On an evening headlined by the first-ever matchup between Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, the New Orleans Pelicans’ dimension benefit, superior depth and defensive changes would in the end develop into the dominant story of the night time. Shaking off a halftime deficit and some spirited Blazers runs, the Pelicans flew away ultimately with a victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in 121-110 vogue.
The stars got here to play on this primetime duel, with Lillard guiding Portland with a 41-point, eight-rebound outing — and someway, his first zero help sport since Nov. 30, 2015 — with Jerami Grant offering reinforcements with a 28-point sport. On the Pelicans’ facet, Brandon Ingram proved unimpeachable, pulling up every time he happy, on the best way to a 40-point, six-rebound, five-assist efficiency, and McCollum backing him with a 24-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist sport.
In a sport wherein Portland might’ve taken sole possession of the No. 10 seed, the loss sadly drops them to 29-33, and into No. 12 out West. Below are a number of quarter-for-quarter observations from tonight’s loss.
Apologies upfront if you happen to got here into this sport considering the first-ever Lillard vs. McCollum duel would instantly command prime billing. Six minutes into the sport, the Pelicans’ protection made it pretty evident that they’d no real interest in entertaining a shootout among the many Blazers’ former stars; at each activate his pick-and-roll, Lillard noticed traps, which pressured his teammates to open their creativity.
Instead, followers had been handled to an unexpected-but-just-as-interesting opening quarter duel between Brandon Ingram and Cam Reddish. Ingram, particularly, actually took the onus upon himself to be aggressive throughout McCollum’s break, blasting the Blazers’ protection with excessive screen-and-rolls to make the most of dimension benefits and pull-up alternatives. As you may anticipate, it wasn’t very lengthy earlier than the Blazers had been pressured to interrupt out that phrase that begins with “z” and rhymes with “zone.”
One enjoyable, potentially-unexpected wrinkle was seeing McCollum tackle the task of guarding Lillard, possession-for-possession. Of course, like the rest with regards to defending the seven-time All-Star, it’d work for a short time, however it wouldn’t be lengthy earlier than the code was cracked. In the meantime, Reddish proved as much as the problem, occurring a private 11-0 run, dueling with Ingram — who put up 12 photographs within the opening quarter alone — and that helped propel Portland to a 31-29 benefit.
Fresh, rested, and taking part in towards the Blazers’ backups, McCollum opened the quarter in what he usually referred to as “shark mode,” selecting his spots with an assortment of pull-ups and floaters, sifting into his playmaking expertise alongside the best way. On the opposite finish, they ran their defensive with an identical strategy with Simons that they did with Lillard.
Defensively, it proved excessive time for the Blazers to make an adjustment, prompting Chauncey Billups to run his trusted zone protection, together with some full court docket press, besides. It labored nicely in spurts, slowing the Pelicans’ movement and conserving them out of the center of the ground every now and then. It definitely helped that, on a court docket full of All-Stars, each previous and current, Jerami Grant was the subsequent to make his presence felt, with a private run to assist Portland retake the lead.
From a aggressive standpoint, the sport itself went about as one would anticipate from a 30-32 staff and a 29-32 one; it proved nip-and-tuck, with Portland holding a slight edge — exceptional in that the Pelicans had taken almost triple the free makes an attempt that Portland did. Ultimately, Portland discovered simply sufficient of an offensive rebounding edge, and sufficient success having Lillard splitting the double screen-and-rolls as they labored their technique to a slight 56-53 edge at halftime.
For a short interval, it appeared as if the Trail Blazers had been shut to discovering the wanted recipe to defeating the Pelicans on this night time. In what was a back-and-forth affair, Portland opened up an eight-point edge — their largest of the night time — on the backs of hustle performs resulting in 3-pointers for Lillard.
Credit to Willie Green and the Blazers’ teaching employees; no matter his message was following the timeout, the vibe had instantly shifted, with the Pelicans utilizing their very own 8-0 run to claw again.
One tangible issue the Pelicans had going for them is that the 3-point shot lastly proved type to them; after hitting a 2000s-esque two 3-pointers within the first half alone, they opened an ideal 4-of-4 on this quarter. On the Blazers’ facet, Lillard had begun to seek out his method, as much as a dozen free throw makes an attempt (and arguably, he ought to have had extra). Along the best way, he additionally discovered time to be the Blazers’ main rebounder.
One query price asking late within the third quarter, because it usually is: how would the Blazers survive in these Lillard-less minutes? It felt doubly necessary, on condition that: (a) Jerami Grant wasn’t within the sport, both, and (b) Simons appeared to endure a decrease leg harm as soon as once more. Already on a minutes restriction, Simons would once more be dominated out halfway by way of the fourth.
Under that suspense, the Blazers nonetheless discovered a technique to take a short one-point benefit after three, main 91-90, largely on the backs of Lillard’s heroics.
The fourth quarter winner, it appeared, would in the end be the one able to making essentially the most counters. On the Blazers’ facet, determining the best way to navigate by way of the Pelicans’ defensive focus — two defenders together with a 7-footer in Jaxson Hayes on Lillard — pressured Portland into that suboptimal technique of getting the supporting solid attempt to elevate their video games.
On the opposite finish, McCollum appeared to sense a little bit blood within the water with the Pelicans clinging to a slight lead. Helping present the Pelicans with a little bit little bit of leeway, McCollum obtained some reinforcements within the type of his working mate in Brandon Ingram. Anchored by their stars, the Pelicans put collectively a 15-4 run, fueling a 109-99 lead with 5:13 left.
On the opposite finish, the Blazers remained in a troublesome spot to find offense with out Lillard, with the Pelicans working all the pieces from a box-and-1 to faceguarding the Blazers star on his cuts. That a lot was evident within the quarter-for-quarter numbers: after scoring 31, 25 and 35 over the primary three intervals, Portland might solely muster 10 factors over the primary 10 minutes of the fourth. Ultimately, the tip was to be discovered shortly thereafter, with the Pelicans placing the ending touches on for a 121-110 victory.
Keep eyes out for Ryne Buchanan’s prolonged have a look at tonight’s sport quickly.
The Blazers open up the primary of their six-game, 11-day highway journey, beginning with a Mar. 3 duel towards the Atlanta Hawks.