Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard overwhelm Pistons down the stretch

Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard overwhelm Pistons down the stretch

The Detroit Pistons had won seven of their last 10 games and brought their “A-Game” to Moda Center Saturday night.

But the Trail Blazers countered with an “A-plus Game” and finished off the Pistons with a flourish in the final two minutes to win 117-112.

Damian Lillard led the Portland parade, as usual, with his passing and his shooting. He finished with 28 points – hitting 9-16 from the floor, including 6-10 from three-point territory – to go with nine assists and six rebounds.

And down the stretch he was dictating the game, chapter and verse. But make no mistake, he had a lot of help on this night – the Trail Blazers got winning performances from just about everyone who played.

Portland trailed 109-103 with four and a half minutes to play but held the Pistons scoreless for the next four minutes.

Lillard hit Maurice Harkless knifing through the lane for a layup. He found Jusuf Nurkic for another layup and the game was tied with 1:58 to go.

Then, with the score tied, Nurkic made a terrific block on an Andre Drummond layup. Seth Curry found Lillard in the front court and Lillard nailed a 28-foot jumper to push his team into the lead, was fouled, and made the free throw.

It was downhill from there. Harkless passed to Nurkic for a dunk and then Al-Farouq Aminu jumped on a missed Lillard shot and banked in a basket with 4.1 seconds to go that provided the final margin.

It was a terrific outing for the Trail Blazers, who shot .544 from the field, .423 from three and outrebounded the bruising Pistons 42-29.

“A gutty and gritty win,” Terry Stotts said. “Basically we held them scoreless the last four and a half minutes. We made a lot of good defensive plays, big shots.”

You can find contributions everywhere:

  • Harkless had 10 points, four assists and some big defensive plays.
  • Aminu had a season-high 22 points, a lot of hustle plays and a solid defensive job on Blake Griffin.
  • Nurkic had 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
  • Enes Kanter mixed it up inside with Drummond and came away with 10 points and seven rebounds.
  • Zach Collins had his usual quota of energy plays, as well as 4-6 from the field, four boards, a block and nine points.
  • Seth Curry was 5-9, had 16 points and five rebounds.

It was quite a night for the home team, whose interior passing was a thing of beauty.

“When guys draw double-teams or guys just drive and somebody steps up, we’ve done a good job of finding the open man,” Harkless said.

Lillard probably had four or five “hockey assists,” where his pass led to the pass that resulted in the score. And that’s indicative of how well the Trail Blazers moved the ball around.

“Those are the plays you have to make in order to take advantage of what they were trying to do,” Lillard said. “I’m not always going to be the guy getting the assist when they’re out so high on me. Can the guy I pass the ball out to, make the next play? We had guys doing that.

“That’s what I mean when I say we’re making the right plays. The ball is going where it’s supposed to go. When it does that, you take advantage of what the other team is trying to do. Tonight we did a great job of that.

“We’ve been playing the style of play we want to play,” Lillard said. “And we can sustain that.”

Pistons Coach Dwane Casey, who has done an outstanding job with his team, loaded up against Lillard.

"You're not going to stop everything," he said. "They're one of the top offensive teams in the league. And we made a decision that we were going to try to keep the ball as much as possible out of Lillard's hands. And again, you take away one thing, you're going to open up something else."

The Blazers play host to the Brooklyn Nets Monday night before heading out on a four-game trip to Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit and Minnesota.

Confidence is high with Al-Farouq Aminu's ball handling... and it's showing

Confidence is high with Al-Farouq Aminu's ball handling... and it's showing

The seconds are ticking off the clock.

It’s a three-point game.

Damian Lillard’s tough floater gets blocked.

Al-Farouq Aminu snags the offensive rebound and puts in a 9-foot bank shot.

Four seconds remaining on the clock when the Pistons call a timeout.

It was a crazy finish on Saturday night in Portland. It’s Aminu who seals the deal in a Trail Blazers gritty win over the Pistons by a final score of 117-112.

