The Trail Blazers managed to hang on for a 106-98 home win over Indiana Monday night… but it wasn’t easy.
Neither, I’m sure, was it easy for Portland to play back-to-back games in New Orleans and San Antonio on Friday and Saturday, then play again Monday.
But that’s the NBA. ESPN needed a game and they must have badly needed it to put a Blazer-Pacer game on the national airwaves.
Damian Lillard delivered this win with a scintillating 30-point, 15-assist performance in 40:10 of very hard work.
Portland Coach Terry Stotts has made it clear he doesn’t want to have to play Lillard 40 minutes every night but he’s in a race for playoff seeding and with it, homecourt advantage.
Winning, obviously, takes precedence. And when the Pacers staged a late-game rally, Lillard was back on the for the finish.
“Dame is special,” Stotts said. “When we got up 21 in the fourth I was feeling comfortable. I think you guys know I’ve been trying to manage his minutes but through this stretch, with the race the way it is, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”
After missing their first nine three-point field goal attempts Saturday night in San Antonio, the Blazers opened the game by missing their first 10 against Indiana.
But then Lillard hit a couple of deep ones to break the ice at the end of the second quarter and Portland connected on 13 of its last 22 after the 0-10 start.
“I think we were getting quality looks,” Lillard said. “We were missing some good looks. That was the encouraging part of it. When it’s going that way, you know they’re going to fall eventually. You’re not just going to keep getting those kind of looks and keep missing them.
“That’s what happened. They just started to fall.”
Lillard did not seem too concerned with what could become a heavier workload with CJ McCollum out of action for several games.
“My rookie year I was playing 40 minutes all the time and that was hard, but I’m physically prepared for it. One thing is that you’re physically prepared for it but mentally, I know how to put myself in certain situations if I feel myself getting a little more tired, I know what actions we can run against what they’re doing so I’m not impacting the play but I’m involved in the play.
“And then on defense, I know when I hear a play call, I know how to position myself so that I know what I have to do. So mentally and physically, I am prepared.”
Lillard hit nine of his 16 shots and four of nine from long range.
After the shaky start, Portland made 46.8 percent of its shots and 13 of 32 from three. Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out late in the game. And the Blazers got a plus-13 off the bench from Zach Collins, who had a couple of spectacular blocks.
Al-Farouq Aminu chipped in a 4-5 night from the three-point line and ended with 16 points.
Portland plays host to Dallas Wednesday night.