April 18, 2018, 2:09 pm
The Portland Trail Blazers might have finally found a lineup that has a chance to be successful against the New Orleans Pelicans. Unfortunately for Terry Stotts and company, it might be too late for that development to matter.
The New Orleans Pelicans beat the Blazers 111-102 on Tuesday night, taking a commanding 2-0 lead in the teams’ first-round playoff series before it shifts to Smoothie King Center. Jrue Holiday was the best player on the floor, scoring 33 points and dishing nine assists while taking over in crunch time with the the type of two-way dominance normally reserved for his MVP-candidate teammate. That’s not to suggest Anthony Davis let the Pelicans down, either. He had 22 points, 18 rebounds, two steals and two blocks, frustrating the Blazers on both sides of the ball with his unique combination of length, skill and athleticism.
Portland’s stars, meanwhile, were missing in action again – at least by comparison. C.J. McCollum, who had 22 points on 9-of-21 shooting, certainly had his moments offensively throughout Game 2, but failed to find the consistency needed to offset the continued struggles of his backcourt partner. Damian Lillard was badly outplayed by Holiday again, and made several defensive miscues late – by way of inattentiveness, fatigue or both – that cost his team the chance to steal a victory. He finished with 17 and four assists on 7-of-18 from the field, and committed a whopping seven turnovers.
New Orleans, just like in Game 1, seemed on its way to another convincing victory until Portland made a run in the fourth quarter. Tuesday’s was spearheaded by the return of Moe Harkless, who not only scored 11 points on perfect 5-of-5 shooting in a team-high 27 minutes off the bench, but also allowed Stotts to abandon his traditional rotation late in favor of a lineup that threw stylistic curveballs on both ends of the floor.
Lillard, McCollum, Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Zach Collins played the last six minutes and 15 seconds of Game 2, switching everything on defense and stationing five players beyond the arc offensively to storm back from a depressing third quarter in which the Blazers were outscored 33-19. Portland even took a brief two-point lead on a triple by Harkless with 3:20 left on the game clock, one stolen right back seconds later on a high-arcing triple by Nikola Mirotic to put the Pelicans up 102-100. The Blazers never got any closer.
Holiday had 12 points in the fourth quarter, feasting as an individual scorer in ball-screen action, but even that gaudy point total doesn’t do his crunch-time impact justice. He forced the Blazers into multiple misses down the stretch with lock-down on-ball defense, and just as importantly, made every hustle play that presented itself, including tracking down a loose ball off a missed three by Mirotic with two minutes left – and calmly draining a pull-up three to put New Orleans up 105-100.
Just as they did all game long, Holiday’s teammates followed his lead from there. E’Twaun Moore missed his second straight free throw less than a minute later, providing Portland with a glimmer of hope. But it vanished almost as quickly as it appeared, with Moore grabbing his own miss and somehow erring on an easy layup, only for another 50-50 ball to be tracked down by the Pelicans. Rajon Rondo, postseason switch flipped, iced the game on this triple with 39 seconds left, extending New Orleans’ lead to 108-100.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 18, 2018
Since 1984, 20 teams have lost the first two games of a seven-game series on their home floor, and only three of them have come back to win. That’s not an encouraging statistic for the Blazers, of course, but that hardly means they’re backing down from the challenge.
“We’re down 0-2 heading into New Orleans,” McCollum said after the game. “We’ve got to have the same mindset they had. Go into their home court and compete, make second-chance opportunities for ourselves, get loose balls.”
After a team effort good enough to win, with awesome performances from Harkless, Aminu (14 points, 15 rebounds and four 3-pointers) and Collins (12 points, five rebounds), Lillard placed the onus more squarely on himself.
“I give a lot of credit to them for executing their game plan, seeing two and three guys and making the game difficult,” he said. “But the opportunities that I do get, I’ve just got to be better. I think it’s as simple as that.”
The return of Harkless and the strategic gambits his presence provides will make Lillard’s life easier. Regression to the mean will help, too. But if it doesn’t come soon, Portland’s highly-anticipated postseason run will be over – and for all intents and purposes, it probably is anyway.
April 22, 2019, 12:42 amRussell Westbrook - G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook went 5-for-21 from the field to finish with 14 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two treys in Sunday's 98-111 Game 4 loss to the Blazers.
Time and again in this series, it's been evident that Damian Lillard has been playing at a higher level than Westbrook and tonight was a fine example. Lillard was able to shake off his early shooting struggles and come up big in the second half, but Westbrook was still forcing shots and appeared to be on the back foot for most of the game. He's best when he's the one taking it to his opponents. A reactive Westbrook is simply not the star the Thunder need right now, if they want to salvage any hopes of coming back in this first-round series.
April 22, 2019, 12:36 amDennis Schroder - G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Dennis Schroder mirrored his 17-point performance from Friday with another 17-point game in Sunday's loss to the Blazers.
