The Portland Trail Blazers faced the Charlotte Hornets tonight without either of their starting big men, as Jusuf Nurkic and Jerami Grant were both injured. Cobblestone queues aren’t new to Portland, but this one nearly proved fatal. The Hornets feasted on inside shots and offensive rebounds for much of the game, making the Blazers work for every possession.
What the Blazers lacked in size, they made up for in guard firepower. Damian Lillard brought them back from a terrible third quarter deficit. Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons helped, but neither did Jabari Walker, Drew Eubanks and Trendon Watford.
In the end, the Blazers clinched a 105-95 win to make it 8-3 for the season, 3-1 on the current six-game road trip, one of their toughest of the season.
Lillard finished the game with 26 points on 6-12 shooting from range with 7 assists and 6 rebounds. He single-handedly broke the Hornets’ momentum (and game) in that topsy-turvy third period. Simons added 19, Sharpe 17. Eubanks had 14 points and 8 rebounds in Nurkic’s absence.
Here’s how the action unfolded.
Drew Eubanks wasted no time making his presence known, grabbing offensive rebounds and making his usual lineup of bankable baseline shots. The lesser-heralded member of the Blazers’ rotation was joined by one of the more, as Shaedon Sharpe had three and a few shots from mid-range. This duo carried the Portland attack – you read that right – because no one else could have bought a bucket with an American Express Black and a discount coupon. Josh Hart missed all of his shots, as did Lillard (although he only took a few). Anfernee Simons went 1-4. The Blazers as a team shot 2-8 from the arc.
Fortunately, the Hornets weren’t much better from range, going 3-10 for the period. Unfortunately, they made up for it on the inside, converting half a dozen shots in the restricted area, destroying the Blazers on the offensive glass…a halftime theme. Portland scored a respectable 25 in the period (considering 40% of their starting lineup was missing), but they gave up 30.
Portland had none of that in the second period, however. Their inside offense didn’t improve much, but Lillard hit a trio of triples while Simons added a pair, giving the Blazers a solid 15 for the period from just three runs. Add a few quick breaks and Portland’s offense quickly became healthy.
Charlotte went the other way, however. Portland’s small rosters ultimately made life difficult for them in the arc, as the Hornets went 2-for-a-billion in the span. Cutting off the free extra points helped the Blazers’ defense tremendously. Portland also stiffened inside. The Hornets continued to bounce back like crazy offensively, but at least their inside shots weren’t lightly challenged. Defending the extremes both outside and inside, the Blazers didn’t have much to worry about. They outscored the Hornets 33-23 during the period and led 58-53 at intermission.
The third period started like a nightmare for Portland. Charlotte hit two threes, a pair of free throws and a quick break Mason Plumlee layup (of all things…turnovers were involved) and Portland’s lead was gone faster than Anthony Davis’s. an active list. Lillard’s shots were missing, the Blazers still weren’t rebounding well…Stephen King couldn’t have written a scarier start.
And THEN Charlotte’s assault on the rim began in earnest. Amid a host of turnovers and bricks in Portland, the Hornets started the period on a 19-2 streak. Oh.
Charlotte built a 12-point lead before Lillard came to life with a few threes and two free throws on a meager one. An assist on a three to Jabari Walker a game later tied the game with 4:00 to go.
After the Blazers fixed their three-point defense and rebounding issues, the quarterback got a whole lot easier. Lillard continued to score like crazy. Walker played Chester to his Marshal Dillon. When the buzzer sounded, somehow… improbably, the Blazers were leading 7, 86-79.
Needing only to hold serve in the fourth to win, the Blazers ran a lot of on-screen action, drove the ball inside and focused on high percentage shots. The Hornets alternating three misses and turnovers didn’t hurt. Portland’s lead shot up to double digits, which was beyond Charlotte’s ability to handle, likely because they didn’t have Lillard in tow. It was a period of misfires for both sides, but ugly or pretty, as long as it was equal, Portland was happy. He did, and they walked away with the win.
To note: Lillard passed Magic Johnson for 83rd on the NBA’s all-time scoring list in that game.
The score of the box
Stay tuned for the analysis of this game which will follow shortly!
The Blazers host the New Orleans Hornets tomorrow night with a 5 p.m. Pacific start.
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