“I knew the shot clock was low, so I just wanted to get it off the glass. I didn’t want to rush it. Sometimes when you’re in that predicament you rush it because you’re thinking you’re going against the clock and I figured, let me at least make it and see if it was late or not,” Aminu said with a smile.  

Portland continues to play without CJ McCollum (left knee) and continues to rack up wins from a collective effort with role players continuing to step up.

Saturday night was Aminu’s night.  

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said postgame he was pleased with Chief’s “heads up playmaking,” which is a perfect way to describe that last Trail Blazers possession.

Aminu finished with a season-high 22 points and has now reached double figured for the second time in the last three games. His previous high was 20 points, which he had reached twice this season.

Is there a variable to Aminu’s game that people aren’t talking about when it comes to him getting more buckets?

How about his ball handling skills?

Coach Stotts has no doubt that this is one aspect of Chief’s game that has changed this year.

“I think it’s pretty obvious -- his ball handling has really improved this year. He’s made some nice drives throughout the season. He put a lot of time into it. He’s making some nice moves, whether it’s in transition or in the half court. I think he’s being aggressive when he has a chance,” Stotts said.

As Lillard shouldered the scoring load once again, leading the Blazers with 28 points and nine assists, he couldn’t agree more with his coach when it comes to Aminu’s improved dribbling.

“A lot better,” Lillard said of the difference he has seen of Aminu’s ball handling from this year to years past. “Sometimes when he catches it and they close the gap where he can’t get a shot off, he’s putting it on the floor and making plays to the rim. You know, sometimes in transition, he’s bringing the ball up and we’re getting a quality possession out of it, so it’s not like guys gotta chase the ball down and try to go get the ball or when he doesn’t have a shot, we’ve got to rush to get the ball,” Lillard added.   

Lillard also believes the mental part of Aminu’s game has helped too.

“When your mind is in the right place and you’re doing all these things, doing whatever you can for the team-- good things happen and he was on the good side of things, just because he was in it. He was in it mentally and it worked out. He was huge for us. He pretty much made all the big plays for us,” Lillard added.

Having your coach and teammates confident in you is always a helpful, but Aminu also trusts himself to it bring the ball up the court or drive hard to the rack.   

“It’s a thing that when you’re in the game and you notice that you’re not losing the ball… Obviously, you’re going to go to it more. The confidence comes from doing it… Just glad that it’s working,” Aminu said.

Being able to score a season-high after exerting so much energy on the defensive end with the difficult task of defending Blake Griffin also was noted postgame.

Maurice Harkless, who scored in double digits for the fourth straight game with 10 points, gave props to Aminu and how valuable he was on both ends of the floor. 

“He made a lot of big shots, especially down the stretch. He played really good defense on Blake and when we got switches he played good defense on the guards too, so he was huge for us. That last rebound and putback was big time too. It kind of sealed the game,” Harkless said.

Aminu had his good luck charm in the front row too. Maybe having your wife sit baseline can help boost the confidence as well.

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Detroit Pistons

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Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Detroit Pistons

The Trail Blazers entered Saturday’s game having won five of their last six games and two straight at Moda Center.

Saturday’s game marked the first of two meetings between Portland and Detroit this season.

It was a high scoring affair with both teams hot from three. The Trail Blazers pulled out a win in the final minutes, defeating the Pistons117-112.  

Portland now improves to 45-27 overall. These two will face each other next Saturday in Detroit.  

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 117, Pistons 112 

Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers fourth straight home victory:

1.Jackson got to the hoop, knocked down 3s

When facing this Pistons team much of the focus goes to their bigs Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. With the Blazers switching defense in the first quarter, Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless didn’t let Griffin or Drummond get much on offense. Drummond struggled on offense all night.

But to start the game, Reggie Jackson had an efficient first quarter going 3-of-4 from the field and a perfect 2-for-2 from three to finish with 10 points in the first 12 minutes of play.

Jackson was able to break free on the perimeter with the Pistons twin towers commanding so much attention.  He then had his way with Portland in the second half off the dribble, easily getting to the rim. He looked a step ahead of the Blazers for most of the night. Plus, Griffin got it going with his aggressive moves to the basket. Between the two of them and the Pistons three-pointers, Detroit made it close throughout.

