A night after escaping Los Angeles with another road win, the Portland Trail Blazers (15-3) welcomed one of the best of the East: the Indiana Pacers (16-2). Both teams sit atop their respected conferences as the top dog and both came in on a second of a back-to-back. The Pacers were also in LA yesterday afternoon and won a tight contest against the Clippers. Portland managed multiple 20-point leads over the Lakers and would have liked to bury them long enough to give the starters more time to rest. A misfit Lakers team wouldn’t go away quietly and forced the Blazers to close out the game in the final minutes. Would Indiana take advantage of a tired Portland squad?
Up until the fourth quarter, Paul George and the Pacers kept the tempo to their style: slow, low scoring, half-court offense with choking defense. The Blazers shoot mid-40% from the floor and play from behind throughout all while George is showing us why he’s an absolute beast. It was free throws and key defensive stops in the waning seconds as the Blazers take care of the best the East can offer and beat the Pacers 106-102. They improve to 8-0 over Eastern Conference teams and 10-0 on back-to-backs. Are the Blazers good enough now to be considered “elite”? Kinds of hard to disagree with this kind of statement win.
Indiana from the opening tip fed the ball to their twin-towers of Roy Hibbert and David West while trying to quickly dispatch Robin Lopez. Portland’s shooting was not sexy, only 2-11 from the field but thanks to a couple Indiana turnovers, the Blazers are only down five. The real trouble came from the antics of George, who could do no wrong and hit any basket he attempted, even with stellar defense from Nicolas Batum. LaMarcus Aldridge gets to work by pulling Hibbert away from the paint and Portland is only down 23-20 after one quarter, shooting just above 40 percent.
Whereas last night the Blazers bench was outscored and lackluster against the Lakers, Mo Williams contributed nicely long enough for the starters to get back in once George got back onto the floor. The Pacers lead seesawed from five to one on good ball movement from Portland but Indiana always had an answer to keep the Blazers at bay. Just like the previous quarter, Aldridge catches fire late and a Batum three-pointer cut the Pacers lead back to one and take a 46-45 lead at halftime. The Blazers felt very fortunate about the fact they’re that close without the offensive power as they only made 18-40 field goals at this point.
Indiana came out of the locker room going back to what worked in the beginning: feeding West and Hibbert and dogging the Blazers’ guards into taking tough shots. George is going ham from all ends of the court despite all the hard work that Wesley Matthews and Batum are doing on defense. The largest lead the Pacers got to be was eight after Orlando Johnson hits a corner three. After a timeout with less than four minutes remaining, the Blazers force Indiana to push tempo, create turnovers and get points in transition. Multiple baskets from guess who – Aldridge bring Portland back down two on an 11-4 run. To Indiana’s surprise, the game is tied at 72 heading into the final period.
Outscoring Indiana 34-30 in the fourth, the Blazers claw back while George is lighting up from three-point land with ridiculous makes, all while Matthews constantly shakes his head in disbelief. The Pacers as a team shoot drop to 33% while Aldridge, Lillard and Matthews drive inside the paint to force contact and get to the line. Portland’s lead grows to as big as eight but George was putting on a show: with less than a minute left, George nails a tough corner three with a hand in his face. The Pacers steal the inbound pass from Batum and George Hill zips the ball back to George at the same exact spot (think what Reggie Miller circa 1993 against the Knicks) but the Blazers dodge a bullet as he misses. Indiana is forced to put Portland at the foul line but George hits another tough three, but it’s too late as the confetti falls at the Moda Center.
Who was Hot
- Last night in Los Angeles, LaMarcus Aldridge had 27 points and 9 rebounds. Tonight he finished with 28 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists on 11-19 makes. Talk about consistency. He outdueled David West and looked comfortable, didn’t rush his shot and was the rock.
- Damian Lillard says he still isn’t happy with his shot but you can’t frown at a 26-point, six rebound, two assist and two-block night. He wasn’t afraid to put his head down and drive inside to meet with Hibbert’s chest and get sent to the foul line for a perfect 10-10.
- Wesley Matthews was limited to one three-point shot but give him and Batum real credit on hanging on trying their hardest to contain Paul George. Matthews closed with 15 points; Batum wasn’t looking for his shot but was effective on defense with eight points, five rebounds and three assists.
- Paul George, my goodness. He looked unstoppable all night long and wouldn’t let his team die that easy. He scores a career-high 43 points, three rebounds, three assists, three steals on 16-30 makes and 7-15 from downtown. What a star.
- The fact that Portland beat a very great team like that when the offense wasn’t going the Blazers’ way is remarkable in itself. They were consistent, focused and didn’t crawl in a hole when George was on fire.
- Blazers got to the line 29-33 while Indiana was 15-17.
- They also stayed close in points in the paint: 26 to Indiana’s 30 with Hibbert and West prowling inside was great.
- This matchup was also fitting too on a couple notes: Both Terry Stotts and Frank Vogel were named Coaches of the Month for their respected conference. Also sitting by Vogel on the Pacers’ bench was Nate McMillian, former Blazers head coach who is now an assistant coach.
Who was Cold
- Indiana suffocated Portland from the three-point line: just 5-13 when the Blazers average seven a game. And Portland still wins.
- Also worth noting with how Indiana is averaging their opponents to shoot just 38% thanks to their defense and Portland come out with 47% is crazy.
The Pacers are a very good team and watching the Blazers not back down and continue to fight was incredible. The Blazers are legit. The road doesn’t get easier though, they welcome the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday in another Northwest Division fistfight with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.