Trent Jr. Wins Fourth-Quarter Duel To Lift Trail Blazers Past Lakers

by Casey Holdahl
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LOS ANGELES -- After a tough go in the first few days of the regular season, things are starting to trend in the right direction for the Portland Trail Blazers.

A few days after needing overtime to defeat the Houston Rockets at home, the Trail Blazers went into Staples Center and defeated the defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers 115-107 in their first road game of the season.

“Hopefully we can build on it, we realize that we can be a good team,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We just beat the defending champs and they’re a great team.”

The Trail Blazers are now 2-1 overall and 1-0 on the road this season. They have now bested the Lakers in their last three meetings at Staples Center.

The start of Monday’s game followed a similar script as Portland’s first two games of the fledgling season. The Lakers came out firing, going up by as many as 13 points in the first quarter while shooting 50 percent from the field and 63 percent from three. And while their defense was obviously lacking, so too was their offense, with their starters going 3-of-16 from the field.

But there was one bright spot: Gary Trent Jr., who played sparingly in the win versus Houston. The 6-6 guard in this third season out of Duke would go 2-of-3 from three in just over four first-quarter minutes, helping Portland cut Los Angeles’ lead to 30-22 going into the second quarter.

And he was just getting started.

After warming up at the end of the first, Trent Jr. went full microwave in the second quarter, scoring 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, including two more three-pointers.

“I really just got into a good rhythm, teammates finding me,” said Trent Jr. “We ran certain sets and plays that got me open, give me an opportunity to shoot the ball.”

With Trent. Jr. feasting and CJ McCollum scoring 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting while also handing out six assists in the quarter, Portland outscored the Lakers by 12 to take their first halftime lead of the season at 58-54.

After deferring to McCollum and Trent Jr. for much of the first half, Damian Lillard got into a rhythm in the third quarter, going 5-of-7 from the field and 3-of-5 from three for 13 points. But with no other Blazer scoring more than four points and with Lakers guard Dennis Schroder also upping his production, Los Angeles made up the halftime deficit and then some, going up by as many as nine before going into the fourth with a one-point advantage.

But Trent Jr. still had something left.

In the first four minutes of the fourth, Trent Jr. and LeBron James started trading baskets. James tipped in a miss on one end, Trent Jr. answer with a 17-foot pullup on the other to tie the game at 87-87. A little less than a minute later, Trent Jr. makes a three prompting James to respond with one of his own. Then another Trent Jr. three, then a James free throw, then another three from Trent Jr.

By time Trent Jr. checked out of the game with 7:14 to play, he and James had combined for the game’s last 18 points, but with all of Gary’s coming from three, the Blazers took a 96-91 lead.

“(Trent Jr.) was on fire,” said Lillard. “I think everybody saw just a small sample of what he can do before the season was put on pause. Then when we got to the bubble, I think everybody saw his ability to defend and have a positive impact on the game offensively. He’s a shot-maker, he has super, super, super confidence in himself. I think tonight, without his effort, we don’t win this game.”

The Lakers would take back the lead two minutes later on a Montrezl Harrell and-1, but Portland would respond with a 10-2 run to go up 108-101 with just under three minutes to play.

Portland would continue scoring at a regular clip, and with their second-half defense seemingly improving on every possession, thanks in large part to Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr., the Blazers held the Laker to zero field goals in the last two minutes to secure the eight-point victory.

“It’s funny, LeBron had 29 and I thought Derrick really did a good job with him and made him work for it,” said Stotts. “I thought Robert was outstanding guarding Anthony Davis. Those two, the defensive component that they gave us, especially in a matchup like tonight, was pretty obvious. Those two, they’re great players, and I think both Robert and Derrick love the challenge of guarding those kind of guys.”

Lillard scored 21 of his game-high 31 points in the second half to go with five assists and four rebounds in 36 minutes. McCollum had a double-double with 20 points and 11 assists while also added three rebounds and three steals in just under 37 minutes.

Trent Jr. tied his career-best with seven three-pointers and finished with 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting, three rebounds and an assist in 23 minutes. Enes Kanter continued his strong play off the bench as well, going 6-of-9 for 12 points while also snaring 14 rebounds for the double-double in 22 minutes. Jusuf Nurkic also added a double-double to the stat sheet with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

James led the Lakers with 29 points while also tallying nine rebounds and six assists in 35 minutes. Schroder finished with 24 points, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 14 and Anthony Davis, who sat out the Lakers’ previous game versus the Timberwolves, had a quit double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds in 37 minutes.

Next up, the Trail Blazers will extend their stay in southern California in order to face the Clippers Wednesday night, also at Staples. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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