2. That extra effort

You hear that a guy is a spark plug off the bench all the time. On Saturday, that is exactly what Zach Collins was for the Blazers. He fought down low to gobble up offensive rebounds and had a couple of nice putbacks that helped keep the Blazers in the game in the first half and kept the crowd involved.

3.  A different-looking Lillard Time?

As the Blazers continue to play without CJ McCollum (left knee), Damian Lillard carries the scoring load. Lillard was dialed in from deep. He made his first four three-pointers. Late in the fourth quarter, it was all about distributing for Lillard and that made the difference in the game. And of course, there was the Lillard Time three-pointer to give Porltand the lead with 1:37 to go, but hey, it was his passing that got them back in the game.

 

NEXT UP: Portland concludes its four-game homestand on Monday night when the Blazers host the Brooklyn Nets at 7:00pm on NBC Sports Northwest. Our pregame coverage tips off at 6:00pm. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your Blazers and stream the games easily on your device.

Seth Curry was just being himself in win over former team

Seth Curry was just being himself in win over former team

The Blazers followed up their win Monday night vs. the Indiana Pacers with a 126-118 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night to improve to 2-0 on their four-game homestand.

It was also their second game without CJ McCollum, who is sidelined with a popliteus strain in his left knee. In McCollum’s absence, Damian Lillard continued to lead the charge in a variety of ways. Lillard finished with 33 points and 12 assists.

But, he wasn't alone in the Blazers efforts. Backup guard Seth Curry stepped up to help carry some of the load, too.  

Curry scored 12 of his 20 points in the second half after going 8-of-16 from the field, and 4-of-7 from deep. Curry also pulled down five rebounds.

This was Curry’s third game of 20-plus points this season.

The best part about Curry's by committee performance?  

Lillard feels this performance from Curry is nothing out of the ordinary for Curry’s skillset, or for the Trail Blazers’ offense.

“The way he got it, I think that it translates even when CJ comes back and we are at full strength. The things that he was doing, he will still be able to do. It wasn’t like he just went out there and got out of what we typically do, the role we typically have him in, he was just being himself,” Lillard said.

“The way he did it, I think it will work for us going forward, regardless of who’s out there, who’s not,’ Lillard added.

Curry echoed those sentiments, saying that as a team they were playing “similar offense, moving the ball, trying to find the best shots” as they would when McCollum is in the lineup.

The 28-year-old knew he had to be on the attack more, while playing some extra minutes with McCollum out.

“A little more opportunity, obviously, there’s a lot of shots missing with CJ not in the lineup, so other guys gotta step up and try to help where we can,” Curry said.

Since McCollum was sidelined last Saturday in the Blazers loss to the Spurs, Portland’s head coach Terry Stotts has preached that they need the entire team to contribute and it may be a different guy on any given night. 

Coach Stotts was happy to see that Wednesday night was Curry’s night; at least until he got winded as the game drew on.

“I thought he was active,” Stott said. “I don’t know if he got a little tired in the fourth quarter, but I thought he got good looks. He was pretty close to having a really good night. I thought he had three or four really nice moves to the basket and wasn’t able to finish them, but again, with CJ out… It’s gonna be by committee... We need his shooting.”

So, was Curry getting a little gassed in the fourth?

“I was a little tired at the end, playing 16 minutes, or whatever, straight in the second half,” Curry said with a smile. 

Curry had been with the Mavericks from 2016-2018 before signing a two-year deal with Portland in free agency last summer. It’s always fun to see a player do so well against his former team.

During Wednesday night’s game, Curry made it a point to look over at the Mavs bench a few times after scoring a bucket.

Does Curry enjoy taking it to his former teammates?

“Just a lot of guys I like over there, a few friends that I played with, obviously. So, it’s just all fun,” Curry said.

So, he wouldn’t admit that he gets hyped up a little bit more when the Blazers play the Mavs, but he might have admitted there could be some potential trash-talking going on. 

