The Pelicans were up 80-64 when Anthony Davis went to the bench at the end of the third quarter. By the time he re-entered, just three minutes later, the Blazers had cut the lead to 83-73. With Damian Lillard on the bench Portland slowly whittled the Pelicans lead down to 89-86. Then everything you would expect to happen in a close game involving Lillard occurred. A dagger of a three put Portland up 96-93 and the Pelicans could not recover. Free throws extended the lead to 103-93 making a close game look much more comfortable.
Breakdowns in the fourth abound. The offense simply stalled out. The ball stuck to the initial ball handler, players looked confused on consecutive sets, and New Orleans tried once again to take a knee in basketball. It does not work like that. Repeatedly dribbling and failing to create quality possessions let a Portland team (and crowd) back into a game it did not belong in.
The big run started with 10:03 remaining in the fourth quarter. Portland scored on eight consecutive possessions scoring 18 points. The Pelicans responded over that stretch with a total of four points, all thanks to Anthony Davis. In a testament to how New Orleans just stopped running offense they did not record a single assist in the fourth after putting up 16 assists in the first three quarters.
It was not for a lack of effort. Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans both laid everything on the court; going into the paint repeatedly. While the Blazers turned up the defensive pressure the Pelicans lost the control coming around the screen that was a boon to the offense during the first three quarters. Holiday and Evans combined to shoot 0-12 from the field in the fourth quarter as the Blazers continued to stick to their conservative pick and roll scheme throughout despite early Pelican successes.
Is this evidence that the Blazers "know how to win" while the Pelicans still have something to learn? That will be a standard sports writing trope trotted out tonight. New Orleans having problems with pace and getting into offensive sets late in the game with the lead is not unique to this roster. The inability to move bodies or the ball in the fourth contributed to multiple losses before Anthony Davis arrived, and indeed contributed to the correct lottery odds coming up Unibrow.
Portland attacked early and had the benefit of Pelican miscues in the fourth. Repeatedly Robin Lopez or LaMarcus Aldridge established deep post position against Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, or even Eric Gordon leading to easy baskets and fouls. When the Pelicans did force a miss they could not finish the job by collecting the defensive rebound. This is where the absence of Omer Asik really showed itself tonight.
Anthony Davis Highlights
I need a pick me up. Do you need a pick me up? Watch AD do stuff no other basketball player dare attempt.
AD Alley Oop
AD Blocks on Blocks
-The Pelicans held Portland to 1-7 behind the arc in the first half. The Blazers could not get the ball swinging side to side. Credit Jrue Holiday battling through screens and the Pels sagging in PnR defense (as long as Aldridge was not involved).
-The Blazers threes in the fourth quarter were off simple actions or offensive rebounds. Not a matter of defensive execution. Portland made shots. That happens.
-Anthony Davis man. Anthony Davis. He poured in 14 points in the third quarter (on 7-7 shooting) showing off a variety of shots "in between". That grey area not jumpers or layups. Big men traditionally struggle with the touch there; but not Anthony Davis. The single most impressive part of his game in terms of skill set is his touch between three and ten feet. The Pelicans found some creative ways to get him catches in the third. Those vanished in the fourth.
-Jrue Holiday played really hard tonight. A really tough night shooting for him, especially in the fourth quarter. It is a make or miss league and despite getting into position to score sometimes the ball just doesn't go through the hoop.
-Tyreke Evans filled up the stat book again tonight but was inefficient and struggled finishing at the rim. He also went 2-5 from the line. Make or miss league again.
-Eric Gordon made shots but was largely invisible. I really can't say much, he was taupe on the court tonight. The early threes were nice. Getting taken on the low block by Wesley Matthews was not.
-Alexis Ajinca was serviceable in his first start of the season. Four fouls in 16 minutes is not ideal but at no point did it lead to Portland being in the bonus very early.
-Austin Rivers was under control tonight and just missed. This is becoming a theme for tonight. Free throws.
-Ryan Anderson took a number of difficult shots. Most of them did not go in. Portland did an adequate job of running him off the line, but his 2-6 line behind the arc had more to do with the difficulty of some of his attempts.
-Thank goodness the Pelicans play tomorrow night. Best not to dwell on this game. They should have won but did not close the door.