April 20, 2018, 1:12 am
The end is essentially inevitable now. After three games that told slightly different versions of the same story, it’s hard to believe anyone – let alone a majority of basketball followers – thought it could possibly come later for the Portland Trail Blazers.
The New Orleans Pelicans beat the Blazers 119-102 on Thursday night, taking a commanding 3-0 lead in the teams’ first-round series with an utterly dominant two-way performance from the opening tip. Nikola Mirotic scored a team-high 30 points on 12-of-15 from the field and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, keeping his red-hot right hand aflame while flashing a refined, versatile post game and underrated athleticism. Anthony Davis was the best player on the floor, though, dominating Portland on both ends en route to 30 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and two blocks on 11-of-18 shooting – numbers that somehow understate his unique influence across 94 feet. Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo combined for 32 points, 18 assists and five steals, thoroughly out-dueling their more-heralded backcourt counterparts for a third consecutive game.
The Blazers’ play can be summed up in one depressingly head-scratching sequence just after halftime. Following a quick 5-0 run by Portland, which trailed 64-45 at intermission, and subsequent timeout by Alvin Gentry, Damian Lillard randomly lost his handle while preparing to round a screen on the right wing, leading to an uncontested dunk by Holiday. Lillard turned the ball over again less than a minute later, when he tried to thread a lazy bounce pass between the swarming arms and active hands of Holiday and Davis. Jusuf Nurkic had the ball ripped from his paws by Mirotic on Portland’s next possession, and Lillard dribbled off his foot out of bounds while probing a coming double-team the next time his team had the ball. Al-Farouq Aminu, easily the Blazers’ best player on Thursday with 21 points (8-15 FGs), eight rebounds and two steals, got too ambitious off the bounce on the ensuing trip that direction, giving Davis another steal – and the Blazers their fifth turnover in two-and-a half minutes.
So much for a second-half comeback.
Lillard went 5-of-14 from the field for 20 points, his worst shooting night of the postseason. He had just two assists despite New Orleans continuing to force the ball out of his hands, and committed eight turnovers all by his lonesome. Worse, Lillard, big-game hero since his rookie year, was timid and hesitant with his team’s back against the wall.
“He’s a competitor and he wants to play better,” Terry Stotts said, “but you have to compliment New Orleans’ defense. They have a gameplan, and they’ve really stuck to it and executed it well so far.”
The Pelicans scored 35 points off of Portland’s 24 total turnovers. The Blazers were outscored 18-0 in fast break points and 30-12 in the paint during the first half, an imminently losing combination of ineptitude in a vacuum. Portland’s bench, surprisingly effective in the first two games of this series, didn’t score a single point until there were 44 seconds left on the third-quarter clock. The Pelicans shot 80.6 percent from the restricted area, comfortably higher than LeBron James‘ league-leading regular-season mark. Before Gentry pulled his starters with 7:05 remaining, New Orleans had an offensive rating of 127.6 and a defensive rating of 91.4, good for a net of +36.2 points per 100 possession.
The worst part about all of this for Portland? It wasn’t even necessarily surprising given what transpired at Moda Center earlier in this series, back in the world when its hosts were considered favorites.
The Blazers had no defensive answer for Davis again, no matter where he was on the floor or who was guarding him. Aminu got the assignment early, a departure from Games 1 and 2, but that left Nurkic chasing Mirotic, who scored 14 points in the first quarter. When Stotts shifted those assignments back after halftime, allowing Moe Harkless and Aminu to switch Holiday-Davis pick-and-rolls, the Pelicans found answers – one of which was as easy as it was jaw-dropping.
— NBA (@NBA) April 20, 2018
McCollum was better in Game 3; he finished with 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting. But he hardly affected the game elsewhere like Rondo, let alone Holiday, and the same can be said for Lillard. When Portland’s backcourt is so objectively outplayed, there’s just no way for this team to win a playoff series – especially when the opponent is led by a player like Davis, wreaking relentless havoc in an attack that’s taking his talents to new, unforeseen heights.
Even if there’s more than one game left in Portland’s season, anyone being objective knows it will be over soon. The Pelicans, as currently constructed, with Holiday playing at his ferocious peak and executing on both sides of the ball with consistent precision, are a really, really bad matchup for the Blazers.
“They whooped our ass,” McCollum told The Oregonian.
And based on everything we’ve seen in the first three games of this series, rightfully so.
April 23, 2019, 1:30 amChris Paul - G - Houston Rockets
Chris Paul had a great Game 4 in Monday's 91-107 loss to the Jazz with 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting with eight rebounds, seven assists, five steals, two blocks and two 3-pointers.
Paul had a nice breakaway dunk late in the fourth, showing that he's still got the hops and his defense throughout tonight was also solid. He brought back some of his vintage layup package, but the Rockets as a whole went cold from deep late in the game and couldn't stop Donovan Mitchell's barrage in the fourth quarter.
April 23, 2019, 1:30 amJae Crowder - F - Utah Jazz
Jae Crowder finally had a strong night offensively in Monday's Game 4 with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting to go with four rebounds, an assist, two steals and three 3-pointers.
