Pels’ Davis scores career-high 36 in loss
The Portland Trail Blazers entered the Smoothie King Center on a four-game losing streak Friday night and without All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, out with a bruised back.
However, point guard Damian Lillard, an All-Star, too, took matters into his own hands.
Lillard scored 16 of his 27 points in the last six minutes of the fourth quarter, and the Trail Blazers surged to a 111-103 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
“He lives for those moments,” said Portland coach Terry Stotts. “The 3 that he hit was a big 3 for us. But defensively, he was into the ball, got some deflections. He was very determined.”
Lillard scored 11 points in a 4-minute span starting at the 5:52 mark of the quarter, and center Robin Lopez, who played for New Orleans last season, had a big rebound dunk with 3 minutes left and a hook over Anthony Davis with 2:28 left that put Portland (43-23) ahead by four.
“I hadn’t been able to get it going, but everybody was contributing,” said Lillard, last year’s Rookie of the Year. “Coach just kept putting me in ball screens and situations where I could attack, especially late in the game.
“We’d lost four games in a row, and we were finally in position to close a team out. The game was on the line, so I needed to step up.”
He had help. Small forward Nicolas Batum scored 22 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and kept Portland in the game with big shots until Lillard warmed up.
Lillard said it was Batum who took up the slack for Aldridge’s absence.
“Nic’s rebounding was huge,” Lillard said.
Davis, the Pelicans’ All-Star power forward, had a career-high 36 points, setting a franchise record with at least 28 points in five consecutive games.
But his mind was on the 31 the Blazers (43-23) scored in the fourth quarter, to 22 by the Pelicans (26-39).
“We just didn’t get the stops,” he said. “We just have to defend. We can’t let them score 30-something points in one quarter. We can’t allow that in the fourth. We just have to get stops in crunch-time situations.”
The loss was the second consecutive for the Pelicans, who won their first three games on this home stand before losing to Memphis on Wednesday. Guard Eric Gordon and forward Tyreke Evans, both starters, sat out ill in that one, but they played Friday and each had 16 points.
The Trail Blazers, who now have a 2-1 season series lead, beat the Pelicans on the strength of 14-of-33 3-point shooting. That had been missing during their losing streak, as teams used the strategy of chasing their shooters off the arc and forcing them to drive, which is not their strength.
Obviously, it was for Lillard, who righted the ship for his team after the Pelicans gained a five-point lead.
Things seemed to be in New Orleans’ favor with a 94-89 lead and the Trail Blazers going 3-point-shooting happy. And missing.
However, Lillard began a 9-0 run of his own, mostly on drives to the basket. He sank a 3-pointer that tied the score at 94, then went back door against Brian Roberts for a basket and drove for one on the next possession, putting Portland up 98-94.
He continued the onslaught, and when he sank a 3-pointer with 1:14 left, it gave the Blazers a 107-100 lead.
When the fourth began, the Pelicans seemed to be distancing themselves, taking an 85-80 lead. New Orleans spent the rest of the quarter trying to fight off the Blazers before succumbing to Lillard.
The Pelicans went into the fourth quarter clinging to an 81-80 lead after gaining an 81-75 margin with 2:06 remaining in the third.
Lillard, though scored Portland’s last five points on a fast-break layup and three free throws.
The Blazers, a high-scoring team not known for defense, had the Pelicans playing their game.
“Out of the third quarter, we were just exchanging baskets, and that’s not the way we play,” said Pelicans coach Monty Williams. “It got to the point where we were just going back and forth, and some of our guys got worn down with that kind of basketball.”
Davis received the February Kia Community Assist Award for his community work during All-Star Weekend. Kia and the NBA will donate $10,000 to the Audubon Nature Institute on his behalf.