“Nah, not much,” Curry laughed.

Okay, maybe not.

But one things for sure—

Curry was having fun.

“We’ve got a good team over here. Everybody’s doing their part, moving the ball, finding the open man tonight, so it’s fun to play when guys are moving the ball like that and everybody contributed tonight,” Curry told Trail Blazers sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam immediately after the game.

The ball movement is fun for the players and fun for the fans.

On to the next—Blazers host Detroit on Saturday.

Which role player will step up next?   

Damian Lillard goes old-school point guard again in Portland win

Damian Lillard goes old-school point guard again in Portland win

What we’re watching right now is Damian Lillard 2.0 – The Versatility of a Modern Point Guard.

Lillard, playing without injured CJ McCollum in the backcourt, jumped in his time machine and turned himself into an old-school point guard.

On Monday night vs. Indiana, it was 30 points and 15 assists in a 106-98 win over the Pacers. On Wednesday night vs. Dallas, it was 33 points and a dozen assists in a 126-118 win over the Mavericks.

He’s getting everybody involved and shooting when the opportunity is there. He’s directing the pick-and-roll like a maestro and running his team with purpose and intelligence.

You never saw John Stockton? This is the same kind of operation over the past two games – but with a bit more flair.

“Man, he’s been playing unreal,” said Zach Collins. “It’s easy to look at the numbers, but just the way he’s leading us every single night has been great. That, in itself, is very, very impressive. I don’t care how good you are, what caliber of player you are, to do it every night like he does is amazing”

And Collins spoke to the way his captain has tweaked his approach to the game without his backcourt mate.

“Yeah, I think it’s a credit to him knowing the game and knowing what he needs to do,” Collins said. “It’s easy to say with CJ out, he comes out and takes 30 or 35 shots, but he’s a true point guard. He gets guys involved. We all love playing with him because we know at some point we’re probably going to touch the ball. He continues to make the right play.”

Coach Terry Stotts talked about the way Lillard orchestrated the game.

“I thought it was another very special night by Damian,” Stotts said. “I thought he pretty much controlled the game from our standpoint. He took advantage of his scoring opportunities. Had another great night passing.”

Lillard was 8-of-16 from the floor and that included a 6-of-12 performance from three-point range and 9-of-10 from the foul line.

“I made some shots but I didn’t think I shot the ball great,” Lillard said. “I would have liked to see a few more go in. The ball felt good coming out of my hand and a lot of times I don’t look at the makes and the misses, I just think about how it felt when I was shooting the ball.”

And fewer shots for Lillard has meant more assists and more people being involved.

“Knowing with CJ out I’m going to get a lot of attention,” he said, “so coming out to start games and getting teams to expose the coverage that they’re in – how they’re guarding pick-and-rolls, how they’re guarding me off the ball, where is the help coming from? – making them expose those things early so I can try to take advantage. And try to put other guys in position to score the ball. Maybe run off eight points, and then get back to picking them apart, then run off six points – trying to attack in that way.

“So I think playing the game that way, you really don’t take that many shots. A shot is here, a shot is there, get to the free-throw line, try to attack, that’s the right play, that’s the right play.

“At the end of the game, you look up and you haven’t shot that much but the quality of your shots is higher. It’s not like you’re not scoring.”

Of course. After all, that was a 33-point night. But as Lillard said, "You’re kind of just taking what they’re giving you.”

And he took just about everything there was for him to take Wednesday night.

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Dallas Mavericks

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Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Dallas Mavericks

Wednesday’s game was the fourth and final meeting between Portland and Dallas this season as the Trail Blazers looked to even up the series.

In his unofficial farewell tour, the Trail Blazers fans started off the game by giving Dirk Nowitzki a nice ovation during introductions.

Portland jumped out to a comfortable lead early, leading by as many as 13 points. But, the NBA game is all about runs and Dallas did not quit; which is what you expect from a team who has been eliminated from the playoffs, yet still very much enjoy taking it at teams.

