Neither Weather Nor Pelicans Able To Stop Lillard And The Blazers From Finishing Trip 3-0

by Casey Holdahl
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NEW ORLEANS -- Neither Mother Nature nor the Pelicans could stop the Trail Blazers from finishing out a perfect road trip Wednesday night in New Orleans.

After being waylaid in Oklahoma City, only to arrive in New Orleans for the second game of a back-to-back roughly three hours before tipoff, the Portland Trail Blazers came away with a 126-124 victory versus the Pelicans in front of a crowd of 1,940 Wednesday night at Smoothie King Arena.

“It’s big for us,” said Derrick Jones Jr. “Just going into this road trip we had the mindset of keeping our streak going, we’re gonna keep it going. We’re just going to go out there every day and play the right way. We know how we should play, you just gotta go out there every day and play the right way. As long as we doing that, sky’s the limit for us.”

The Trail Blazers are now 18-10 overall, 10-5 on the road this season and have won eight of their last nine games. With the win, Portland extends their current winning streak to a six games, their longest of the season thus far, while snapping a four-game losing streak to the Pelicans.

“We came on this road trip to try and go 3-0, a lot of different circumstances coming in,” said Gary Trent Jr. “The whole time we were saying there’s no excuses. No matter what, we’re gonna leave here with a win.”

While arriving at the arena straight from the airport might not have been ideal, Portland didn’t look any worse for wear in the first quarter of Wednesday’s game. That was especially true for Portland’s own force of nature: Damian Lillard. After putting up 31 points in 37 minutes the night before versus the Thunder, the 6-3 point guard out of Weber State, who is currently playing the best basketball of anyone in the NBA, went 5-of-9 from the field, 3.of-5 from three and 2-of-2 from the line for 15 first-quarter points.

What’s more, he handed out five assists as well, meaning he either scored or assisted on 10 of Portland’s 13 first-quarter field goals.

But after taking a 35-30 lead at the end of the first quarter, the Pelicans were able to take advantage of Portland’s second unit. New Orleans held Portland to just 35 percent shooting from the field and 1-of-8 shooting from three while Lonzo Ball (nine points), Zion Williamson (8 points) and Willy Hernangomez (nine points) combined to outscore the Trail Blazers roster in the second quarter.

The Pelicans would eventually outscore the Blazers by 15 in the second quarter to take a 69-59 lead into the intermission. Under usual circumstances, a 10-point lead is generally manageable, but in the second game of a back-to-back and their fifth game in seven days after a day of travel, one could imagine that Portland might not have enough in the tank on this night to make up such a deficit against a young Pelicans team.

Though it only took a few third-quarter minutes to show that would not be the case. Behind Lillard, Gary Trent Jr. and Derrick Jones Jr., Portland opened the half on a 13-4 run, which took care of the majority of New Orleans’ halftime advantage.

Portland would take their first lead of the second half 85-84 on a Robert Covington three at the 4:51 mark of the fourth, and from that point on, neither team would lead by more than five points thereafter. And in those situations, it’s helpful to have the most clutch player in the league on your side.

The lead would change over eight times in the fourth quarter, with Zion Williamson and JJ Redick doing the heavy offensive lifting for the Pelicans while Lillard and Trent Jr. had the honor on the other side, though both teams got contributions from up and down their rosters. But after nearly six minutes of trading baskets or free throws, Lillard broke the stalemate by making a jumper with 1:04 to play, and then after a Brandon Ingram miss, he drew a triple team but still managed to find Jones Jr. wide open under the basket, giving Portland a 123-122 lead with 28.7 seconds to play.

Zion Williamson reclaimed the lead on the next possession thanks to two free throws -- the second-year forward shot almost as many free throws Wednesday night (15) as the Trail Blazers were awarded collectively (15) -- but after drawing so much attention the possession before, resulting in an easy make for Jones Jr., the Pelicans opted to play Lillard mostly straight up on the next possession.

And Dame made them pay.

Rather than opting for his typical late-game weapon of choice, the stepback three-pointer, Lillard got around Lonzo Ball and to the basket for a layup a foul, which he would convert to give Portland a 126-124 advantage with 16.5 seconds to play. It was the 25th time he had either tied a game or made a go-ahead shot in the final 20 seconds of a game, more than any player since he entered the league over eight seasons ago.

“I knew that they was going to try to change they coverages and be up a little higher,” said Lillard of Portland’s last offensive possession. “So I was telling (Jones Jr.), come set it up on this side because we had a single side on my left. I was just gonna counter the screen and go away from the crowd and because of trat, the help didn’t come over and it was me and ‘Zo one-on-one. I took the contact, just a finish and that was that.”

Ball tried to win the game with a three on the next possession, but was unable to find the bottom of the net. The Pelicans got the rebound and had another chance to at least tie the game, through Portland’s scramble defense would force Brandon Ingram into a tough 14-footer that he would miss, giving the Trail Blazers the win and a perfect 3-0 road trip.

“We had to get a stop and that last possession was guys flying around,” said Lillard. “We needed a stop and we did what we had to do to get that stop.”

Lillard finished with 43 points while tying his career-high with 16 assist, making him the only Trail Blazer other than Clyde Drexler to put up at least 40 points while handing out at least 15 assists.

Trent Jr. shot 50 percent from the field and from three for 23 points to go with two rebounds, an assist and a steal in 34 minutes. Covington went 5-of-6 for 12 points while also tallying eight rebounds, four blocks, two steaks and an assist. Jones Jr. put in a similar effort, finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals in 38 minutes.

Carmelo Anthony added 12 points off the bench and Enes Kanter contributed 11 points and four rebounds.

Williamson led the Pelicans with 36 points. Ball had 21 and Redick finished with 16 in 19 minutes off the bench.

The Trail Blazers now return home and will have two days off before hosting the Washington Wizards Saturday night at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.


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