Schroder shot 6-of-12 from the field and added three rebounds, three assists, two 3s and one steal to the box score tonight. Aside from him though, the Thunder's bench was deafeningly quiet. He cannot carry the load of the second unit's scoring output by his lonesome, especially when they're faced up against a team with multiple weapons like the Blazers. For now, the Thunder can only hope he keeps this up and that the other reserves will follow suit.
April 22, 2019, 12:32 amJerami Grant - F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Jerami Grant made just 4-of-10 shots from the field on Sunday to finish with 11 points, nine rebounds, two assists, three triples and two steals in 34 minutes.
Grant's impact on the defensive end has been invaluable to the Thunder in this series and it was nice to see him active on the glass tonight, especially with Steven Adams being relatively quiet on that front with seven boards while adding six points, one assist, one steal and one block. Unfortunately for the Thunder, Portland's forwards, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu outplayed and out-hustled them on both ends of the floor.
April 22, 2019, 12:27 amPaul George - F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Despite being slowed down by turnovers and foul trouble, Paul George still managed to light up the box score in Sunday's loss to the Blazers with 32 points on 8-of-21 shooting, 10 rebounds, six assists, four 3s, one steal and one block.
George has been banged up as early as March and he's been such a trooper, powering through a bothersome shoulder to lead the Thunder in this first-round playoff series. Unfortunately, Damian Lillard and company have been far too much for OKC to handle and George's big nights have come and gone with a lack of ample support to properly contest for the win.
April 22, 2019, 12:23 amMaurice Harkless - F - Trail Blazers
Maurice Harkless had a swell two-way performance in the Blazers' 111-98 Game 4 win over the Thunder on Sunday, posting 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting, adding 10 rebounds, one triple, two steals and three blocks in 34 minutes.
Harkless was mostly a non-factor in fantasy during the regular season due to injuries. He's clearly feeling much better now and is delivering for the Blazers at the right time. If he can keep up posting performances like this, the Blazers could emerge as a dark horse to upset favorites in the west.
April 22, 2019, 12:18 amAl-Farouq Aminu - F - Trail Blazers
Al-Farouq Aminu was feeling it on Sunday, hitting 4-of-9 shots from downtown to help secure a Game 4 win over the Thunder via his 19 points (7-of-16 shooting), nine rebounds, one steal and one block.
The Blazers found an extra kick from Aminu tonight thanks to his hot hand. He's capable of explosions like this from time to time but they're not very consistent, making him a tough player to bank on in playoff DFS. Enes Kanter was relatively quiet as he put up eight points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block.
April 22, 2019, 12:15 amCJ McCollum - G - Trail Blazers
CJ McCollum kept his foot on the gas pedal on Sunday, raining down five 3s on the Thunder en route to his team-high 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting, while adding four rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks.
McCollum is heating up at just the right time for the Blazers and he picked up some of the slack while Damian Lillard was struggling early in the first half. When he and multiple Blazers are able to put up full lines like this, Portland becomes a devastating opponent, even if the opposing team has name-brand superstars in the form of Russell Westbrook and Paul George.
April 22, 2019, 12:09 amDamian Lillard - G - Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard overcame a rough start in Sunday's game vs. the Thunder, found his game in the second half and was able to wind up finishing with 24 points on 7-of-19 shooting from the field and 6-of-6 shooting from the line.
Lillard has proven to be a true superstar in this series, managing to shake off a slow start to be able to deliver when his team needed the jolt on offense. He added four 3s, three rebounds, eight dimes and one steal to round out his line for the night. Despite Oklahoma City's best efforts, Lillard would not be denied. His ability to turn on a switch and take over a game makes him one of the Western Conference's most dangerous players.
April 21, 2019, 10:15 pmTerrence Ross - G/F - Orlando Magic
Terrence Ross could not get it going offensively in Sunday's 85-107 Game 4 loss to the Raptors on Sunday, recording just five points on 1-of-5 shooting (1-of-4 from deep) with two rebounds, three assists and one steal in 31 minutes.
This was a big blow for both the Magic and Ross' owners in DFS. He was coming off a solid 24-point gem on Friday, so this dud came as a bit of a surprise. In the end, costly turnovers and ill-timed fouls helped keep Ross from exploding like he's done in the past. Evan Fournier helped pick up the slack with 19 points (8-of-16 shooting), four rebounds, two 3s, two dimes and one steal in 35 minutes, but it still was not enough to go toe-to-toe with Kawhi Leonard and company in this crucial Game 4.
April 21, 2019, 10:10 pmAaron Gordon - F - Orlando Magic
Aaron Gordon shot 10-of-17 from the field to finish with 25 points, seven rebounds, five dimes, two 3s and one steal in Sunday's Game 4 loss to the Raptors.
Gordon was limited in the first half but turned up the heat in the third quarter where he scored 16 of his team-high 25 points. Unfortunately, his spirited play was not enough to mount a serious enough rally to challenge the Raptor's control over the game. The 23-year-old Gordon has displayed a fresh level of maturity in this series and finally looks prepared to make a significant leap forward in 2019-20.