It was a reminder of why not to bet on NBA games. And an illustration of how well things can go when a team moves the ball, moves its bodies and plays unselfishly.
No hero ball in Philadelphia Thursday night. It was team basketball. Winning basketball.
And the undermanned Trail Blazers posted what has to be one of the biggest upsets of the season thus far, a 121-105 win over the Philadelphia 76ers that assured Portland at least a .500 record on its longest road trip of the season. The Blazers have won three of five on the trip with a matinee scheduled against the Knicks Saturday. Philadelphia came into the game as the leader of the Eastern Conference with a 10-1 home record and eight wins in its last 10 games.
Portland played without injured Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Derrick Jones Jr., Nassir Little and Zach Collins. In other words, four of the five players who were in the starting lineup opening night sat this one out.
After a halftime tie, the Trail Blazers outscored the Sixers 40-19 in the third quarter and rolled to an easier win than the final score indicated, leading by as many as 29.
As might be expected, heroes for Portland were plentiful as the team did one of its best jobs this season of moving the ball, moving bodies and sharing the load at both ends of the court.
“When you get a win like this, when you have five of your players out, and everybody rallies together, it’s a little bit like winning in Washington (Tuesday night), when we relied on just a few players,” Coach Terry Stotts said.
But that win in Washington was against one of the worst teams in the league and with Lillard in the lineup. This win was against the best team in the East -- and without Lillard, who was nursing an abdominal strain.
“You’re happy for a lot of people,” Stotts said. “Robert Covington got his first win in Philly since he’s been back here. CJ Elleby had a great game for a rookie -- you know he hasn’t had much chance to play. Rodney did a really good job at the point, a position he doesn’t play very much.
“I thought Enes really battled Embiid, particularly in the second half.
“You go up and down the line and there were contributions from everybody.”
You see this sort of thing in the NBA at times, when a team’s best player is sitting out, the rest of the group pulls together to pick up the slack.
“I don't think it's unusual that when a player like Dame is out, that everybody knows that everybody has a little bit more responsibility,” Stotts said. “And, you know, I think it does change the chemistry of the game.
“I've seen it before, you know, when a player like that goes out. We've lost games against teams like that who have been short handed. It happens. And I'm glad it happened for us.”
The Trail Blazers won the rebound battle 53-37, outscored the Sixers on second-chance points 22-8, beat them on fastbreak points 20-14. They also had an 18-point edge from the three-point line while holding Philadelphia to just 7-27 from long range.
Elleby had a terrific game off the bench, getting 15 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Kanter had 17 points and 18 rebounds, including seven at the offensive end. Carmelo Anthony had 22 points and five assists and made eight of his 14 shots.
“Obviously, Dame is our superstar,” Kanter said, “But when he’s down, we know that other people have to step up and do their job, and I think at both ends of the floor, the other guys did an amazing job today.
“You look at guys out there like Gary Trent and Rodney Hood, they make themselves better and they make everybody else better.”
They were all better. And on this night, they were better than the best team in the East.