The Blazers, however, took care of business in the third quarter led by Damian Lillard’s 17 points in the quarter and Portland never looked back. The Trail Blazers defeated the Mavericks 126-118. Portland now improves to 44-27 on the season.  

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 126, Mavericks 118

 

Here are some quick thoughts on the Blazers second straight victory:

1.Nurkic’s dunkfest game

The Moda Center crowd really got into the game after Jusuf Nurkic threw down some early dunks. Nurk took advantage of Nowitzki not being able to move as well as he once could and then had a nasty dunk over Mavs backup center Salah Mejri that brought the house down. It was definitely the highlight of the night.

2. Trent Jr. makes an earlier appearance

Trail Blazers rookie shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. subbed in for Seth Curry at the 2:52 mark of the second quarter.

Trent Jr. did not make a huge impact in his first half stint, but with the rookie earning real rotation minutes that proves Blazers head coach Terry Stotts really is giving a variety of guys a chance with CJ McCollum (left knee) out.

3. Lillard Time takes over

After only leading by 13 at halftime, Damian Lillard took matters into his own hands in the third quarter to put the game out of reach.  Lillard scored 17 points in the third after scoring 16 points in the first two quarters. Lillard finished with 33 points and 12 assists.

This is 19th time of Lillard’s career he has had a 30 and 10 game, which ties Clyde Drexler for the most in Blazers history.

That Lillard third-quarter performance was a reminder that (to quote Coach Stotts) “Lillard is special.”

That performance also meant Lillard got to sit out the entire fourth quarter and in Game 70 of the season, we all know how important that is at this point in the year. 


NEXT UP: The Blazers will have two days off until the next game as Portland continues its four-game homestand with game number three on Saturday. The Blazers host the Detriot Pistons with tip-off set for 7:00pm on NBC Sports Northwest.
 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your Blazers and stream the games easily on your device.

Right now for the Trail Blazers, if you play well, you play more

Right now for the Trail Blazers, if you play well, you play more

Trail Blazer Coach Terry Stotts has found himself in an interesting situation after CJ McCollum’s recent knee injury has left the player on the sidelines for an as-yet-undetermined time.

Suddenly Stotts has those 34.1 minutes per game that McCollum has been playing, at his disposal. And he has several players worthy of playing them.

He has decisions to make. And those decisions are based on a wide variety of factors that are made more difficult because the Trail Blazer coach has a lot of options, many players capable of quality minutes. There is a lot to consider.

“I like guys having a run out there,” Stotts said Tuesday after his team’s practice. “I want to keep Dame’s minutes under control, who plays well with who else, some of it is matchup driven by the other team. It just depends.

“I don’t know if it’s difficult, I guess I have to take into account more things, probably.

“I do that twofold. One, if a guy is playing well -- and if the unit is playing well. Like I said (after Monday’s game), Zach played 15 straight minutes in the first half because he was doing well and that unit was doing well.

“I kept him in. Same thing with Chief in the third quarter. Chief got on a roll so he played the entire third quarter, and the team was doing well. When things aren’t going well, then decisions have to be made.”

And that would be why Collins played 15 first-half minutes but only seven in the second half.

“If Chief hadn’t played so well in the third quarter I was prepared to go back to Zach,” Stotts said. “But that wouldn’t have been fair to Chief.”

Damian Lillard, the team’s captain, thinks along the same lines as his coach. And probably the way most players would like the situation to be played out:

“I’m sure it’s tough,” Lillard said. “But if I were the coach, I would just play whoever is having the better game. That’s who would be out there. Next game might be a different guy, but that’s fair. That’s the way I’d do it.”

Stotts likes to stay with a player through the end of a quarter if he and the team are playing well. Does that mean he believes in what’s become a controversial topic – the “hot hand” theory, in which people believe players who have made a couple of shots in a row are more likely to make their next shot?

“It’s always a tough thing when a certain player has it going – whether it’s Dame or CJ or anyone – you let them play the quarter,” Stotts said. “You can’t take them out when they are on a roll.

