Portland Trailblazers guard Damian Lillard showed the difference between Western Conference players and Western Conference contenders. When the game seemed to be out of their hands and a loss was inevitable, Lillard landed four three-point shots in succession with minutes left in the game.
“We were playing hard. It came down to the last minute,” said guard Lonzo Ball. “[Lillard] just made big time plays.”
Despite having six players score in the double digits, the Lakers lost to the Blazers 108-103.
“Damian (Lillard) is one of those guys who can will things to happen,” said Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “He has the ability to take over a game and make big plays.”
Forward Julius Randle led the Lakers with 21 points, he and guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had nine rebounds each. Guard Isaiah Thomas had seven assists. Lillard scored 39 points and center Jusuf Nurkic earned 16 rebounds for the Trailblazers.
“We had some good execution. It was up-and-down today,” said Lakers head coach Luke Walton. “It wasn’t consistent, the effort was consistent, but the execution was not.”
The Lakers defense was not strong enough to stop the likes of C.J. McCollum and Nurkic, but L.A. managed to finish the first quarter with a three-point deficit.
Los Angeles continued to trail behind Portland. Trailblazers forward Ed Davis made highly contested shots and guard Shabazz Napier broke guard Tyler Ennis ankles to score a long-range jumper. Lillard scored 14 points in the second quarter alone.
Free throws would help the Lakers diminish their deficit, Thomas got the team within one point of the Blazers. Lillard went on a 6-2 run, keeping the Blazers in the lead 58-55 by halftime. The Lakers had only given away four points from four turnovers.
“I thought we did a good job in battling, being solid on defense,” said forward Kyle Kuzma.
The night had its share of controversial calls on the Lakers, Caldwell-Pope earned a technical foul early in the game and Lonzo Ball earned a foul while defending Evan Turner in the second quarter, sending him to the bench.
These calls received plenty of jeers from the crowd. The Lakers would end the night with 24 personal fouls, the most they have had in the past five games.
Portland’s offense became sluggish at the beginning of the second half. Points at the charity stripe would give the Lakers a four-point advantage. Two three-pointers from Caldwell-Pope would give the Lakers their biggest lead of the game.
“We played pretty solid on defense actually, the whole game,” Randle said. “I think we got to transition a little bit and as the flow of the game came on, we made shots.”
The Trailblazers could only come within seven points of the Lakers before the fourth quarter began. All was looking well for the Lakers, having a 10-point lead with 7:50 left in regulation. Lillard’s perimeter shooting brought the Blazers back in the game. Rookie guard Lonzo Ball tied the score at 103, but the Blazers’ free throw shooting did Los Angeles in.
“We have to execute better, plain and simple,” said Thomas. “This was a tough one for us, just because we felt like we had the game, and we let it go towards the end.”