January 26, 2018, 11:09 pm
It’s probably foolhardy to expect this type of production from Ed Davis every night. The backup big man has become a reliable factor of the Portland Trail Blazers’ success recently, though, which is why it wasn’t so surprising he was the driving factor behind it on Saturday against the Dallas Mavericks.
Portland beat Dallas 107-93 at American Airlines Center, moving to a season-high five games over .500 for the first time since late November. Davis had 15 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in 28 minutes, but his impact loomed larger than those gaudy statistics suggest. The Blazers simply came alive when Davis entered the game, and the Mavericks were overwhelmed.
Davis’s two-way dominance became most evident in the second quarter. He began it with a soaring and-1 dunk after catching a pass on the roll, and continued to impose his physical will from there. Dallas was helpless to contain him on the offensive glass, leading to several extra opportunities for both Davis and his teammates. His most impressive plays, though, were a pair of blocked dunks, the latter of which came on Dennis Smith Jr. – a likely participant in the dunk contest – and led to an and-1 by C.J. McCollum during a crucial stretch in the third quarter.
Moments later, Davis bailed his team out with a rushed jumper from 12 feet as the shot clock expired. He created a turnover with active hands in pick-and-roll defense on the next possession, a transition that led to a three by Al-Farouq Aminu. Suddenly, the Blazers were back up by double-digits, less than three minutes after Dallas had cut the double-digit deficit to two.
But the Mavericks, behind Wes Matthews and Smith, predictably, refused to go away. Fortunately for Portland, Davis didn’t, either. His hanging tip-in off a missed layup by Pat Connaughton ended a mini Dallas run, and was followed by an off-dribble triple from Damian Lillard that again extended the Blazers lead to 10. He later found a cutting Zach Collins for an and-1, yet another example of his playmaking comfort after catching the ball in space.
Davis, obviously, didn’t beat the Mavericks by himself. But his game is always the kind that promotes energy and activity, and Portland badly needed that influence when he initially entered the game midway through the first quarter, trailing 15-13. That’s a jolt he’s giving the Blazers on a nightly basis these days. Less common is when Davis is the best player on the floor, and that’s what came to pass on Friday.
- With Evan Turner sidelined, Mo Harkless got a rare start on Friday night, despite playing a total of three minutes in the Blazers’ last four games. One of the reasons why Harkless has struggled to find his footing this season isn’t just his poor shooting from beyond the arc, but its subsequent effects. Case in point: Nowitzki guarded Harkless for the majority of his minutes, effectively “hiding” on defense because his primary assignment was such a non-scoring threat. That type of in-game ripples across the floor, and isn’t presented by Turner nor Connaughton. Shabazz Napier offers a similar give to the opposition in super-small backcourts, but his take from them looms far larger. Harkless didn’t play poorly on Friday night, which perhaps should be considered a victory given his recent inactivity, but anyone expecting him to breakout with Turner sidelined should be disappointed.
- Some dead horses are worth beating. Davis turned the game, but it was hardly a coincidence that most of his minutes came beside Collins, who finished with six points, three rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes. He hit a three for the third consecutive game, had an impressive block at the rim and continued to show good feet while sliding with smaller players on the perimeter. Collins had a couple ugly turnovers, and could stand to be more aggressive looking for his shot. He was a clear positive on both ends yet again, though, another encouraging sign in what’s become a very promising rookie season.
- Smith Jr. flashed again, scoring 18 points and dishing seven assists on 7-of-14 shooting. His defense leaves much to be desired, but certainly not for a lack of physical gifts, and he clearly has canny, opportunistic instincts on that side of the floor. The rookie is a show on offense right now, though, and exhibited patience and maturity on several occasions that will make his world-class athleticism even more of a trump card. Smith put Lillard in jail and locked away the key at one point early, keeping him on his back with two extra dribbles before exploding past help for a quick finish at the rim. Scary.
- It would be remiss not to mention Lillard and McCollum at greater length. The former poured in 29 points on 9-of-18 shooting, and the latter added 20 points and five assists on an efficient 9-of-14. Just as importantly, Lillard, who didn’t have a field goal until shortly before half, and McCollum were Portland’s only source of offense early in the third quarter as Dallas staged a comeback. Sounds familiar, right?