I was hoping to write a recap blasting Monty Williams from beginning to end about not starting Tyreke Evans in favor of Alexis Ajinca. As a tease, the Blazers jumped out to a quick eight point lead, 10-2, in the first three and a half minutes. That eight point differential will become important later. However, Tyreke was up and headed to the scorers table much earlier than normal, so I held off on formulating the Monty rant. Mr. Evans rewarded me by immediately fouling a three point shooter once he checked into the game. Ugh.
But then it happened. This small lineup thing was on the floor and the Pelicans answered with a 13-3 run putting them briefly up by a point. Tyreke was attacking the basket at will, the Blazers were playing some of the worst transition defense imaginable and Anthony Davis was being amazing. It was great. It was beautiful. It was a joy to watch. Thank you, Portland Trail Blazers, for completely forgoing any effort on defense. The rest of the quarter was played within a five point window, neither team gaining a solid upper hand. The Blazers could not stop the Pelicans from getting into the lane, while New Orleans could not run Portland off the three point line. Back-and-forth.
The second quarter was more of the same. The largest lead was five points, established by Wesley Matthews with 8:19 to go putting Portland up 36-31. The Pelicans immediately answered back with seven consecutive points in just over a minute. From that moment forward, the game drew even tighter, within three points for the final seven minutes of the quarter. The highlight of the quarter (and likely the entire night) happened in the final seconds. A missed Lillard jumper led to a Tyreke Evans-led fast break and a completely ridiculous alley-oop to Anthony Davis.
To start the second half, Monty Williams inexplicably elected to start the same starting lineup. Why Ajinca was out there with the first 24 minutes of evidence, I have no explanation. The Pelicans managed to hang onto the lead as Anthony Davis made four midrange jump shots on four attempts. However, when Ajinca checked out, the Pelicans had given back one point to the Blazers. In just 10 minutes, Ajinca was minus-seven. I do not blame him as much as the lineup situation. Asking Davis to chase Dorell Wright around the perimeter was a fool's errand. Due to a long cold stretch, the Pelicans were unable to extend the lead and entered the fourth up just one point.
Anthony Morrow started off the fourth quarter with an almost three pointer. It was another cold night from him tonight and for shooters, those nights happen. Asking a player who is shooting nearly 43% for his career (and 45% this season) from deep to stop shooting because of a couple cold nights is ridiculous. Regrettably, when it does happen, it seems to show up on nights the game is close. Anthony Davis picked up his fourth foul and the Pelican fan base hoped that they could just stay close until AD checked back in.
When Davis did re-enter some three minutes later, the Pelicans had actually increased the lead from four to five thanks to Tyreke Evans getting to the basket. To that point, Evans had scored or assisted on nine of thirteen New Orleans points in the fourth quarter. Right out of the timeout, the Pelicans set up Davis for an open 17 footer that just rimmed out.
Then Damian Lillard asserted himself, scoring seven consecutive points to put the Blazers up two. A Nicolas Batum put-back, on a Lillard miss, stretched that lead to four. Anthony Davis scored to bring the Pelicans back within two and then blocked Matthews at the rim. Sadly, the carom set up Lopez perfectly for a tip in, stretching that lead back to four. After trading baskets, Davis did something spectacular again, this time off a missed layup and/or alley-oop off the glass from Tyreke Evans. Naturally, Lillard next proceeded to take advantage of Brian "The Matador" Roberts getting to the basket, while Davis settled for another mid-range jump shot, again missing.
Davis was hot, so it is difficult to fault him for going back to the well repeatedly from mid-range. But just as Lillard came back in line with his scoring, AD's scorching performance from 16-20 feet was bound to regress at some point. Unfortunately for the Pelicans, it decided to do so in the fourth quarter. Is he clutch? His fourth quarter scoring say yes, resoundingly so. Was it good enough tonight? No.
The Lillard bomb from my front lawn came next and all that was left was drag out 60 seconds into three different commercial breaks. All-in-all, Lillard scored the last nine points for the Blazers to seal the victory. Lillard Time is real and we all bore witness.
- Davis finished with a career high 36 points on 27 shots to go along with 9 rebounds, 2 blocks and one oh-so-close rejection that amounted to a goal tend. He looked great tonight.
- Tyreke Evans continued his impressive run of performances despite coming off the bench tonight. After an initial widespread outrage on Twitter, we learned via David Wesley as to why:
@Redhopeful it's not. Discipline reasons. He needs to grow up.— David B Wesley Sr. (@SrDavidwesley4) March 15, 2014
Regardless, in starter's minutes (35), he totaled 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on just 12 shots with only 1 turnover. Tyreke has shot 46% from the floor or better in each of his last seven games. Hopefully, whatever disciplinary actions taken tonight will just be a 1 game thing.
- Brian Roberts proved flammable as expected, but gave back nearly as good as he got from Lillard. Roberts had 19 points and 5 assists on the night. Meanwhile Austin Rivers was mired in foul trouble and never got anything going.
- Ajinca and Withey, filling in for the DNP - coach's decision on Stiemsma, combined for 0 points and 4 rebounds at the center spot in 21 minutes. Thankfully, Davis fared much better at the 5.
2012 Draft Rivalry
Let's be honest. There is some "rivalry" between the Lillard and Davis camps. In six matchups, they are 3-3 with just one game (on April 6th) left this season. Beyond the blow out in New Orleans last February 13th (99-63 to the then-Hornets...I was there and it was amazing) every game has been quite competitive and a joy to watch. I like Lillard because he is what Nick Young or J.R. Smith would be if either was actually good. A swagtastic assassin dropping daggers on the entire league from well beyond the three point line.
Tonight Lillard got the upper hand, as he did with the game winner on December 21st last year and with the game winner on December 16th last season. Over the course of these six games, Davis is averaging 23 PPG, 9.3 RPG, and 2.1 BPG on 59% from the field. Lillard is averaging 22.1 PPG, 5.1 APG, and 2.3 RPG on 46.5% from the field. Largely thanks to that blowout, the combined outcome of the 6 games is separated by just 28 points. Both teams won the 2012 NBA Draft because they got what they needed. The Pelicans couldn't build a team around Lillard quickly enough thanks to his relatively advanced age and the Blazers had no use for another PF.
Shake their hand over at the Blazer's Edge, tell them great game, and that we can't wait to see them again in the Rose Garden.
The next game for the Pelicans is in a couple of days in the Smoothie King Center at 5:00PM local time. It's another early Sunday start against the Boston Celtics, who lost at home tonight against the Suns. Currently sitting fourth in the draft lottery, an attempted tanking might be on tap.