Blazers Complete Comeback Versus Pelicans Thanks To Dame's 50, Defense And Good Fortune

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- The Portland Trail Blazers had no right beating the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday night after trailing by 17 points with just under six minutes to play in regulation.

But they did have Damian Lillard.

The 6-3 point guard in his ninth season out of Weber State scored 20 of his season-high 50 points in the fourth quarter to lead Portland to an improbable 125-124 victory versus the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday night at the Moda Center.

The Trail Blazers are now 23-16 overall, 12-7 at home, 2-2 since the All-Star break and 2-0 versus the Pelicans this season. With the win, Portland is now tied with Denver for fifth in the West and are 6.0 games behind the Jazz for first.

Portland needed a lot of things to go their way in the fourth quarter in order to even have a chance in a game in which the Pelicans shot 52 percent from the field and 44 percent from three in the first three quarters while Portland turned the ball over 14 times for 21 New Orleans’ points.

First, the Trail Blazers would need to make a lot of shots -- something they’re accustomed to doing -- while limiting the Pelicans’ opportunities -- something that’s nowhere near as familiar. And between their own frantic defensive effort and their opponent showing their relative youth and inexperience, the Trail Blazers got just that, going on a 16-0 run between the 5:42 and 2:41 marks of the fourth, cutting what had been a commanding lead into a mere one-point advantage for the Pelicans.

New Orleans guard Eric Bledsoe broke the streak with a three with 2:20 to play that push the lead back to four, though Carmelo Anthony answered with a long two-pointer on the next time down the floor to make it a one-possession game again.

After an Anthony block on Bledsoe followed by a few misses, the Pelicans pushed the lead back to two possessions with a Zion Williamson layup with just over a minute to play. Lillard answered, again, with a layup and the foul on the next possession, completing the three-point play to get to within 122-121 with 52 seconds to play. But Williamson, who finished with 28 points in 33 minutes, completed another layup to once again push the lead back to three, this time with 41.4 seconds to play.

At this point, Lillard and the Trail Blazers had done about all they could to do get back into the game. They’d have to rely on the Pelicans to pitch in, and thankfully for Rip City, they did just that.

After Lillard missed a three that would have tied the game, the Pelicans were able to burn some clock on the ensuing possession, though they finally opted to foul -- they had one left to give -- with 15.7 second to play. Seven seconds later, they’d foul again, sending Brandon Ingram to the line to shoot two with 7.2 seconds to play. One make would have made the game all but ended the rally for Portland, and two would have iced the game.

But Ingram missed both, Portland got the rebound, called time and advanced the ball to halfcourt. Leading by three, New Orleans elected to foul Lillard on the floor, sending him to the line to take, and make, two free throws that cut the lead to 124-123 with 5.2 seconds to play.

All the Pelicans had to do was inbound the ball in order to all but insure the win, but Nickeil Alexander-Walker fumbled the ball out of bounds, giving Portland the ball with 4.2 seconds to play.

The Blazers put the ball in Lillard’s hands for the final possession, and while he couldn’t get the shot to fall, he was fouled by Bledsoe with 1.2 seconds to play. And just as he did the previous 16 times, Lillard made the free throws -- Portland was 31-of-31 from the line Tuesday night -- tying the game and then taking the one-point lead.

New Orleans ended up getting a good look at what would have been a game-winner with Lonzo Ball finding Williamson with a perfect full-court pass, but the attempt didn’t find the mark from nine feet out, the final favor Portland would need to escape with arguably the most improbable comeback in the NBA this season.

Lillard finished with 50 points on 13-of-20 shooting from the field, 6-of-13 shooting from three and 18-of-18 shooting from the line, tying his own franchise record for most makes without a miss, to go with 10 assists and six rebounds in 41 minutes. It is the 12th time in Lillard’s career that he’s scored at least 50, which ties him with LeBron James for seventh-most in NBA history.

What’s more, he became just the fourth player in NBA history -- James, Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson are the others -- who have scored at least 16,000 points and handed out at least 4,000 assists in their first nine seasons.

Gary Trent Jr, who came off the bench Tuesday night, added 22 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Derrick Jones Jr., Enes Kanter and CJ McCollum, who returned to action versus the Pelicans after missing the last 25 games with a broken bone in his left foot, each finished with 10 points.

Ingram led the Pelicans with 30 points and Alexander-Walker added 20.

Next up, the Trail Blazers will once again host the Pelicans, this time on Thursday night, in the final game between the two teams this season. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.


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