There was a special energy at Moda Center ahead of Tuesday’s game. The Trail Blazers were happy to have CJ McCollum back in the starting lineup and it showed in their shooting early on.
But, the problem for the Blazers?
The New Orleans Pelicans got off to a better start offensively and took advantage of the Blazers’ defensive miscues.
With open jumpers and an open lane, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson took it right at the Blazers. New Orleans shot 44.4 percent from three in the first half to help the Pelicans take a 64-50 lead at the break.
Yet with the Pelicans biggest lead at 17, the Trail Blazers showed that they can never be counted out especially when Damian Lillard is on your team.
Lillard was determined to lead his team to a come-from-behind win. He also got some necessary scoring help from Gary Trent Jr. as the Blazers cut the lead to four with 3:30 to go. Between Lillard and Carmelo Anthony's three-point shooting and Lillard's free throws, Tuesday's game wasn't decided until the final 5.2 seconds.
After the Pelicans turned it over with the ball bouncing off Nickeil Alexander-Walker's chest, New Orleans tried to defend Lillard in the last 4.2 seconds.
Eric Bledsoe ended up fouling Lillard in those final seconds as the Trail Blazers All-Star point guard calmly knocked down two free throws to help the Blazers take a 125-124 lead with 1.2 seconds remaining in the game.
And that would end up being the final score.
Lillard, who notched 19 points in the first half, was determined to not let his team go down without a fight. Lillard picked up his scoring late in the third and continued into the final period to keep his team within striking distance.
The Blazers picked up the defensive intensity in the third quarter, but it wasn't consistent enough to slow down the hot-shooting Pelicans led by Brandon Ingram, until the very end.
To begin the Blazers’ five-game homestand Tuesday, Portland was still without Harry Giles (left calf strain), Jusuf Nurkic (right wrist fracture) and Zach Collins (left ankle stress fracture).
For the Pelicans, J.J. Redick (right heel; soreness) was out.
Whether it was his positive demeanor during pre-game warm-ups or his three-point shooting in the first quarter that gave it away—CJ McCollum was ecstatic to be back after missing eight weeks with a fractured left foot. And the Blazers were happy to have his scoring along with his leadership and playmaking back.
McCollum also gave Damian Lillard more of an opportunity to come off the ball while running point at times throughout the first half. McCollum played just 26 minutes and finished with 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting, including 2-of-7 from three as he continues to shake off the rust.
But it was the Lillard show in the second half.
Lillard notched a game-high 50, while also dishing out 10 assists.
With McCollum inserted back into the lineup, that meant Rodney Hood and Anfernee Simons saw their minutes decrease with Simons not playing at all. Instead, Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts elected to stick with Nassir Little in the main rotation. Little brought the energy and effort on both ends.
As for Gary Trent Jr., who had started in place of McCollum for the past two months, he continued to provide a three-point spark and was able to get to the free-throw line late in the game.
Portland looked to get McCollum back into the swing of things, but the Blazers defense needed more work to get on the same page.
The Blazers allowed the Pelicans to shoot 70 percent from the field and a perfect 3-for-3 to start the game as New Orleans took a 19-12 lead with 6:29 remaining in the first quarter.
The duo of Lonzo Ball and Zion Williamson took advantage of the Blazers' defensive struggles. Ball got going from deep early, while Williamson drove the lane to get easy lay-ups or dunks. Plus, Brandon Ingram did a little bit of everything. Ingram led the Pelicans at halftime with 16. He also caught a lot of Blazers in the air to help himself get to the free throw line.
When the Trail Blazers got out of position on defense that made it even more difficult to snag a rebound. The Pelicans took hold of the game early and late thanks to their second-chance points. Sharing was caring for New Orleans as well. The Pelicans notched 38 assists as a team.
It was #3J time early at Moda Center:
The Pelicans shot 50.0 percent from the field in the first half, while also pacing the Blazers in second chance points, 15-0.
Next up: The Trail Blazers will tip-off a back-to-back Thursday, first with the Pelicans followed by the Dallas Mavericks on Friday. The Blazers and Pelicans are scheduled to tip-off at 7:00 p.m. PST on NBCSNW, the official network of the Portland Trail Blazers.