PORTLAND -- Friday’s contest between the Trail Blazers and Lakers might not have been the prettiest game this season at the Moda Center, but with fans finally in the stands, it certainly sounded great.
In their first game at home after a six-game road trip, the Trail Blazers, despite struggling on both sides of the ball for extended periods, managed to come away with a crucial 106-101 victory versus the Lakers in front of a crowd of 1,939 Friday night at the Moda Center.
“It was outstanding,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “You could really feel a difference when players were warming up, starting lineups, ‘BEAT LA.’ It was very noticeable and everybody around the team felt the difference.”
The Trail Blazers are now 38-29 overall and 17-16 at home this season. With the win, the Trail Blazers not only take sole possession of sixth in the Western Conference with five games to play but also earn the tiebreaker versus the Lakers by winning the season series 2-1.
The old adage in sports is that the hardest game of an extended road trip is the first game back home, and after playing six games over the course of nine days, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the Trail Blazers come out a bit lethargic.
But with fans in the building for the first time since March of 2020, there was a palpable electricity at the Moda Center, one that helped the Trail Blazers go up by as many as 14 points in the first quarter before taking a 34-22 lead into the second.
“When they told us it was going to be 10 percent (capacity) I was like, I don’t know how much of a difference it’s going to make it such a huge building,” said Damian Lillard. “But man, I guess we didn’t realize how bad an empty building was because that felt like a normal game. As soon as we came out to warm up and the fans, you could feel how excited they were to be there. There was chanting before the first layup in the layup line. It was a major, major difference.”
But after the initial excitement wore off, Portland never seemed able to find a rhythm on offense. And after forcing eight turnovers in the first quarter, the Blazers defense dropped off in the second. Behind 11 points from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the Lakers as a whole shooting 52 percent, they outscored the Blazers by eight in the quarter to cut the lead to 59-55 by the intermission.
The lead changed teams frequently in the third quarter after Portland held the advantage for most of the first half. But with both teams finishing the quarter with 23 points, Portland went into the fourth the same way they went into the half: leading by four points.
As is often the case, both teams turned to their stars in the fourth quarter. For the Lakers, that meant leaning on Anthony Davis. The all-star forward spent much of the fourth quarter at the free throw line, going 5-of-5 from the charity stripe and 2-of-4 from the field for 10 points. At times, it seemed like Anthony’s production, combined with Portland’s inability to put the ball in the basket in the fourth, might be enough to steal the win.
However, Portland’s stars, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, wouldn’t allow it. Lillard made every shot he put up in the fourth, going 2-of-2 from the three point line and 4-of-4 from the free throw line for 10 points in just over seven minutes. And as for McCollum, he scored five of his eight points in the fourth as a part of an 8-0 run between he and Lillard that gave the Blazers a 100-90 lead with 2:47 to play.
Davis answered with a 7-0 run of his own, but Lillard would earn a trip to the line with just under 40 seconds to play to stem the tide. After an Alex Caruso layup, McCollum and Lillard would score the next four points, all at the free throw line, to ensure the fans in the building would go home happy.
“I think historically we’ve had one of the best home-court advantages in the NBA,” said McCollum. “Fans always come out regardless of how well we’re playing, kinda give us energy. We feed off them, they rally us, they help us get stops, they help us get momentum plays. And I think tonight they were great. They felt like they were ready to get out the house and we were ready for them to be back in the building. I think they did a great job, I look forward to getting more fans in the building.”
Lillard led all scorers with 38 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the field and 9-of-9 shooting from the line to go with seven assists, four rebounds and two steals in 39 minutes. McCollum shook off a rough first half to finish with 21 points, four assists and three rebounds, also in 39 minutes.
Norman Powell, playing in front of Portland fans as a Trail Blazer for the first time in his career, contributed 19 points, two rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal in 38 minutes. Enes Kanter came up the bench to put up 10 points and 10 rebounds in 16 minutes.
And Jusuf Nurkic, playing in front of fans at the Moda Center for the first time since breaking his leg in multiple places versus the Brooklyn Nets back in March of 2019, went 5-of-8 for 10 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in 31 minutes.
Davis led the Lakers with 36 points and 12 rebounds. Alex Caruso put up a season-high 18 points and Caldwell-Pope finished with 17.
The Trail Blazers won’t have to wait long to see their fans at home one again, as they now host the Spurs Saturday night in the second game of a back-to-back for both teams. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.