After an emotional and action-packed week both on and off the court, the Lakers sent the Trail Blazers packing in the rescheduled Game 5 matchup on Saturday night, which was originally supposed for Wednesday, inside the Orlando Bubble.
“We got better throughout the course of the series,” Lakers’ LeBron James said. “We knew we were coming into a series versus a hot Portland team that was playing the best basketball inside the bubble along with Phoenix. So we wanted to just come in and try to work our game, get better and better as the games went on, as the series went on. And I believe we did that.”
The Lakers clinched a 4-1 first round win against Portland, advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2012 with a 131-122 victory.
The game kicked off with a moment of silence for Trail Blazers’ legend Cliff Robinson, head coach Lute Olson and actor Chadwick Boseman. Many of the Blazers’ players wore headbands in honor of Robinson, affectionately known as Uncle Cliffy, who helped the franchise reach two NBA Finals, won the 1993 sixth man of the year award and made his sole All-Star Game appearance in 1994.
Gary Trent Jr. replaced star point guard Damian Lillard in the Trail Blazers’ starting lineup. Despite Lillard’s absence, the Blazers did not go out quietly. Lillard made an early departure of the bubble to get his right knee examined, which he sprained in Game 4 of the series as well as a dislocated his left index finger.
“They’re a good team,” said Lakers’ Anthony Davis. “They compete no matter who they have out there. They didn’t get this far to just give up, and we knew that.”
Lakers’ Anthony Davis and James turned back the clock reminiscent of the late Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal to combine for 79 points on 28-37 shooting from the field on the night.
“They’re still really good at basketball, for anyone wondering,” Alex Caruso said after the game.
Davis had 31 second-half points on the night and finished with 43 points, nine rebounds, four assisi and one steal in 36 minutes. He became the first Lakers’ player to score 40 plus poins in the playoffs since Kobe Bryant in 2012 against Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Two of the best players in the game,” Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel said. “Rising to the challenge in a closeout game. Both delivering special performances and obviously we don’t win the game without them doing what they did tonight.”
James notched a 36-point triple double as he shot 14-19 from the field to go along with grabbing 10 rebounds,10 assists, one steal and one block in 34 minutes. In year 17, James improved to his fourteenth first-round series over the course of his career.
Vogel mentioned after the game that the Lakers are a team that has a revolving third best player each game.
“That’s what we’ve been all year,” stated Vogel. “We’ve been a different guy every night as the third guy type of team. We’ve really emphasized of late, when the ball swings, attacking closeouts and having a mindset for attacking for layups and free throws.”
In Game 5, it was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who filled the third best player role for the Lakers. Caldwell-Pope added 14 points, five assists and three steals. Since the Lakers’ Game 1 loss to the Trail Blazers, Caldwell-Pope has shot 48.1 percent (13-27) from beyond the three-point line.
Outside of Lillard, the injury bug infected several players on the Blazers inside the bubble including Hassan Whiteside on Saturday. In the first quarter, Whiteside dislocated his pinky finger as he attempted to catch a pass at the basket during a play. He immediately headed to the locker room, but would return to the game.
CJ McCollum led the Blazers in scoring as he tallied 36 points and dished seven assists. With the absence of Lillard, it was a team effort for the Blazers. Carmelo Anthony contributed 27 points in 40 minutes of the team’s final game of the season.
The Lakers’ defense, which has defined the team over the course of the season, forced 19 Portland turnovers that translated to 26 points on those takeaways for Los Angeles.
“We just wore them down, tried to keep that pressure on them,” commented Caldwell-Pope.
The Lakers will advance to the second round of the playoffs where they will play the winner of the first-round series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, who are leading the series 3-2.
Rajon Rondo practiced on Friday but remained inactive for Game 5 as he recovers from a fractured right thumb and back spasms and Dion Waiters was made active for the game, but was game-time decision with a migraine.