PORTLAND — Down by 17 with just six minutes to play, the Portland Trail Blazers looked beaten. Once again, they were outworked on the boards, once again they were abused in the paint and once again, the defense was totally nonexistent. But there’s always Damian Lillard.
Lillard scored 15 of his season- and game-high 50 points during the final 5:42 of Tuesday’s game, including the go-ahead free throws with 1.2 seconds to play, leading the Blazers to a 125-124 win over New Orleans at the Moda Center. (BOX SCORE)
Portland (23-16) ended the game on a 25-7 run and scored 43 points in the fourth quarter to outgun the Pelicans (17-23), who let yet another double-digit lead slip away. Despite 30 points from Brandon Ingram and 28 from Zion Williamson, the Pelicans fell to 5-13 on the road. The win allows Portland to pull even with Denver for fifth in the West.
The night was supposed to be about the return of CJ McCollum, who suited up for the first time in two months after missing 25 games with a broken bone in his foot. McCollum scored early but struggled to find his shot while finishing with 10 points in 26 minutes.
Lillard dropped a half-dollar on just 20 shots from the floor, making 13 and finishing 6-13 from long range. The All-Star also hit all 18 of his free throw attempts with Portland finishing a perfect 31-31 at the line. Lillard’s huge night also included 10 assists and six rebounds.
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) March 17, 2021
Trailing 117-100, the Blazers put together a 16-0 run, half of the points coming from Lillard, to pull within 117-116 with 2:41 to play. New Orleans would lead by as many as four on two more occasions, but when Lillard sank a pair of free throws with 5.2 seconds left to make it 124-123, the Pelicans just needed to inbound the ball cleanly to essentially win the game at the line. However, that first part would prove tricky. Nickeil Alexander-Walker had the ball ricochet off his body and out of play, giving Portland a shot. Make that two shots.
Lillard drew a foul and sank another pair of free throws to go ahead with 1.2 to play. Williamson’s game-winning attempt was unsuccessful.
Lillard, obviously. When it seems like the Blazers are down and out, Dame puts the team on his back and starts climbing.
Gary Trent Jr. got out of a recent shooting funk and finished with 22 points on 6-10 shooting. If he’s back on track, it’ll allow McCollum time to get back into the flow of things.
Turnovers. The Blazers committed 17 Tuesday and have been careless with the ball over the last handful of games. Also, rebounding. Portland lost the battle on the boards by a 41-32 margin and no player had more than six (Lillard). Enes Kanter managed just five and none on the offensive glass. Portland had just four offensive boards as a team.
Defense. SURPRISE!! New Orleans made 16-33 shots from long range, most of which were uncontested corner shots. The Pelicans also scored 56 points in the paint, which seemed to be clear of any Portland defenders all night long.
Portland will host New Orleans again Thursday night in the second half of a back-to-back. Game time is scheduled for 7:00 pm from the Moda Center.