Blazers defense beats the Los Angeles Lakers, 115-107

by Kevin Nesgoda

On Saturday the Blazers needed a big second half to beat the undermanned Houston Rockets in overtime. Tonight they came into Los Angeles to take on the Lakers team that beat them in the first round of the playoffs about 75 days ago.

As you recall the Blazers won the first game of the series and the Lakers took care of business the next four. Both teams made some supporting cast adjustments in the week and a half offseason.

The Blazers focused on adding to their defense and it paid off with a big win against the defending champion, Los Angeles Lakers, 115-107.

First Quarter

The Blazers started off really slow. Derrick Jones Jr. missed two wide-open three-pointers and a reverse layup. The Lakers allowed Jones to be open by using three guys to pick up Damian Lillard as soon as he crossed half court. This has been the playbook for every team so far this year against the Blazers. Throw as many men at Dame as you possibly can as soon as he crosses half court.

He had one decent look early in the first.

This has worked and wide open Blazer players have not been able to take advantage of being wide open. There is too much indecision by everyone else not named Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum.

Without Carmelo Anthony tonight, Rodney Hood was the first person off the bench and he found Gary Trent Jr. in the corner for a three. A few seconds later Trent hit another three and cut the Lakers lead down to two, 20-18.

Portland was on the verge of getting blown out early. They could not stop LeBron James and they forgot to guard Kentavious Caldwell Pope along the three-point line. It looked like the Blazers were to get blown out early because of mistakes on the defensive end. These were the same mistakes that they made all of last season too. Not enough rotation and leaving people open on the wings and corners.

The Lakers finished the quarter on a 10-2 run.

Second Quarter

The start of the second quarter has long been an issue for the Blazers (same with the third), but tonight led by Anfernee Simons and Trent the Blazers started the quarter off on a 9-0 run to take a 31-30 with just over nine minutes left in the quarter.

Trent and Jones forced three turnovers by the Lakers to start the quarter and Jones played some really solid defense on LeBron James, forcing him to miss his first two shots of the quarter. McCollum hit a three right out of the Lakers timeout to push the lead up to four points.

The Blazers’ energy was a lot more than the Lakers could produce in the first six minutes of the quarter. The cuts on offense were crisp and the defense was able to stay home on the three-point line. This is the type of defensive effort we thought we’d get from minute one with the Blazers this season.

And it was mostly the bench unit that was doing all of this work for the Blazers. The bench was the weak spot for the Blazers the last two years and has been in two early games this year. Tonight though, the bench is playing with heart and energy. This type of scoring is not going to happen every night from the bench, but if Portland can give out this energy from the bench each game then we are looking at a team that is going to potentially go deep in the playoffs.

Have to believe if Charles Barkley put $100,000 on them to win the West.

CJ McCollum attacking the mid-range game hard tonight. The Lakers are focusing too much on Gary Trent Jr. from deep and that allowed CJ to work the middle of the defense and get two easy jumpers from the circle.

The Blazers continued to attack the middle of the Lakers defense allowing Jones Jr. and Robert Covington to get easy backdoor baskets.

This might have been the Blazers’ best quarter early this season. Their offense was efficient and their defense allowed them to keep the lead. The way the game started I really thought it’d be the Lakers up by about thirty at the half.

Third Quarter

It shocks me a bit that I have not been able to mention Anthony Davis yet. He’s 1-5 from the field so far in the game. Robert Covington has done a solid job of covering Davis so far in the game. A minute later Lillard hits a three right in the face of Dennis Schroder.

I have a feeling that Dame really likes scoring lots of points on Dennis.

Here is where the Blazers and their infamous third-quarter struggles show back up. After Lillard hit that first shot of the quarter to give Portland a 61-54 lead, the Lakers scored the next 15 points. Too much isolation from the Blazers, spending way too much time out high above the arc, and not running enough motion, and too much congestion up top. The Lakers used this lack of space to force the turnovers and that led to easy baskets.

Schroder was especially problematic for the Blazers. He knocked down two threes and had some free throws. He was the catalyst for the big run by the Lakers.

Back the other way, Robert Covington continues his awesome defensive play. A block led to an easy runout for the Blazers, a CJ three-pointer and Portland is feeling it. The next possession down for the Blazers, the Lakers forgot to pick up Dame, who casually strolled into a 30 footer to cut the Laker lead down to 73-71 with about four and a half minutes to play in the third.

Rodney Hood had a nice series of basketball where he hit a nice caddy corner three and then on defense had a gorgeous strip block of Anthony Davis that led to more Blazer points. A few minutes later he had an amazing spin move dish to Enes Kanter for an easy two and then Lillard hit a three to cut the Laker lead to one.

Derrick Jones Jr. is a freak of nature.

Fourth Quarter

Coming into the quarter I’ve been impressed with the play by Enes Kanter tonight on both ends of the floor. He hasn’t been a total defensive liability so far in this game and has been in a good position on the offensive end. I thought he had been thoroughly outplayed in the preseason by Harry Giles and thought we’d see Giles getting a handful of minutes at the 4-5 rotation.

A man who could probably get more minutes is Gary Trent Jr. He only has three three-pointers in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. He’s is feeling it to start the quarter. His shot is so pure in the quarter it is barely hitting the net. He’s given the Blazers a 96-91 point early in the fourth.

Get this man a contract extension.

The Lakers brought back Dennis Schroder at this point to shadow Trent — it was more than a shadow, he played Trent so close they were sharing the nucleus of atoms. It looks like Trent got a little banged up before the Lakers called the timeout and afterward we didn’t see a whole lot of movement on the offensive end from him over the next minute. Terry Stotts brought back in Dame.

LeBron James went on a personal 5-0 run and Harrell got into the action by hitting a shot over Kanter to tie the game. Harrell hits the free throw to give the Lakers a 99-98 lead.

Jusuf Nurkic hit a runner over LeBron, followed up by threes by Dame and CJ put the Blazers 106-101 with a skosh over three minutes left.

The Blazers were a little lost on offense when Trent first left the game and it quickly got everyone involved in some form.

That was until Damian Lillard looked at his watch and decided it was Dame Time. Another three and then an And-1 one.

He iced the game.

Close Out

This was the best I’ve seen the Blazers play in their first three games. Gary Trent Jr. was huge with 28 points off the bench, the Blazers as a team had 45 points off the bench. Derrick Jones Jr. was a thorn in LeBron’s side all night, especially in the second half, and Robert Covington made life a living hell for Anthony Davis all night.

That is one of the better full team efforts for the Blazers over the last couple of seasons. Their defense showed up in huge times of need time and time again tonight. There were points where the Lakers were on the verge of blowing them out, but the defense stepped up and got multiple stops in a row on at least eight different occasions tonight.

That is huge for this team.

Next Up

The Blazers are sticking around DTLA for a couple more days as they take on the Clippers on Wednesday at 7:00 PM.

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