Fans were back in Moda Center Friday night and got a close, if not necessarily well-played, game. But they loved the outcome.
The Trail Blazers hung on for a 106-101 win that clinched their tiebreaker with the Lakers by winning the season series and also jumped Portland a game ahead of Los Angeles in the race to stay out of the NBA’s play-in tournament.
It was a tense game – almost like a playoff contest – that featured the kind of poor shooting and physical defense common in the postseason.
“I thought there was some urgency to the game by both teams,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “Obviously, what was at stake -- both teams knew it. And both teams played at that level.”
But the Trail Blazers had a not-so-secret weapon on their side – those fans. The arena was only 10 percent full but those who were there made their Laker-hating and referee-baiting presence felt.
It was louder that you might expect for a small crowd – particularly when the boos were directed at game officials.
“The Lakers are used to playing with fans, but I think for us, having fans in the building brought even more urgency for us,” Stotts said. “It was outstanding. You could really feel a difference.
“When the players were warming up, starting lineups, ‘Beat LA’ -- it was very noticeable and everybody around the team felt the difference.”
The Blazers pounced on the Lakers in the first quarter, leading by as many as 14 before settling for a 12-point edge at the end of the period.
But things changed quickly in the second quarter, when Portland’s reserves had defensive problems and couldn’t score enough points to make up for them.
The Lakers led for a time in the second half and and it was close down the stretch. Jusuf Nurkic stepped up big for the Blazers with 10 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. Damian Lillard was terrific with 38 points on 18 shots, including big ones whenever Portland need them.
We will never know how the game would have played out if the Lakers’ Alex Caruso hadn’t committed a crazy mistake late in the game.
He intentionally fouled CJ McCollum with 27.6 left in the game and the Lakers trailing by 3.
The Lakers had the opportunity to hold Portland scoreless on that possession and then get the ball back with enough time left and a chance to tie with a three-point goal.
But instead, McCollum nailed both foul shots to finish off the visitors.
“I think,” McCollum said with a smile, “that was a miscommunication on their part. That was a poor play on their part.”
Maybe it was just all that noise in Moda Center causing confusion.