Third Quarter Defense Lifts Blazers To 10th Straight Win Versus Lakers

by Casey Holdahl
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LOS ANGELES — In a game between two teams that both have issues slowing opponents down on the offensive end, whichever team can string together the most quality defensive possessions is probably going to end the night victorious.

Tuesday night in Los Angeles, that team was the Portland Trail Blazers.

After a first half in which both teams shot at least 48 percent from the field, the Trail Blazers held the Lakers to just  in the third quarter before running away with a 108-87 victory in front of a sellout crowd of at Staples Center.

"I was really pleased with our defensive effort in the second half. Particularly the third quarter, we did a really nice job in a lot of different areas," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. Our aggressiveness, our communication, we didn’t give up a lot in transition. They missed some open shots, they missed some threes but I think they may have been rushed a little bit. I don’t know if there is anything in particular other than that, but I thought it was good team defense.”

Portland is now 17-23 overall and 7-15 on the road this season. With the win, the Trail Blazers extend their winning streak against the Lakers to a franchise-best 10 games.

The Trail Blazers defense has been making steady yet incremental improvements over the last few weeks, some of which was evident in the first quarter of Tuesday’s game. Portland held the Lakers to 38 percent shooting, limited their fastbreak opportunities and forced three turnovers. But the Trail Blazers were unable to defend without fouling — the Lakers shot 10 free throws in the first quarter — and gave up three three-pointers, which helped Los Angeles take a one-point lead into the second quarter.

What good things Portland did on the defensive end in the first quarter were mostly absent in the second, while the problems that already existed remained. Los Angeles shot 57 percent from the field, 68 percent from three and got six trips to the line, though they would only make half of those. But though they didn’t manage to get many stops, they scored at an impressive rate, going 11-of-21 from the field and 4-of-7 from three on the way to putting up 30 in the quarter. The Lakers still managed to do one better, extending their one-point first-quarter lead to two by the intermission.

But Portland would lock down in the third quarter while continuing to score at an efficient clip to take control of the game. Los Angeles went 0-of-7 from three and 5-of-23 from the field in the third while also being outrebounded 16-11.

“I thought we defended really well, we held them to twelve points," said CJ McCollum. "We were active, we didn’t foul, kept them off the line and didn’t give up transition baskets. Overall I thought it was a really good quarter."

Portland would retake the lead midway through the third for the first time since early in the first quarter and would not relent thereafter, outscoring the Lakers 44-24 in the final 18 minutes of the game, resulting in a 21-point victory.

"With the dribble handoffs, we was able to get up and push them out," said Damian Lillard of Portland's second-half defense. "We were physical, we didn't foul as much, we got back in transition. We just had much more of a presence. On everything that they did, we were much sharper. That allowed us to get out in transition and we hit guys. (Turner) was getting assists, CJ (McCollum) was getting up to that pullup jumper, I was able to get it going a little bit. I think our defense really sparked us on the offensive end and that picked up our energy and we was able to ride that out. We took over the game from there."

The Trail Blazers were led by McCollum, who went 10-of-18 from the field to finish with 25 points while adding four assists and a rebound in 34 minutes.

Lillard, who started the game 0-of-8 from the field and had just two points in the first half, finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists in 31 minutes. Maurice Harkless added 14 points, Mason Plumlee had 11 and Al-Farouq Aminu came a bucket short of a double-double with eight points, a career-high 15 rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes.

Next up, the Trail Blazers head back to Portland (weather permitting!) to host the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second night of a back-to-back for both teams. Tipoff is schedule for 7:30 pm.