Crowder had 18 first half points which would have been the most he's scored in any game this series. He was on fire to start the first period and his energy levels were much higher tonight. The Jazz finally got a strong game out of Crowder on both ends of the floor and he'll have to keep nailing shots for the Jazz to drag out this series.
April 23, 2019, 1:29 amRudy Gobert - C - Utah Jazz
Rudy Gobert logged 24 foul-plagued minutes in Monday's Game 4 and scored four points on 2-of-4 shooting with nine rebounds, two assists, a steal and three blocks.
Gobert was a net-positive whenever he was on the floor tonight and he's getting better at keeping up with Houston's guards on the perimeter. He's blocked several of James Harden's floaters over the past two games and has dominated the paint when he plays, but was limited due to fouls tonight. Derrick Favors (24 minutes, 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting with 11 rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block) more than carried his weight tonight as he kept the Rockets at bay with his suffocating defense inside the paint in the final period of action.
April 23, 2019, 1:24 amClint Capela - C - Houston Rockets
Clint Capela struggled in Monday's Game 4, scoring four points on 1-of-6 shooting with seven rebounds and two assists in 28 minutes.
Capela went 2-for-6 at the line and he was severely limited in tonight's game as he struggled with Utah's physicality. The normal lobs he received from James Harden were much more difficult to control tonight and he had trouble finishing around the rim. We expect him to be much better in the next game.
April 23, 2019, 1:24 amDonovan Mitchell - G - Utah Jazz
Donovan Mitchell carried the Jazz in their 107-91 win over the Rockets in Game 4 on Monday with 31 points on 11-of-26 shooting to go with seven rebounds, four assists, a steal and three 3-pointers.
Mitchell finally got some help from his teammates tonight as they helped carry the team's offensive burden throughout the first three periods. In the final quarter, Mitchell scored the Jazz's first 13 points and ended up with 19 fourth quarter points. He had a dazzling spin move, some deep triples and a freakishly athletic alley-oop dunk all in the span of 12 minutes and has kept the Jazz season alive for at least another game due to his heroic efforts. Although the team as a whole has struggled offensively, Mitchell showed his superstar potential tonight.
April 23, 2019, 1:17 amRicky Rubio - G - Utah Jazz
Ricky Rubio scored 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting while adding 11 assists, three rebounds, a steal, a block and a 3-pointer in Game 4 on Monday.
Rubio played much better defense on Houston's guards tonight but was still unable to stretch the floor with his shooting as he went 1-for-7 from deep. If he can make incremental improvements on his defensive assignment while hitting a couple more triples, the Jazz have a good shot at extending this series.
April 23, 2019, 1:15 amJames Harden - G - Houston Rockets
James Harden scored 30 points on 8-of-19 shooting with three rebounds, four assists, two steals and six 3-pointers in Game 4 on Monday.
Harden is facing one of the toughest defenses in the league so the shots he makes are difficult. The step-back 3s were on full display tonight, but Harden had difficulty penetrating the Jazz defense whenever Rudy Gobert was manning the paint. Although his shooting percentages were high, he committed eight turnovers as the mid-range territory is one of the hardest to navigate. Gobert is predicting his floaters and Clint Capela couldn't grab and finish the usual lob passes which hampered Harden's success tonight. He's slowly figuring out the Jazz defense and if Capela can return to form we can expect his assist numbers to spike.
April 23, 2019, 1:12 amEric Gordon - G - Houston Rockets
Eric Gordon scored 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting with five 3-pointers, a rebound, an assist and a block in Monday's Game 4.
Gordon started off hot and did all the stuff the Rockets expected him to do, but late in the game he was unable to hit timely shots for Houston. He'll get another crack at some open looks due to Utah's defensive scheme.
April 23, 2019, 12:21 amBlake Griffin - F - Detroit Pistons
Blake Griffin may have limped through 28 minutes in Monday night's 127-104 Game 4 loss to the Bucks, but he put up 22 points, five rebounds, six assists and four threes.
Griffin helped keep the Pistons' season alive for almost three quarters on a bad knee before fouling out in the fourth to a standing ovation. He was at significantly less than 100 percent during this series, but it was good to see him lay it all out there as a last-gasp effort for his team. Griffin had a great fantasy season and there should be more of the same as the 30-year-old hopefully returns healthy in 2019-20.
April 23, 2019, 12:10 amReggie Jackson - G - Detroit Pistons
Reggie Jackson scored a team-high 26 points (9-of-20 FGs, 5-of-9 threes, 3-of-3 FTs) with seven dimes, three boards and a steal in Monday's Game 4 loss to the Bucks.
Jackson looked great tonight while keeping the Pistons in front for the majority of the game. However, the Bucks went on a big run in the third and fourth quarters to complete the sweep. Jackson, at age 29, doesn't have a whole lot of upside left, but he's certainly capable of putting together games like this once or twice a month to swing a head-to-head matchup.