After 82 games, and all the ups and downs that went along with them, the Blazers took on the New Orleans Pelicans in game one of their playoff series Saturday night. The Blazers, with their highest seeding since the 2000 playoffs, looked to send a message to Anthony Davis and the Pelicans with a convincing performance in game one.
The atmosphere in the arena was electric at the tip. The Blazers came out firing behind Evan Turner and built a 10-2 lead. But Anthony Davis has other ideas, leading the Pelicans back to a one point lead with three minutes left in the quarter. Davis had a pair of thunderous dunks in the period en route to eight early points. Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday had 11 in the first quarter and the Blazers entered the second half down 21-18.
The second quarter saw a Blazers rally sparked by the bench. Zach Collins, Ed Davis, and Pat Connaughton all came up big in their early shift to put Portland back on top mid-way through the period. Collins in particular, looked very nice as he hit a pair of fadeaway shots in the post and broke up an alley-oop lob to Anthony Davis. After their shift ended, the starters’ return brought a 14-0 Pelicans run, as they jumped ahead 43-32 with two minutes remaining in the half. The Blazers headed to the half down 45-36. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined to score three points combined in the first two periods. By the time the halftime buzzer sounded, much of the energy had been sucked out of the arena.
The third quarter opened much like the second ended, with the Pelicans riding Davis and a variety of 3-point shooters. The Blazers managed to get a few good looks inside, but still were swallowed up on the perimeter. Portland managed a brief push late in the quarter to cut the lead to 12, but entered the final period down 75-63 and lacking any real momentum. But the Blazers came storming back. Shots started falling. Active hands in the paint started jarring loose balls. The Blazers pulled to within 77-70 when Alvin Gentry was forced to call timeout. And just like that New Orleans stole momentum right back. The Pelicans were able to get good looks while they clamped down once more on Portland’s shooters.
The Blazers made one final push in the last five minutes. CJ McCollum, struggling all night long, came to life and started hitting. At the same time, the Blazers defense ramped up and forced multiple turnovers. A pair of Damian Lillard free throws at the 2:47 mark of the fourth quarter brought the Blazers within three. The Blazers were down one with a chance to take the lead with 25 seconds left, but Lillard missed a floater in the lane. Portland fouled Davis, who hit a pair of free throws, to make the score 95-92 Pelicans with 12 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, the Blazers missed a quick attempt at the rim and two more Davis free throws put it away. Your final in Portland, 97-95 Pelicans.
For the Blazers, this is a tough loss to swallow. As well as they played down the stretch, the New Orleans guards swallowed up Lillard and McCollum for the majority of the game. They simply weren’t able to get anything going until it was too late. For New Orleans, this is a potentially series-shifting win. They showed that they were able to walk into Portland’s house and steal one right off the bat. Portland is going to need to take care of business Tuesday night in game 2 or they’ll find themselves in a difficult hole to dig out of.