Things are going so well for the Trail Blazers right now that they can go into Boston and beat the Celtics by 10 points while being hammered on the boards by nine, being outshot from three-point range and getting just three offensive rebounds and no – ZERO – second-chance points.
Portland defeated the Celts 129-119 Sunday, thanks to terrific play by its three starting guards, Jusuf Nurkic in the middle, a big three-pointer from Carmelo Anthony and just about everyone else chipping in a little something special.
And even though Boston shot 51.3 percent from three-point distance (20-39), the Trail Blazers attributed their recent hot streak to improved defense.
“I think the biggest thing that we've had going for us is how we’ve defended and how we just kind of stepped it up,” Damian Lillard said. “I think our minds have been locked in. We've been sharp, we've been together.
“And it's been like a, ‘Whatever it takes’ mentality. I think. like I was saying before we left on a road trip, ‘What are you willing to do to dig yourself out?’
“I was like, we need to win these games. We need to get stops. We need to have a presence. We’ve got to take a challenge, and tonight was pretty much the same thing.”
It marked the fourth straight win on a six-game road trip that continues Monday night in Atlanta against the Hawks.
CJ McCollum led the way, getting 33 points on 12-20 shooting. Lillard scored 26 and Norman Powell added 23.
The trio combined to go 11-23 from three-point range.
Lillard also stepped up big at the defensive end, taking on the challenge of guarding Jayson Tatum, who was coming off a 60-point game and had 24 points in the first half -- but just nine more after intermission.
“Once you get that 24 in a half, Lillard said, “I was like, ‘Let me guard him.’
“I think I'm strong enough to guard bigger guys and I can move laterally good enough and I can get underneath them to make them a little bit more uncomfortable, especially at that side.”
The three-guard starting lineup has been a success from the start, but it’s getting better as Powell becomes more accustomed to his new teammates and they to him.
“We're getting there, man,” McCollum said. “We're getting used to each other, understanding the spacing, figuring out what plays we can run, obviously, Norm’s been here for a few weeks now, so being able to open up the playbook a little bit more. Nurk’s getting implemented into the offense, getting more minutes, so it takes time.
“Great things take time and I think we’re playing better basketball at the right time and understanding the severity of each game and what we need to accomplish, heading into the playoffs. And then what we need to accomplish to get into the playoffs is very important.”
Nurkic had 14 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and was a big factor at the defensive end. And it does, believe it or not, feel as if this team is putting it all together at the right time.