NEW ORLEANS –If there is a snapshot that captures this first round series, it was taken in the third quarter of Game 3, and later framed for all to see around the NBA.
Anthony Davis soaring in, untouched, and grabbing a rebound with his left hand and flushing it for a dunk. Trail Blazers’ center Jusuf Nurkic was literally floored, knocked to his hands and out of the way by Davis’ athletic and physical play.
In the aftermath of the play – which gave New Orleans a 79-60 lead – Pelicans’ guard Jrue Holiday stood at Nurkic’s feet and pointed in wide-eyed dismay at him. For a long time. Too long.
It was everything this series had become: a laugher, an embarrassment for the Trail Blazers. And it underscored why it had become so lopsided: the Pelicans beating Portland to another ball, a Pelicans’ star shining while the Blazers remained frustrated. And overall, another example of New Orleans being more aggressive, more physical and more … everything.
“Outplayed us in every way,’’ Lillard would say after the Game 3 blowout. “Every way, man.’’
But what about that show of disrespect by Holiday? The pointing. The posing. The mockery of it all?
Fittingly, the Blazers were apparently oblivious to Holiday’s actions, even though they had a front row seat for it, and even though it was splashed across the internet Thursday night.
“Huh?’’ Nurkic said when asked about it Friday. “I didn’t see it.’’
“Did he? I didn’t see it,’’ Lillard said. “When things going well for you, you do stuff like that. That’s I guess kind of something you do when you are feeling really confident, you are feeling yourself a little bit. It’s not like we’ve done anything about it .’’
CJ McCollum was shown a clip of the play. He shrugged his shoulders and chose not to comment.
And if the Blazers’ coach took offense to it, or thought anything of it, he didn’t say Friday as Terry Stotts was strangely made unavailable to the media even though he was 10 feet away from the camera and microphones, talking to Neil Olshey, the team’s president of basketball operations.
According to a team spokesman, there wasn’t enough time for Stotts to talk, because the team had to practice, which ignored the fact that the team was more than 15 minutes late in arriving.
In all, Game 3 magnified what in this series has been a strange display by a team that prides itself on culture, hard work and accountability.
At least Lillard on Friday showed some spunk and fight as Saturday’s Game 4 neared. When asked about making adjustments, he said he wanted to see the Blazers adjust their physicality.
“They were up into us a lot. A lot more aggressive than we were and we didn’t dish it back out,’’ Lillard said. “I think in the playoffs and a situation like this, when a team is coming for you like that, you have to maybe go out of your way to do it back. Even if that means some foul trouble or some altercations happen out there or whatever, but when a team comes from you like the way they did after last game, maybe we just need to make it a point of emphasis to go back and get back at them.’’
The Blazers have tried talking about adjustments to counter the Pelicans’ traps and gameplan against the backcourt, but their plans are both not working and not being executed fully.
“It’s easy to draw up and say this is what we want to do after you watch film,’’ Lillard said. “Then when you get out there and they are playing so disruptive … they’ve got their minds set on what they are going to do – it’s hard to execute it.’’
Defensively, the Blazers are in the spin cycle. Three different Pelicans have scored 30 or more points in the first three games – Anthony Davis (35 in Game 1), Holiday (33 in Game 2) and Nikola Mirotic (30 in Game 3) – all while Rajon Rondo has played the defense like a yo-yo.
So maybe there was nothing for Stotts to say, and no change in the game plan needed.
“Coaches can only do so much,’’ McCollum said. “They are not guarding Mirotic, they are not guarding Jrue holiday, or Rondo, or any of these guys. So it’s on us. We just need to play better.’’
If they don’t, Game 4 will bring a sweep and more finger pointing in their faces.