March 7, 2018, 5:38 am
Damian Lillard rescued the Portland Trail Blazers against a below-.500 team for the second time in as many nights. At least this time, though, his heroics weren’t needed up to the final buzzer.
Less than 24 hours after scoring 19 fourth-quarter points to bring his team back from a double-digit deficit against the Los Angeles Lakers, Lillard poured in 37 points on 10-of-18 from the field and 8-of-11 from beyond the arc to lead the Blazers to a 111-87 victory over the New York Knicks. The rising MVP candidate scored 24 of those points during a topsy-turvy first half, in which Portland fell behind early and almost completely squandered a 15-point lead. But the Blazers took cues from Lillard all game long, shooting a remarkable 20-of-33 on 3-pointers, outscoring the Knicks by a whopping 39 points. New York won the battle in paint points 42-26, but it didn’t matter – the math always wins, and it led to the Blazers’ eighth straight victory.
Lillard’s show was over by the fourth quarter; he didn’t score despite playing the first two minutes and four seconds of the final stanza. What he did in the third quarter, though, is what put the Knicks away for good. Lillard picked up where he left off just before half by draining a 29-footer with just under 10 minutes left in the third to give Portland a double-digit it would never relinquish.
— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) March 7, 2018
With a game New York squad making a mild threat minutes later, Lillard answered the way he has on seemingly every occasion that called for it over the last six weeks. His second 3-pointer of the third quarter was a 28-footer, after he stepped behind a handoff from Jusuf Nurkic. Lillard’s third triple, on the next possession, was from two feet farther back. He was fouled while attempting another three on the Blazers’ next trip down and made every freebie, giving him nine points in three possessions over 58 seconds of game time. Suddenly, Portland was up 79-58, and the Knicks’ fight late in the third and fourth quarters wasn’t nearly enough to keep the game competitive – not with the way Lillard and company were splashing away from deep.
Lillard was within a single make of tying his franchise record for threes with four minutes and 51 seconds left in the third quarter. He didn’t even try breaking it before leaving the game for good early in the fourth, content to watch his teammates take his lead. McCollum, despite shooting 2-of-11 inside the arc, went 5-of-7 on 3-pointers. Al-Farouq Aminu made both of his long-range tries, and Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton also had two threes. Zach Collins joined the 3-point party, too.
The Blazers can’t count on shooting like the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors on a game-by-game basis. Not even close. But with Lillard continuing his MVP-level play and McCollum slowly, surely finding his stride, it goes without saying that Portland is a team capable of winning any game. When its stars get the help they have been lately is what takes this team to another level.
Defense, rebounding, playmaking, 3-point shooting – when the Blazers’ supporting cast is playing well, there isn’t much it doesn’t provide. The key now is combining that play with singular excellence of Lillard and flammability of McCollum more consistently. The Knicks might be the worst team in basketball right now, but Portland’s performance on Tuesday, in the latter half of a back-to-back, certainly suggests that doing so going forward is possible.
But a more difficult, and potentially instructive, test awaits. The Warriors come to town on Friday.