The Pelicans are on some kind of roll!
New Orleans seized a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Portland Trail Blazers at home after a dominant 119-102 victory at the Smoothie King Center on Thursday night.
The Pelicans haven’t had a taste of the playoffs in three years, and New Orleans’ hunger was evident in their playoff home opener. Once again, the core four of Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo and Nikola Mirotic controlled the game, and it all started with the newest member of the group. Mirotic scored 14 points in the first quarter and went on to finish with 30 points overall on 12-of-15 shooting along with 8 rebounds.
One might say Mirotic has found his groove, becoming the third player this series to score 30+ points for the Pelicans. Alvin Gentry commented that it comes down to the team’s trust in him.
“[Mirotic] has just been locked in,” said Gentry. “Our guys really have a ton of confidence in him. I think he’s in a good place now. I think he’s well aware of where he fits with this team and what he’s capable of doing. It’s not just him shooting the ball; he’s made a lot of really good plays defensively. He’s part of the reason we’ve been able to slow Lillard and CJ down.”
Anthony Davis surprisingly found a lot of room to operate, adding a flurry of alley-oop finishes on his way to a 28-point, 11-rebound night. However, he did give the home crowd a momentary scare, needing to leave the court towards the end of the first quarter after sustaining an injury to his left thumb. Fortunately, he returned to the floor for the start of the second quarter and the injury never seemed to be an issue again.
Holiday and Rondo combined for 32 points, 18 assists and five steals in New Orleans’ rout of the Trail Blazers. Although Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum totaled 42 points, Portland’s starting backcourt finished with a combined five assists vs. 12 turnovers. It’s clear which duo of guards had the better night!
With the pressure all on Portland, Lillard looked flustered trying to find a way to get his offense going. Not only did Lillard’s aggression derail the Trailblazer offense, but between he and backcourt partner CJ McCollum, the Blazers turned into a turnover machine. Portland committed 24 turnovers, 16 of which were off steals — a new Pelicans franchise playoff record, that turned into a massive 35 points on the other end. New Orleans got another 32 points off the fast break and totaled 62 from inside the paint.
To say the least, New Orleans was undoubtedly locked in to its game while Portland had no answers. Anthony Davis pointed to the team’s unselfish nature as key to the recent success for New Orleans.
“We just trust in each other,” said Davis. “No one cares about scoring. We just trust in each other and play the right way on offense. We’re playing hard and we’re looking for each other. For a different guy to score thirty in each game, it’s been fun to watch. This whole series has been fun.”
The series lead stands at 3-0, so the work is not done. However, this Pelicans team has won eight straight games dating back to the regular season — it may be shaping up to be something special.
One day, the city of New Orleans may reflect back on Game 3 of this series as the day a meaningful, winning basketball culture entered the Smoothie King Center. But first, Game 4 will be played on Saturday, and you can bet the Pelicans are not interested in needing to return back to Portland to try and conclude this series at a later date.