April 15, 2018, 2:40 am
The result always trumps the process in the playoffs. But at least the Portland Trail Blazers can take solace heading into the remainder of the first round by knowing they have a chance against the New Orleans Pelicans. After all, for the first 40 minutes of Saturday’s game, it certainly didn’t seem that way.
The Pelicans beat the Blazers 97-95, withstanding a furious late-game rally to steal home-court advantage and give Anthony Davis the first postseason victory of his career. Davis was scary in Game 1, scoring 35 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, swiping two steals and blocking four shots on 14-of-26 shooting. He was hardly a one-man show for New Orleans, either. Jrue Holiday was the best guard on the floor Saturday night, finishing with 21 points, seven rebounds and two blocks while spearheading a suffocating team-wide defensive effort that made life hell on Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Nikola Mirotic, who scored 16 points and made four triples before tailing off late, almost shot the home team out of the game before it was over, and proved surprisingly effective on the other end of the floor.
Lillard had 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, but shot just 6-of-23 from the field. McCollum had 19 points on 7-of-18 shooting, and didn’t score his first points until the 8:43 mark of the third quarter. Evan Turner scored nine of his 13 points in the opening minutes of the game, struggling thereafter as New Orleans goaded him into launching open jump-shots.. Jusuf Nurkic was the only other Portland player in double-figures with 11 points, and basically played off the floor for the majority of the second half due to the understandable trouble he had checking Davis and Mirotic.
For three and-a-half quarters, the Blazers seemed helpless. Lillard and McCollum were completely neutralized in ball screen action, a combination of yeoman’s work by staunch rearview pursuit from primary defenders’, pitch-perfect timing and footwork from Davis and Mirotic and the inability of their teammates to space the floor behind the point of attack. Davis was cooking Nurkic whenever the Pelicans found him space to operate, showing off a smooth jumper, slick handle and the athleticism that makes him an impossible cover. Mirotic was popping threes from the slot almost before the Blazers had a chance to set their defense. Holiday was getting wherever he wanted with the ball in his hands, at times forcing the issue with aggressive drives to success that his star backcourt counterparts were never able to duplicate.
New Orleans, after reinserting its starters following a mini Portland run, got its lead back up to 86-72 on this towering alley-oop dunk by Davis with 6:02 left in the fourth.
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) April 15, 2018
Game over, right? That’s what the vast majority of a capacity Moda Center crowd and millions more watching at home thought, but apparently not the Blazers. Stotts just over a minute later, previously rolling with Pat Connaughton, Zach Collins and Ed Davis next to Lillard and McCollum in the fourth quarter – a lineup that made sense given game-long trends, including a reserve-led binge in the second quarter. Regardless, bringing back Turner, Aminu and Nurkic paid off.
Nurkic put his shoulder into Davis, flipping a shot toward the rim while getting fouled for a three-point play. Lillard got loose in transition, McCollum drained a three and Turner got creative on a slick reverse layup. The Pelicans, notably fatigued, were throwing the ball over the floor, too. Suddenly own four with just over a minute remaining, as a partisan crowd readied to burst, Portland tracked down another offensive rebound and ultimately found McCollum in the corner for a triple that, somehow, had the home team within a point.
C.J. McCollum drills the clutch corner 3 pic.twitter.com/FO7WmPDkFO
— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) April 15, 2018
The Blazers got no closer. Holiday, after contributing to the opposition’s comeback with some head-scratching decision-making offensively down the stretch, made two of the game’s biggest plays when Portland had a chance to take the lead in its final minute. First he cut off a streaking McCollum in the open floor, getting both his hands on the ball to create a turnover. After a missed 3-pointer by Davis, Holiday stuck right with Lillard on the attack, forcing the Blazers superstar to err on a go-ahead floater attempt. He wasn’t finished. Holiday capped a masterful defensive performance by blocking a would-be lay-in by Connaughton as Portland, down three, tried for a quick two with less than 10 seconds remaining.
Three factors loomed as potentially fatal for the Blazers coming into this series: the defensive influence of Holiday and Davis; the inability of any player on Stotts’ roster to contain Davis one-on-one; and the defensive ripples created by the presence of Mirotic, spacing the floor to the arc. All three of them came to fruition on Saturday, and Portland shot 37.8 percent from the field.
“I’ll be better,” McCollum said after Game 1, and there’s every reason to believe he will be going forward – for both simple regression to the mean and adjustments made by the Blazers before Tuesday.
Anyone expecting this series to be easy, for either team, was fooling themselves. It was always going six or seven games no matter how we got there. The Blazers are in trouble, but saw enough in the last six minutes of Game 1 to leave it feeling relatively encouraged. Davis might play like an MVP, Holiday might be the best guard on the floor for any given stint and Mirotic might rain threes and make a real impact on defense. Even so, and at the very least, Portland will still be capable of beating the Pelicans.
Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen on Saturday. Onto Game 2.
April 24, 2019, 2:18 amDamian Lillard - G - Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard put up an instant classic performance featuring a game-winning deep three, 10 total triples and a 50-spot in Tuesday's 118-115 closeout win over the Thunder in Portland.
Lillard started off Game 5 with 34 first-half points while playing all 24 minutes. He finished with seven boards, six dimes, three steals and a block while shooting 17-for-33 from the field and 6-for-8 from the line. Despite a big second-half Thunder run, Lillard kept it going all the way until the buzzer as his shot from near the logo fell, giving him an even 50 and a series win as he waived goodbye to the Thunder.
April 24, 2019, 2:08 amCJ McCollum - G - Trail Blazers
CJ McCollum put up 17 points (8-of-19 FGs), two rebounds, two assists, one triple and two blocks in 32 minutes in Tuesday's closeout win over the Thunder.
McCollum sat a little more than usual in the first half after getting his third foul early, though he also ended with three fouls in another example of why coaches should just leave players in until they get their fourth or fifth. McCollum had been on fire in this series, averaging over 26 points per game coming into tonight's game. He and the Blazers now wait to see if they'll get the Nuggets or the Spurs in the next round.
April 24, 2019, 1:55 amEnes Kanter - C - Trail Blazers
Enes Kanter toughed out a 13-point, 13-rebound double-double over 32 minutes in Tuesday's Game 5 victory over the Thunder.
Kanter also had four assists and a block while shooting 6-for-9 from the floor tonight. He got pretty banged up in the first half, injuring his shoulder which was heavily wrapped after the game. Kanter averaged over 13 points and 10 rebounds in under 30 minutes for the series and he looks like one of the best mid-season signings in the league at this point.
April 24, 2019, 1:48 amMaurice Harkless - F - Trail Blazers
Maurice Harkless had 17 points on just nine shots with seven rebounds, an assist and a steal in 33 minutes on Tuesday vs. the Thunder.
It's not wise to rely on Harkless, but he can be the wildcard the Blazers need every few games. After closing out the Thunder tonight, they'll await the winner of the Spurs and Nuggets series.
April 24, 2019, 1:37 amPaul George - F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Paul George had a huge game with 36 points (14-of-20 FGs, 5-of-8 FTs), nine rebounds, three assists and three 3-pointers in Tuesday's 118-115 road loss to the Blazers.
George was feeling it early, making his first five shots. He battled through first-half foul trouble and likely some lingering pain from his injury. But it wasn't quite enough as Damian Lillard out-played him in this one to end the series in Portland.
April 24, 2019, 1:30 amRussell Westbrook - G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook put up one final triple-double with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists as the Thunder were eliminated from the playoffs by the Blazers on Tuesday.
Aside from making all three of his free throws, it was a microcosm of Westbrook's season. He shot just 11-of-31 (4-of-11 from three) and had four steals, two blocks and five turnovers in 45 minutes. There's no better value if you're looking to punt three categories next season.
April 24, 2019, 1:24 amDennis Schroder - G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Dennis Schroder went for 17 points on 7-of-10 from the field in addition to two rebounds, three assists, two treys and just one turnover in 33 minutes in Tuesday's Game 5 loss.
That makes it three straight games of 17 points and two threes for Schroder. It'll be interesting to see if he can carve out a slightly bigger role as he returns to OKC next season with the Thunder possibly looking to make some changes.
April 24, 2019, 1:19 amJerami Grant - F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Jerami Grant had an incredibly efficient 16 points (7-for-8 FGs) to go with eight boards, one assist, three blocks and two threes in 44 minutes in Tuesday's close loss to the Blazers.
It was quite the fantasy line for Grant, though it will be his final one until October. The Thunder had a great shot at a win tonight, but the Blazers closed the game and series out in miracle fashion.
April 24, 2019, 1:03 amJamal Murray - G - Denver Nuggets
Jamal Murray knocked down plenty of shots again on his way to a game-high 23 points (9-of-16 FGs) in 28 minutes in Tuesday night's 108-90 home win over the Spurs.
Consistently inconsistent, the streaky Murray put together a second straight great game tonight. In addition to the shooting, which included 4-for-9 from deep, he added four boards, seven dimes, two steals and a block. The Nuggets often go as he goes, so they'll look for him to keep it up in Game 6 in San Antonio.
April 24, 2019, 12:53 amNikola Jokic - C - Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic had another double-double on Tuesday vs. the Spurs, going for 16 points (5-for-11 FGs, 4-for-4 FTs), 11 rebounds, eight assists, two steals, one block and two threes in 33 minutes.
The Joker wasn’t needed down the stretch as the Nuggets put this game out of reach early. It’s been a great series for him with averages of 19.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 9.0 assists. He'll try to help secure a series win this Thursday night in San Antonio.