All season long the big story for the Trail Blazers has been their three-point shooting and bench. That was the story again Saturday night in Moda Center but in not exactly the same way.
When your strength becomes your weakness it’s pretty hard to handle. And there was no way Portland was going to overcome the double whammy of its three-point shooting dipping to 17.1 percent on 35 attempts and their bench getting outscored 51-26.
Stuff happens. And in this game, plenty of stuff happened. Crazy stuff. Hard-to-explain stuff.
The Lakers beat the Blazers for the first time since March 3, 2014 – Saturday's was a 114-110 game that saw Portland trail 95-75 with 9:49 to go before a frantic late comeback.
And by now, you’ve probably figured out that the NBA’s plus-minus system keeps track of the points scored for and against a team while a player is on the court. And, well, the ENTIRE Los Angeles starting lineup finished in the minus category, including LeBron James, who finished a team-high minus-22.
Of course, the Los Angeles bench all finished big in the plus-minus, led by Rajon Rondo, who was plus-28, with 10 rebounds, six assists and 17 points on 8 of 10 shots from the field. He was outstanding.
The Portland bench was a mess of minus, going a 2-14 from three with nine of the team’s 14 turnovers.
“It was a good comeback, came up a little short, obviously,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. “It was one of those nights shooting the threes. I thought we had a lot of good looks that didn’t drop. It’s one of those games.
“Rajon Rondo was the difference maker. At one point his plus-minus was like 36. Their second unit came in and made a difference in the first half. Our second unit couldn’t really get on track in either half.”
It’s such a cliché when you talk about living by the three and dying by it – but this game was a classic case of Portland just not making enough clean looks from distance to change the final outcome.
“That’s how we play,” said Evan Turner, the leader of Portland’s second unit. “Obviously, we need to do a better job of taking care of the ball. They went on their run and we weren’t able to answer it back. But that’s how we play.
“Defense. You’ve got to play defense. We’ve got to play defense – get stops and get out in transition.”
One Blazer player played solid defense.
Al-Farouq Aminu did a first-class job on James all night long but, of course, that’s a thankless job. And getting a fair shake on the foul calls is a difficult task against James, too.
“It’s hard,” he said. “But it comes with the challenge of guarding a player like that. You expect it. I see Dame get some calls sometimes. You’re not trying to be bias – sometimes Dame gets calls because he deserves it.
“When you put that much pressure, when you’ve got that many shots, things like that, you earn those calls. It just goes along with the pressure they’re trying of trying to stop players like that.”
Aminu thought he got an offensive foul on LeBron in the second quarter but came down the next time and capped a James’ short jumper, a clean block that nevertheless left James begging for a foul call.
“It felt good, man,” Aminu said. “The play before I thought I got offensively fouled. It had their bench chirping a little bit. Rondo, we used to play together, was talking. So to get that block and quiet them up a little was good.”
Stotts said, “I thought ‘Chief’ did a really good job on him, as well as you can do on LeBron. I thought he made him work. He had good position on a lot of his drives, so we couldn’t ask for more from ‘Chief.’”
The Blazers got 30 points apiece from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum but they combined to go just 4-17 from three. Seth Curry’s brother, Steph, made the trip to Portland to watch him play in person and would do well to stay away in the future.
Seth went 0-5 from the field and 0-4 from three.
But it was that kind of night for many Portland players, whose brothers probably were probably home watching on TV.