“It’s easy to say leave him in now, but it does have consequences down the road -- rotation of other players, extending of his minutes.

“I believe in confidence. When guys are in a groove and confident of their shot I believe in that. But I always know it’s going to come to an end.

“A lot times when a guy is on a roll I’ll keep him in there until he misses a shot.

“To me, a hot hand sounds like poker. That’s more luck and superstition. But when guys are feeling good, biorhythms are good, shots tend to go in more.”

Is Nurkic's foul trouble affecting him or the team?

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Is Nurkic's foul trouble affecting him or the team?

When you have a nickname like “Bosnian Beast,” you expect aggressive play on the court.

So, it’s not really a surprise that Trail Blazers big Jusuf Nurkic has had at least three fouls in his last five games and has fouled out in two of those past five games.

After Monday’s win over the Pacers, the Blazers got back to work at practice Tuesday afternoon. Nurkic, who fouled out against Indiana with 90 seconds remaining, spent time looking at his fouls on film. 

The Trail Blazers center spends day after day watching film to review his fouls, whether it’s a foul at the rim or a moving screen. He has also spent time with former referee Don Vaden trying to figure out how he can avoid getting into foul trouble. 

“There’s still a lot of room to grow," Nurkic said. 

Last season, the Trail Blazers hired Vaden as a consultant for the players and coaching staff to be able to talk with about league rules, officials’ tendencies and more.

Even though, Nurkic often discusses his previous games and fouls with Vaden, it doesn’t mean he is on the same page with him at all times.

“Most of the time I don’t agree with him,” Nurkic said with a smile.

But Nurkic knows it’s a work in progress and he believes he is getting better at arguing less calls.

“I try to do whatever I can to help myself and help [the referees] to understand, you know, I’m still 280 and a big guy,” Nurkic said.

The Trail Blazers starting center understands that officials are not going to see everything, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating.

“I don’t mind if they call a foul on me, but I feel they miss something, but you know, they see it differently and I’m still working on that,” Nurkic said.

The Trail Blazers are 70 games into the season and Nurkic is now seventh in the league in fouls per game with 3.5 fouls.

Nurkic also mentioned that by being so aggressive and picking up a foul here and there, he feels he can help bring the energy level up on the team.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts isn’t convinced that picking up early fouls isn’t impacting Nurkic’s game.

“It’s when he gets fouls early in the game that I think it effects his aggressiveness, obviously it affects the rotation a little bit,” Stotts said.

“Nurk’s just like any player that gets in foul trouble… It probably affects how they play, it affects when you have a good player that you rely on every night, not be able to be on the court for as much as you want, it affects the team,” Stotts added.

As far as total fouls on the season, Nurkic currently has the third-most in the league with 243 behind Karl-Anthony Towns (256) and Patrick Beverley (246).

But for the Trail Blazers captain who is running pick and rolls with Nurkic, Damian Lillard said he doesn’t feel Nurk’s early foul trouble is changing the way he plays.

“I wouldn’t say it’s affecting his game, it might be affecting his minutes," Lillard said. "He’s got to sit earlier than usual or foul out like last night, but he’s just being aggressive. Last night he fouled out trying to set a screen for me. I think he’s fouling out on plays you want to see him make, it’s just an unfortunate whistle, that’s what I think."

Nurkic may be watching film everyday, but the team is not focusing on or worried about him picking up too many fouls.

“A lot of the calls that he gets called for sometimes in the paint and at the rim, the same thing happens to him, it just doesn’t get called, so you don’t want to tell him don’t do this or don’t do that and take away his aggressiveness, because there’s a good chance it won’t be called,” Lillard said.

Lillard also noted that sometimes it’s the guards fault that a big will get whistled for the foul.

“Sometimes they come to set screens for us, we leave early-- they get a moving screen," Lillard said. "Sometimes they’re trying to get an offensive rebound-- they go over somebody’s back, there’s contact-- the get a foul. They’re in positions to get a lot of fouls more than, even us, as guards."

“Bigs get in foul trouble, that’s just what it is,” Lillard said with a smile.

