Damian Lillard broke the dam.
Then his teammates’ three-pointers poured through the cracks.
Lillard drilled a 35-footer with just over three minutes left to give the Portland Trail Blazers the lead for good and officially grab the full attention of the Los Angeles Lakers defense.
With Lillard breaking the geometry of reasonable basketball conventions, the Lakers sent determined double teams his way. So first he passed out of the trap to Carmelo Anthony for a wide open three-pointer, and then found Gary Trent Jr., punishing the Lakers for sending two players to the ball.
The clutch three-point shooting pushed the eighth seeded Blazers past the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers for a 100-93 win over in Game 1 of their best-of-seven opening round playoff series.
“When it got down the stretch I think we kept our heads down,” Lillard said. “We kept working. We made the plays on both ends to be able to pull out a win. We also know it’s only going to get harder from here. It’s just one game. The job is far away from being done.”
Lillard finished with 34 points and five assists, CJ McCollum added 21 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 16 points and 15 rebounds.
LeBron James had a historic night for the Lakers, finishing with 23 points, 17 rebounds and playoff career-high 15 assists. Anthony Davis chipped 28 points, but struggled from flooring going just 8-for-24.
Portland closed the game on a 19-6 run capped by crucial threes from Lillard, Anthony and Trent Jr. It was the fourth consecutive game in which the Blazers have erased a deficit in the final quarter and made big plays in crunch time to seal a win. They did it to preserve their playoff chances in the seeding games, and they continued the trend to grab a 1-0 lead over the West’s top team.
“We’ve seen so many guys make game-changing plays in such important games,” Lillard said. “It’s made us more comfortable with each other when the game gets tight. We don’t lose trust when the game is more on the line. We continue to trust each other because we’ve been in these games since we’ve been here.
It briefly looked like Portland might run away with the game early, as it led by many as 16 points in the opening quarter. But the Blazers offense completely stalled out in the second quarter, negating the sharp opening period, leaving the Blazers with just a one point lead at the break. However, unlike so many games at Disney World, the Blazers put together a bonafide competent third quarter and led by three entering the fourth. Los Angeles ripped off an 11-0 run spanning the end of the third and into the fourth to lead by as many as six points before the Blazers late rally.
1. Crucial Stops-- While Lillard powered the Portland comeback, the Blazers wouldn’t have been in position without two key defensive plays from Hassan Whiteside. He blocked a Kenatvious Caldwell-Pope layup with just under four minutes left and the Blazers clinging to a two-point lead. And then with 3:22 remaining, Whiteside blocked James at the rim, setting up Lillard’s 35-footer that broke open the floodgates for the suddenly surging Blazers.
2. Gabriel Gets the Nod-- Blazers starting big man Zach Collins missed Game 1 with inflammation in his left ankle and Terry Stotts chose to start rookie Wenyen Gabriel in Collins’ place. Gabriel had some early highlights with the game’s first points, a block and a leak out dunk. For the most part, Gabriel was competent if not a little physically overmatched, while tasked with trying to slow down Anthony Davis. In 16 minutes, Gabriel finished with four points, three rebounds, three assists and a block while committing five fouls.
3. Dame’s Down Time-- Lillard didn’t have to go full superhero mode to keep the Blazers in the game. He did settle for merely extremely good down the stretch although he was relatively quiet for much of the second half, getting his first field goal with 7:37 left in the fourth quarter.
However the real issue for the Blazers was when their point guard sat and his teammates struggled to keep contact with the Lakers. Los Angeles outscored Portland 13-4 with Lillard out of the game to open the second quarter, then with Lillard on the bench for two minutes to open the fourth quarter the Blazers went scoreless. In all, Los Angeles outscored the Blazers by 12 points in Lillard’s 5:18 on the bench.