Trail Blazers climb back to victory over Pelicans
In a game of turnovers, The Portland Trail Blazers were able to ride the tide in their favor to close out the action, defeating the New Orleans Pelicans in a 106-95 victory. Zion Williamson was a man among boys, but those same well-known boys learned from their mistakes early on and showed great maturity in following the lead of head coach Chauncey Billups.
As has become the norm, missing All-Star guard Damian Lillard was no obstacle to victory as Jerami Grant went 10-20 shooting for 27 points in 42 minutes of play.
The Blazers stuck to their zone throughout the second half. This was the first time they had reverted to such an arrangement in a full season and a half. It paid off, as they managed to hold the Pelicans to 41.8 percent shooting from the floor. Although they were outscored 21-4 in the points-off-turnover category, they were able to dominate in the paint, hitting timely trifectas, culminating in a game-clinching run that couldn’t be extinguished.
Pelicans play-by-play announcers Joel Meyers and Antonio Daniels expected a zone defense from the Blazers off the opening tip, and a zone defense was what they could call. Portland came out in its now patented 2-3 zone that Zion Williamson ignored with brutal aggression, getting to the rim on a hacked layup attempt. After missing both free throws from the charity stripe, the Pelicans got hot from the outside. Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas hit catch-and-shoot 3 pointers, and Herb Jones connected on a long two off the catch.
Portland answered New Orleans with inside play, as Josh Hart broke the game open for the Blazers with a layup off a second chance. Justise Winslow was the first Blazer to go on his own scoring streak, connecting on two layups and two free throws for six straight points, after missing two sharp bunnies at the rim. Drew Eubanks also showed good rim protection with a solid contest on a Brandon Ingram layup, leading to a miss.
A timeout was all Jerami Grant needed to come out with new energy. He started the next game with a 3 from the right wing. Ingram responded with his best Kobe Bryant impression, overwhelming the defender with a shoulder fake and rising for a layup. Grant came back with a second 3 off the dribble. He wasn’t done having fun on the offensive end, as on the next possession, he gladly accepted the heat check, and kept the burner blazing with a pull-up two from 17 feet, lulling the defense to sleep. Portland had three second chance opportunities in the quarter.
The Pelicans took a page out of their opponents’ playbook, starting the second quarter in their own zone. Their 3-2 zone was neutralized by a nice post finish from Jabari Walker over the smaller defender. At the other end, a missed shot was turned into a made shot off a beautiful no-look feed from Larry Nance Jr. to Zion Williamson on his way to the baseline like a freight train, before pulling the defense and kicking to Jose Alvarado for a corner trey. Zion must have realized that the defense couldn’t keep him out of possession sooner, as the next time he was down he wasted no time catching the ball low using a sharp jab, before rushing towards the middle for an off hand slide shot. Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups didn’t call a timeout in the middle of the Pelicans’ 6-0 run.
Portland had 33 points with just over six minutes left. They had only scored six points with Simons and Grant on the bench. Coming back into the game, they matched the score in just over 45 seconds. Rip City got a little too comfortable with the long ball, not implementing enough off-ball movement, backdoor cutting and screening. This can be attributed to New Orleans’ effective zones, which plagued the Blazers’ players. They shot 30 percent from deep for the half, and took seven more triples than Pels. Grant was able to get Williamson off the floor in foul trouble, with a purposeful scheme plus the injury.
How New Orleans started the game is how they finished the half, using the middle man as a facilitator at the extended free throw line. In this case, it was Trey Murphy III who created a dump-off opportunity to the man in the dunkers spot for an easy two. Anfernee Simons cashed in on a two-on-one opportunity to end the half with a deep 3. But he didn’t have the last word, as Murphy III came up big again. He blocked a fastbreak attempt from Hart, ran hard in transition and was rewarded with a 3-point attempt. Winslow made a foul mistake, sending him to the line, and the rest was in the history books.
It was clear that Coach Billups was preaching less contentment with the 3 and more confidence inside. There was more cutting from Portland, and on the defensive end they forced more turnovers, including errant passes from the likes of Williamson, and backcourt violations and charges from Ingram. Anfernee Simons was the man before the first timeout, with eight of Portland’s 15 points.
Boos could be heard in the Smoothie King Center after CJ McCollum went on a play. Sloppy play was a negative factor that hindered any effort New Orleans made to hold onto the lead. Give props to the Blazers for their revamped defense. A Herb Jones airball from 20 feet may have appeared to be the story of their quarter, but amid all this turmoil and inconsistency, the game was still close. The Pelicans trailed by just three points with 3:38 left.
Someone needed to reference the scouting report, because it should be common knowledge by now that whenever Murphy III gets a sliver of space from deep, he’s prone to letting it fly. He hit a corner 3, and a deep 30-foot bomb that tied the game. Nassir Little also hit a 3 in the quarter. He has been a model of consistency from beyond the arc this season. He is shooting a career-high 46.2 percent from distance this season. That is 13 percent higher than the career average. He has registered a 3 in all but two of Portland’s games so far.
Zion Williamson brought the pain to start the fourth. He muscled his way to the hole, drew the foul, hit the layup and made the free throw. Coach Billups decided to bench Anfernee Simons until seven minutes into the fourth. Before coming back in, Winslow hit a shocking 3 to beat the shot clock. And then, after Drew Eubanks forced two misses from Williamson, the Pelicans committed a cardinal sin, allowing a wide-open dunk from Little off of the out of bounds pass.
Little marked a great team effort, with an and-1 layup. Halfway through the last quarter, both teams had five players in double figures. A Zion drive forced a foul, putting the Pelicans in the bonus with over half a quarter to go. It was all downhill from there for New Orleans. Trendon Watford connected with Little on a baseline cut for a dunk. A couple of possessions later, Jerami Grant completed a classic Charles Barkley, “dribble dribble dribble, dribble dribble dribble,” sequence before making something of it with a monster two-handed jam. Grant iced the game with a catch-and-shoot trifecta from the left wing. Brandon Ingram fouled out with several minutes left and New Orleans was done for. Williamson’s 17-point quarter was wasted, and the Blazers skated on to improve their win-loss record to 9-3.
You won’t want to miss our extended preview from Marlow Ferguson, who takes a deeper look at tonight’s match.
The Blazers will conclude their six-game road trip against the Dallas Mavericks this Saturday night at 5:30 PM PT.