Hello, Blazers fans, Antonio here. The Portland Trail Blazers kept rolling Saturday night as they dismantled the San Antonio Spurs, 124-102. Damian Lillard poured in 30, CJ McCollum had 27, and Norman Powell and Jusuf Nurkic chipped in 18 and 17, respectively.
After losing five straight and looking dead in the water, the Blazers have made their patented “end of the year turnaround” and have gone 7-1. For as up-and-down as Portland has been this season, it’s fortunate that they seem to be heading into the payoffs trending up. Let’s take a closer look.
Everybody Takes Turns
Don’t let the box score fool you; the Blazers were not carried by the tag-team duo of Lillard and McCollum on Saturday. Instead, everyone took their turns dominating the offense. It was Dame Time in the first half, as Lillard buried the Spurs for 21 points, including a sequence of three straight threes.
Then, in the third quarter, it was Nurkic time. The Bosnian Beast scored 13 of his 17 points in the period, and the Blazers funneled the ball down low for the big man. In the fourth, Norman Powell scored eight straight, and CJ McCollum scored seven straight. Whoever had the hot hand got the ball all game.
This is the most challenging thing about defending the Blazers’ offense: They can get you from anywhere. Lillard can lay waste outside, McCollum can kill you in the mid-range, Powell can drive by you, and Nurkic can hammer down low. When the offense hums in all directions like this, it’s near impossible to stop.
The Plot Twist of the Century
Over the last eight games, the Blazers are ranked eighth in defense.
I’ll give that line its own paragraph. It might be the most shocking thing I’ve ever read. Yes, the Portland Trail Blazers, who all year has been the epitome of defensive incompetence, have figured out their defensive groove. They’ve accomplished this without playing defensive stalwarts Derrick Jones Jr. and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson much either. What’s the key?
Honestly, effort. For most of the year, Portland was content to score alongside opponents until the last five minutes of the game, when it was crunch time. Then it was time for lockdown defense. After losing five straight games in heartbreaking fashion, Lillard knew it was time for a change. Since then, the defensive effort has been impressive. Just yesterday, Enes Kanter of all people had two nice deflections.
All year I’ve said if this team figures out defense they would be elite. Well, they seem to have figured it out. The impossible may have happened.
Fans Are Back!
After months of playing basketball in a hollow gym, the Blazers have welcomed 1,900 socially distanced fans back into Moda Center. The difference is noticeable. Watching the broadcast, there was actual energy in the building rather than the fake crowd noise. The players noticed too, with Jusuf Nurkic commenting on how the atmosphere helps players stay in the zone.
Portland has been better on the road than home this year, something that could only happen in a pandemic-influenced year. However, with fans in the building, the Blazers are 2-0. It made a huge difference in both the Lakers and Spurs games. And in case you thought I forgot about the Lakers…
We beat LA.
Next Up: The Blazers face the Rockets on Monday night.
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