Blazers Start Hot, Go Cold In Second Half in First Meeting With Zion
The hype that surrounded #1 pick Zion Williamson heading into the 2019-20 NBA season was weakened somewhat by the announcement that the lauded Duke prospect would miss nearly half of his rookie season after undergoing knee surgery on October 21st. As such, though the Portland Trail Blazers have played the New Orleans Pelicans twice this season, Tuesday at Smoothie King Center was the first time the Blazers have matched up with the 6’6” prodigy.
The Blazers entered Tuesday’s matchup on the first half of a quick back-to-back road trip which will see them face the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night. Both games even more important considering all three teams are within striking distance of the 8th seed heading into the All-Star Break. But Tuesday's matchup belonged to the Pelicans, who rode a career game from their star rookie to a 138-117 win in front of 15,739 fans at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.
The Pelicans fed Williamson early in the contest, but with the NBA’s leading shot blocker towering over him in the paint, New Orleans settled for kick-out jumpers. The aforementioned shot blocker, Hassan Whiteside, thrived on the other end, picking up 8 points and 4 rebounds in his first 6 minutes of play.
The Blazers lockdown defense helped spark a 17-0 run with Trevor Ariza and Carmelo Anthony finishing fast breaks after steals on the perimeter. However, New Orleans found their shot near the end of the half going on a run of their own to narrow the lead. At the half, the Blazers led by just two, 65-63.
The second half awkwardly opened with a missed free throw by Jrue Holiday after Damian Lillard was assessed a technical while arguing with a referee heading into the locker room at halftime. After that, however, the New Orleans run continued, and by the end of the quarter they had scored 41 points in 12 minutes to open a 24 point lead, the largest by either team in the game. Both teams committed sloppy turnovers and bad passes, but only New Orleans seemed able to capitalize on them. "In the third quarter we missed some shots that gave them momentum," said Head Coach Terry Stotts, "But we had 65 points in the half, I’ll take that all night."
The Blazers only made 3 threes in the entire second half, as New Orleans’ lead eventually ballooned to 26. Portland’s starters exited the game before the quarter was halfway through, and fans in the arena headed for the exits when Williamson checked out of the game with 6:23 left in the fourth. "We just didn't have enough energy," said Damian Lillard, who scored 20 points, but missed all four of his shot attempts from beyond the arc.
In the last meeting between the teams, Portland shot 4-29 (13.8%) from three. Tonight, they shot 7-29 (24.1%), their third-worst shooting performance of the season. The last game in New Orleans was also Carmelo Anthony's first game as a Trail Blazer, in which he scored 10 points. Tuesday he had 18
Meanwhile, Williamson had arguably the best game of his NBA career so far, with a career high 31 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists.
"He’s dynamic, very explosive, quick jumper, quick reactor. His first step is quick, advanced strength," said Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts, "he’s a tough matchup."
“He's only played like, seven games" said CJ McCollum, "people haven't figured out how to stop him yet."
The loss means Portland falls to 0-3 on the season against the Pelicans with little time to refocus, as they face the Memphis Grizzlies tomorrow night in Memphis. It's the last game before All-Star Weekend in Chicago, where Damian Lillard will be competing in the Three-Point Contest on Saturday and the All-Star Game on Sunday.