Three key takeaways from Saturday’s Blazers-Pelicans matchup.
The Portland Trail Blazers dropped their first game of the playoffs to the New Orleans Pelicans, led by a huge night from All-Star and potential MVP candidate Anthony Davis. Here are my three biggest takeaways from Saturday night’s game one loss by the Blazers.
This post originally appeared on Oregon Sports News where I publish a weekly column
1. The Blazers will live and die by Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum
Top guard tandem Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum picked the poorest of nights to have their worst half of their careers. Combining for just three points on 1-for-15 from the field and a dreadful 1-for-7 from behind the arc, Lillard and McCollum stumbled into the locker room at halftime with the team down nine.
Neither player was able to take the ball to the hoop and finish easy buckets at the hole, but credit New Orleans’ stout defensive guards for harassing Lillard and McCollum whenever they had the ball. Finishing at the hoop is always far more difficult with Anthony Davis prowling and a nine-point halftime deficit quickly ballooned into a game-high 17 in the third quarter.
But even a broken clock strikes Dame-time twice and Lillard led the Blazers back to within two in the closing minute. It simply wasn’t enough as the Pelicans’ stifling defense swatted the comeback attempt by Portland.
Lillard finished the game with 18 points on 6-for-23 shooting, while McCollum led the Blazers with 19 points on 7-for-18 from the field. The duo also combined for only three free throws after averaging a little over ten per game in the regular season.
Lillard and McCollum will have to take it upon themselves to come out with more fire and aggression if Portland will have any chance of evening the series heading into New Orleans.
2. Anthony Davis is really, REALLY good
It was pretty clear coming into the series that Anthony Davis would be the best player between the Pelicans and Blazers, but to play this well wasn’t a good sign for the Blazers.
Portland simply doesn’t have anyone on the roster that matches up well against Davis (not that there is really anyone in the league that does), but the Brow simply has too many weapons in his offensive arsenal for Portland to slow him down. When Blazers’ head coach Terry Stotts threw a big like Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, or Ed Davis, the Pelicans center simply used his speed and quickness to blow by the defender. Throw a smaller, quicker defender on Davis and he simply bullied them on the block or shot right over his defender.
Davis wasn’t just amazing in one-on-one situations either. The Rajon Rondo-Anthony Davis pick-and-roll was brutal to watch as a Blazers fan. On multiple occasions Rondo and Davis would isolate Davis’ defender and if the defender moved toward Rondo, Davis took the lob in stride and put it home. If the defender stayed home, it made for an easy layup for Rondo, or the help defense left a shooter open. It was a deadly combination in game one and Stotts and the Blazers coaching staff will need to come up with a game plan to slow down the Brow.
If there’s any bright spot to be had from the Blazers side of the coin, it’s that Davis looked visibly tired in crunch-time. If the Blazers can use their superior depth to keep their guys fresh, they may be able to throw enough jabs at Davis to keep him from being completely dominant at the end of the game.
3. Jrue Holiday’s defense is stifling
Jrue Holiday was clearly New Orleans’ best player in the final minute of the game. After the Blazers cut the Pelicans’ lead to one, Holiday went into “you’re-not-scoring-on-us-no-matter-what” mode (patent pending). Holiday completely shut down Lillard on the final two possessions of the game and was somehow able to not foul Lillard on an awkward attempt by Dame to draw a foul. Holiday forced the awkward attempt, which led to a missed shot and rebound by New Orleans.
On the ensuing Blazers possession, Holiday sniffed out an inbound play designed to get Pat Connaughton an easy layup. Holiday stuffed the attempt and effectively sealed the game for New Orleans.
Holiday wasn’t just great in crunch-time though; he was a defensive force throughout. Sure, McCollum and Lillard had poor shooting first-halves, but much of the credit should go to Holiday for locking in defensively against the high-scoring duo.
According to Second Spectrum (https://twitter.com/SecondSpectrum/status/985370324077170688), Holiday has been the second-best pick-and-roll defender in the league this year, and that was on full display Saturday night. The Blazers will need to find a way to create mismatches against Holiday if they are to have any chance of advancing to the second round.
Despite the offensive woes for Portland in their first playoff game, things are not off the rails. The Blazers will need a strong offensive showing from stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum if they’re to have any chance of winning the series, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Blazers this season, it’s that just when you think you can count them out, they will find a way to flip the script.
The team will need to find answers to Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, but if they can slow those two down and force the Pelicans’ ancillary players to beat them, it could be the Blazers moving on to the second round.