Trail Blazers pass first test without CJ McCollum... Is there reason to rush him back?

Trail Blazers pass first test without CJ McCollum... Is there reason to rush him back?

Energy plays.

Collective play.

Staying ready to shoot.

These are all key components to the Trail Blazers 106-98 victory over the Pacers and Portland’s first game without starting shooting guard CJ McCollum.

Just as Blazers head coach Terry Stotts talked about in his pregame interview, it was a collective group who found themselves getting extra minutes with McCollum out.

Jake Layman got the starting nod in place of McCollum, but then Rodney Hood started the second half.  Hood, Layman and Seth Curry, are all expected to get more minutes with McCollum sidelined.

Also, as expected, Damian Lillard carried the load as he notched his ninth double-double of the season by the end of the third quarter. Lillard finished with 30 points and 15 assists, which is a new season-high in assists and just one shy form tying his career-high.

With 15 assists on the night it shows how the game plan is to play as a team in McCollum’s absence. Lillard discussed how it’s not about playing hero ball during this stretch without his running mate.

“I think having a guy that’s such a huge part of our team go down and not be out there, it’s not gonna be just me going out there trying to be the hero. It’s going to have to be done by committee,” Lillard told Blazers sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam immediately after the game.

“Against a very good team, we had a lot of guys step up. It was really encouraging and that’s how we’re going to have to play,” Lillard added.

ENERGY PLAYS AND CHASE DOWN BLOCKS

Zach Collins also saw the floor more, which proves Coach Stotts is going to fill McCollum’s minutes in a variety of ways. 

Collins made sure to make the most of the opportunity early and Coach Stotts was quick to recognize him postgame.

“Collins came in and made a lot of energy plays. I thought we scored more off of our energy than anything else,” Stotts said.

Even though this is just Collins’ second year in the league, he showed his wisdom in the locker room.

“[CJ] brings so much to our team... We just gotta come together and pick up the slack. Without him on the floor -- that’s a lot of buckets that we have to come up with and obviously, Dame has a lot on his shoulders and now that teams have to focus a lot more on him without CJ, we’ve got to help him out a little bit, just come together” Collins said.

Collins also noted that he always wants to “make energy plays that gets the crowd in to it,” and that’s exactly what he did midway through the second quarter with a chase down block on Tyreke Evans.

So, what goes through Collins’ mind when he’s going up for a chase down block like that?

“Move as fast as I can,” Collins said with a big smile.

“I need to get a little faster, but just try to get there as quickly as I can and try to time it right,” Collins said.

BE READY TO CATCH AND SHOOT

Al-Farouq Aminu picked up some of the scoring slack. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from three in the third quarter as he ignited the Blazers’ offense in the second half.

For Chief, it’s all about making sure he is ready to catch and release.

“Obviously Dame did a good job distributing, making sure everybody got involved… We just gotta continue to be ready to shoot,” Aminu said.

“I think what we did tonight was impressive, to be honest, I’m proud of everybody from top to bottom, the way we were able to step up without CJ and get a quality win,” Aminu added.

Aminu finished 4-for-5 from long distance and 5-for-8 from the field to score 16 points.

It’s all about that Blazer ball movement though.

“We just gotta play the same way and make sure we’re continuing to distribute the ball,” Aminu said.

NO NEED TO RUSH CJ BACK

Before Monday’s game both McCollum and Coach Stotts did not give any type of timetable on McCollum’s return.

Lillard knows one thing though—

He doesn’t want McCollum to hurry back before he’s ready.

Lillard has had this conversation with McCollum about taking his time to get the proper rehab.

“I don’t want [CJ] to have to rush it,” Lillard said. “And, when he does come back, I want him to be himself and be healthy... In my mind we’re going to finish the regular season without him... We’d rather have him healthy and strong for the playoffs.”

Trail Blazers get the most (30 points, 15 assists) out of Damian Lillard's 40 minutes

Trail Blazers get the most (30 points, 15 assists) out of Damian Lillard's 40 minutes

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.