players did a fantastic job stopping Dame, keeping him to 11 points over the next 3 quarters and overall shooting performance of 6-21 from the field and 4-11 from 3.
So how did the Portland Trail Blazers come away with the win despite Lillard’s lack of impact?
1. Carmelo Anthony wound back the clock:
Carmelo Anthony has been a polarizing figure amongst the Portland Trail Blazers fanbase. Some fans will defend him until they are blue in the face, and some want him gone from the team. I lean on the side of defending him, and he proved his worth tonight.
With Lillard being contained and no second star beside him, Carmelo stood in the fountain of youth and dominated the last quarter, putting up 17 points, including the game-winning free throws. He also hit 3 straight from beyond the line bringing back flashbacks of his days under the lights of Madison Square Garden.
Has Melo been consistent on both sides of the ball every game this season? No. He has had some rough patches, and no one will deny it. But his ability to make big shots in big games and score at will is so valuable for this team, and his pure presence gives a lot to this group.
2. Young Guards:
Gary Trent Jr and Anfernee Simons have seen a rise in minutes and responsibility with the absence of C.J. McCollum, and both have stepped up. They had 30 points between them on a combined shooting percentage of 55%, and both made big plays in the fourth.
Trent Jr has stepped into starting duties like he had been doing it for years, averaging 19 points per game and making himself at home. Whenever he shoots, you are surprised when it misses, and his defense is energetic and improving. Bringing Trent Jr back should be the Blazers’ priority during the off-season.
Simons was drafted as a project but showed the skill and athleticism that got him drafted in the first round. His 3-point shot is looking the best it ever has, and he will show a couple of times per game his ridiculous bounce. But for me, his most impressive trait is ball security as he rarely turns the ball over, something rare for a young point guard.
3. Defending the 3-point line
Philadelphia shot nearly 6% better from the field, but still lost the game. The Blazers’ ability to defend the 3-point line, holding the Sixers to 6-27 from behind the line, was important to winning the game.
It was a similar tale in the first match-up but amplified by the close scoreline at the end of this one. On the other hand, the Blazers made 17-38, giving them a handy offensive boost.
This Portland team will always have defensive troubles under Terry Stotts, however, if they can defend the 3-point line and be okay on defense, the offense will carry them. How far? I don’t think anyone knows, but win’s like this one sure are fun.