PORTLAND -- Matisse Thybulle, acquired in a four-team trade just hours before the NBA’s trade deadline, scored his first points as a Trail Blazer with a three at the 6:10 mark of the first quarter.
It was the beginning of a 29-5 run.
The 6-5 wing in his fourth season out of Washington looked every bit the “three and D” player the Trail Blazers have needed for the better part of the last decade, posting 14 points, six rebounds, three blocks, two assists and a steal as the Trail Blazers dispatched the Los Angeles Lakers 127-115 Monday night at Moda Center in a game that was not as close as the final score would indicate.
“I thought (Thybulle) was great,” said Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups. “I told y’all before the game, this dude is a real specialist. He’s all over the place and he did exactly what he does. I thought his energy was infections for us. He gets deflections, steals, blocks, he’s just all over the place. I was very happy with how he played.”
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The Trail Blazers are now 28-29 overall, good for 11th in the Western Conference standings, and 16-13 at Moda Center this season.
Thybulle got the start in his first game as a Trail Blazer, which got off to a bit of a rough start. Portland has had issues with slow starts this season, and in this instance, found themselves trailing 14-5 after Anthony Davis converted a layup midway through the first quarter.
But on the next possession, Thybulle would open his account in Portland with a corner three off a feed from Shaedon Sharpe. A minute and a half later, he’d get another three, this time with Anfernee Simons providing the pass, to tie the game at 14-14.
“I’ve been in the gym and my coaches, they’ve seen it. My teammates, they’ve seen it,” said Thybulle of his outside shooting. “But it’s like, until you do it in a game, nobody will really believe it. So to have a chance this early to get that out of my system, I guess, in a sense, feels good. Takes some of the pressure away.”
A little more than a minute after Thybulle showed what he could do as a shooter, he showed his mettle on the defensive end, covering a significant amount of ground to block a Malik Beasley three-point attempt well into the stands.
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“It’s funny, defense comes so naturally to me,” said Thybulle. “It’s just this instinctual thing. If you put me on a basketball court, I’m going to figure out how to make plays defensively, similarly if you put Dame (Lillard) on a basketball court and give him a ball, he’s going to find ways to make shots. It’s just going to happen. It doesn’t really feel like there’s pressure, it feel like a lot of opportunity, if anything.”
In less than three minutes of playing time, Thybulle showed just what he’s capable of bringing to both sides of the ball. And that effort helped spark a run, capped by a Lillard 40-foot buzzer-beater at the end of the quarter, that gave Portland a 34-19 lead and complete control of the game.
“Disruptive defensively, getting deflections. It seemed like every other possession (Thybulle) was getting his hand on the ball,” said Lillard. “He just makes plays defensively. He’s an All-Defense player and it was very obvious to me and I’m sure it’s obvious to everybody watching. Usually you just expect guys to lock people up on the ball, give people trouble but guys like him, they go from being in the help position to deflecting the pass to cracking back and blocking shots. He just does everything defensively with a lot of energy, he covers a lot of ground.”
The Trail Blazers would hold a double-digit lead for the rest of the game, and would go up by as many as 27 late in the third quarter before both teams turned the game over to their benches midway through the fourth. While the game wasn’t anything close to guaranteed win -- games never are for the Trail Blazers -- the relative ease with which the Trail Blazers dispatched the Lakers allowed for Thybulle, not to mention Kevin Knox and Ryan Arcidiacono, to get their first minutes in Portland without the pressure of a playing a close game.
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“What I’m most excited about is learning, I really don’t know what I’m doing out there yet,” said Thybulle. “Just learning the defense, learning these guys’ tendencies and things like that so that we can do it together and it’s more of this dance and a movement of cohesiveness as opposed to me just trying to make plays as an individual.”
While Thybulle certainly provided something new Monday night, Lillard was the same as he’s been for over the last month, scoring 24 points in the second quarter alone to finish with 40 points on 12-of-23 shooting to go with six rebounds and five assists in 33 minutes.
“I knew the position that our team was in maybe 20 games ago where everybody was like ‘What’s going on?’ and we losing games,” said Lillard. “And I was like, I never did worry because we have me. That didn’t mean I’m just going to do everything but I know how to control games and impact games and contribute to winning. That’s just been my mentality from that point now and it’s just led to this type of run.”
Sharpe continued his strong play as of late, going 6-of-10 from the field and 3-of-5 from three for 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in 25 minutes. Simons posted 14 points and six assists in 27 minutes. Nassir Little also finished in double-figures with 11 points and posted a game-best plus/minus of +29.
Next up, the Trail Blazers finish their pre All-Star break schedule by hosting the Wizards in the second night of an all-home back-to-back. Tipoff is schedule for 7 p.m.