Blazing Babbles: Post game thoughts of Indiana Pacers 99-92 win over the Blazers
Sometime later tonight, the Trail Blazers will touchdown in Portland. I wouldn’t be surprised if they file out of their charter plane and kiss the ground. The seven-game road trip that began on Nov. 24 with a team flight to New York has concluded with a loss in the middle of Heartland country with a 99-92 loss in Indianapolis.
Quite a trip and the Blazers finish 2-5. Now the team (8-11 overall) returns home for six straight in the Rose Garden, beginning Saturday against the Sacramento Kings.
On the night when Damian Lillard was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month, he started white hot in making his first three shots. In the first quarter, Lillard worked the pick-and-roll to perfection, hitting the screen and quickly pulling up for those three jump shots. Early offense in the shot clock, something Lillard hasn’t done in a while.
Actually, the Blazers got plenty early-shot clock looks – mixed in with a couple scores in transition, Wesley Matthews’ layup and a Lillard-to-J.J. Hickson alley oop and the Blazers jumped to the 17-7 lead.
After such a horrendous start to this road trip, when Lillard’s shot failed him (12 for 47 through a three-game stretch in Detroit, Washington and Boston) he had his most efficient shooting night of the trip: 23 points while 9 of 15 from the floor.
Welcome back, J.J.
Hickson returned to his roots, reaching 12 points and 12 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season. Since his last Hickson-like game – that 19 and 15 beast mode performance against Washington on Nov. 28 – he’s either been outworked (as he was in Cleveland) or benched (see: Charlotte). But the old J.J. was in full effect at the end of the second quarter, as he snatched a defensive rebound with about seven seconds remaining, gave up the ball then crashed the offensive glass for Nicolas Batum’s miss. Just before the buzzer, Hickson’s putback gave the Blazers a 50-48 halftime advantage.
The end has finally come
Recasting Hickson as the team’s hardest worker would be the last highlight of this road trip. Although Indiana played a road game on the previous night (a short travel route to Chicago), the home team still dictated the pace of the second half. Weary legs and all. But clearly, not as weary as the Blazers who traveled more than 6,000 miles during the seven-game trip through the East Coast and Midwest. In that third quarter, nothing was as tired as the Blazers’ defense.
Indiana started the half by scoring a transition bucket off Matthews’ missed three out of the corner. The Pacers shot 47.8 percent from the field and outscored the Blazers 31-14. Suddenly, Paul George became a factor (9 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists in the quarter) while the decisiveness seen early in the Blazers’ offense faded.
Expectedly, the 15-point cushion the Pacers built in the third quarter would stand.