Damian Lillard drops 51 as Blazers edge Sixers, 124-121

by Kevin Nesgoda

The Blazers are coming off a tough loss to the Los Angeles Clippers yesterday afternoon and have to turn around and take on the Philadelphia 76ers less than 24 hours. Both teams came into the game with three wins a piece. The Sixers will finish somewhere between the four and six seeds in the East.

Portland came into the game fractions of percentage points ahead of both the San Antonio Spurs and the red hot Phoenix Suns. It’d be cliche to say that this is a must win game against Philadelphia but this a must win game against Philadelphia.

The Suns and Spurs both have favorable schedules going forward and the Blazers only have two games left after today. One against a really explosive Dallas team and the last against a depleted, yet dangerous Brooklyn Nets.

With both Simmons and then later Embiid out, the Blazers got a big 124-121 win.

First Quarter Thoughts

Early on we saw the game plan from the Blazers immediately. Lots of high screens from Blazer bigs that freed up Damian Lillard to attack the rim at will. Both Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins did a great job of setting these high screens and then popping to the three point line to draw the defenders. This left Lillard with a wide open path to the basket. This was big in helping the Blazers get an early double digit lead.

One of my big fears was Jusuf Nurkic picking up quick fouls while guarding Joel Embiid. Fears were realized in the first 47 seconds of the game. Nurk picked up two quick fouls and will spend quite a bit of time on the bench. Embiid a few minutes later ended up tweaking his knee or ankle when he crashed into the stanchion.

Without Hassan Whiteside that means that Wenyen Gabriel would get a lot of minutes in the first half. Gabriel is a hustler and wants to earn his spot in the NBA. He did pick up a couple of quick fouls, but did have a steal, a rebound, three points, and played some really solid defense. He took away a couple of easy baskets by the Sixers.

Lillard continued to dominate the Sixers to a tune of 14 points in the quarter. This came without hitting a single three pointer or an outside jumper. He did have two old fashioned three point plays.

Both teams looked tired and played incredibly sloppy throughout the first quarter. The teams had seven combined turnovers while the Blazers shot 12 of 25 and the Sixers shot 6 of 24.

Portland had a 33-19 lead heading into the second.

Dame had about the craziest shot go in that I have ever seen.

Second Quarter Thoughts

The Sixers did not start off the quarter well. They look incredibly lost out there without Ben Simmons. The offense is stagnant and the passing is god awful. Blazers were able to force a total of five steals, two coming from Mario Hezonja. Those two steals led to a layup for Mario and then one where he dished it to the corner to Gary Trent Jr. for another three.

Trent might be the best overall player in Orlando right now.

Philadelphia started running their offense through Josh Richardson and the Blazers 17 point lead quickly dropped to seven with about six minutes left in the quarter. The Blazers helped a lot by taking a lot of jumpers and missing a lot of jumpers. Their offense was totally out of sync with Lillard going to the bench.

Lillard and Carmelo checked back into the game and started attacking the soft interior of the Sixers and once again finding success. Portland pushed the lead back up to 13, but then started to make some really odd offensive choices and their defense became porous. They had no answer for Richardson. For some reason the Blazers stuck with CJ on Richardson and didn’t let Trent have a crack at him. Trent was on Tobias Harris and kept him quiet while he was the main defender.

Carmelo Anthony moved up to 15th on the NBA’s all time leading scoring list. He needs to score 99 more points to pass Tim Duncan for 14th all time.

Portland was outscored 39-34 in the quarter and went into halftime with a 67-58 point lead.

It’s going to be interesting to see if Terry Stotts stays big as the Sixers are more than likely going to go ultra small to start the second half. Al Horford will be at the five and Harris at the four with three guards. Based on Stotts passed I don’t expect him to make any adjustments. He’s going to keep both Nurkic and Collins out there to guard a three point shooting lineup.

Third Quarter Thoughts

Lillard continued his hot shooting. He had a quick seven points in the first five minutes of the quarter, bringing his total to 29 points for the day. And up to this point he was only 1-7 from three to this point. However, he was 8-8 from the free throw line.

Josh Richardson and Tobias Harris continued to knock down buckets. The Sixers started running the Blazers offense against them with Richardson getting or setting high screens and slipping late for open jumpers. If he got covered he’d dump it down to Tobias Harris for an easy basket.

The Sixers managed to come back and tie the game at 86 with about three minutes left in the quarter. Stotts kept CJ McCollum on Josh Richardson throughout the quarter and CJ is one of the worst defenders on a team of horrible defenders.

The Sixers shot 70% for the quarter and outscored the Blazers 34-24 in the quarter. It looks like Gary Trent Jr. has come back down to earth and the only Blazer able to do anything is Dame with some help from Melo. CJ has once again disappeared in a big game.

Fourth Quarter Thoughts

The fourth did not start off well. Mario Hezonja attempted a step-back three on the Blazers first possession. Philadelphia continued to knock down shots and if it wasn’t for Carmelo Anthony the Blazers could have quickly been down by double digits in the first three minutes of the quarter.

The defense has really come off the rails the last two days. They really could use a Trevor Ariza or Rodney Hood for games like this. And CJ McCollum has been absolutely useless on the defensive end all season. He has the ability to score a lot of points, but his inability to guard anyone almost makes his points scored irrelevant.

Richardson continued to make big threes to push the Sixers lead up. Damian Lillard and Carmelo Anthony kept the Blazers close.

WIth just under three minutes to go Lillard goded Richardson into the air on a three, drawing the foul and converting the free throw to put the Blazers up three, 117-114. Lillard had been short on most of his threes on the day and this one got him zeroed back in. The next trip down he knocked down another three to give the Blazers a six point advantage with about two minutes left in the game.

There isn’t a player in the league with a heart bigger than Damian Lillard.

Al Horford was left wide open with 12 seconds left to hit a three to cut the Blazers lead down to a single point, 122-121. The Blazers three point defense has been so bad throughout the year. They really need to address this in the offseason. Give all the money to the best defensive assistant coach out there. It is absolutely inexcusable that this keeps happening.

Their inability to get stops against a bunch of backups two days in a row is everything you need to know about the Blazers defense.

Blazers were lucky to get out with a win.

Next Up

Tuesday August 11th, against the Dallas Mavericks at 3:30 PM PST.

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