Blazers sweep back-to-back with 111-102 win over Pacers

(AP Photo/R Brent Smith)

(AP Photo/R Brent Smith)

The Portland Trail Blazers showed, once again, that their recent success is not the result of smoke and mirrors. The Blazers handled the Indiana Pacers in an emphatic road win, completing the sweep of a back-to-back, 111-102 Sunday night in Indiana.

Damian Lillard scored over 30 points for the seventh time in eight games, finishing with 33 points, but he had a lot of help in the offensive explosion.  CJ McCollum bounced back from his worst game of the season with a 19-point effort. Gerald Henderson scored 19 points off the bench and Meyers Leonard added the finishing kick for the Blazers in a game where the Pacers pulled their starters with over five minutes left. Al-Farouq Aminu also pitched in 10 points while doing most of the work in holding Paul George to a 4-for-15 night.

The Blazers were fighting an uphill battle in Sunday’s game, the second of a back to back less than 20 hours after finishing Saturday’s win against the Chicago Bulls. But they came out fast and jumped out to a quick lead against their hosts.

Noah Vonleh was involved early as it appeared the Blazers were looking to get him involved in the game early. Given the way teams have guarded Lillard and McCollum, it’s not a bad idea to see if you can loosen up the defense through other avenues. Vonleh got a lot of early touches but Lillard was the Blazers best scorer early on, as usual.

Better yet for the Blazers, it didn’t take McCollum long to get on the board. He made his first field goal less than five minutes into the game after he had a 1-for-12 night from the field against the Bulls and didn’t connect from the field until the second half. He connected on a 3-pointer to help give the Blazers a 14-12 lead on a nice pick and roll. The Blazers run a lot of actions, but we haven’t seen many pick and rolls where Lillard and McCollum are both involved. McCollum hasn’t recorded the minimum 10 possessions in that action to show up on NBA.com’s Synergy Stats page.

With teams trying to force the ball out of their hands, this is a good way to not give them any easy choices. Although it may not have been the first time they’ve run that action, it’s rare enough that it stands out. I think we’ll probably see more of it the way teams are trying to just deny the duo the ball.¬†Offense was not a problem early on in the game with both stars clicking.

Lillard was spectacular once again, scoring 20 points in the first quarter and making six of his first seven field goal attempts. It was his 10th straight game with 20 points, the longest stretch of his career, getting it done with 3/4 of a game left. Gerald Henderson brought some fire to close the quarter as well and the result was a 39-27 lead, giving them some cushion they would likely need in a back-to-back situation to guard against fatigue.

Defense on the other hand was a harder task. The Pacers were getting into the teeth of the defense for much of the game and George wasn’t getting a lot, thanks to Al-Farouq Aminu doing a good job on him all game. The Pacers kept Monta Ellis on McCollum, leaving George on Aminu, which was an interesting decision. George also fouled Aminu on a 3-pointer with 33 seconds left in the first half. Then Pacers coach Frank Vogel picked up a technical for stepping on the court a few seconds later. The Blazers went 3-of-4 at the line in the final 35 seconds and led 65-54 at halftime.

Monta Ellis was the leading scorer for the Pacers at halftime. CJ Miles, who hurt the Blazers in the meeting back in Portland, sat due to a calf injury.

At least in the first half, the Blazers weren’t winning with defense, but they would need to improve their play to hold on. But one part of their defense that was solid throughout was keeping George from getting going. When Aminu wasn’t on him, Gerald Henderson took turns on him and the Blazers help on George shut down his driving lanes. The Blazers did an excellent job individually and collectively in holding George to a 4-for-15 night.

The Blazers led by as many as 21 in the 4th quarter and blew the game open thanks to Leonard going supernova between the 3rd and 4th quarters. And Portland’s defense was much better in the 2nd half. George never got going and the Pacers pulled the plug on their starters with a lot of time left in the game.

Indiana’s reserves made some things happen, cutting Portland’s lead down to nine with under a minute left. Lillard iced the game with a bucket to give him 33 points and finally stop the suspense.

Notes

  • Moe Harkless got limited run for the second game in a row after playing just seven minutes on Saturday in Chicago. Again, the match-up here plays some part. The Pacers tend to keep two traditional big men on the court and their bench combination of Lavoy Allen and Jordan Hill called for Leonard’s size and shooting to unclog the lane. Although Harkless has been excellent, the bench unit for the Pacers, like that of the Bulls, were a perfect match-up for Leonard. He roasted the Pacers big men for 17 points, including 11 straight between the last possession of the 3rd quarter and the start of the 4th quarter. The Blazers depth is a strength and Stotts isn’t afraid to use it as the match-ups dictate.
  • The Blazers improved to 32-28 and start their six-game road trip 2-0. The Mavericks lead the Wolves by 11 at halftime and if that result holds, the Blazers will still be in 7th place due to the Mavericks holding the tiebreaker. However, the Blazers have a chance to change that with two more meetings coming against Dallas in the month of March. Those two teams will both be three games back of the 5th seed Grizzlies.

 

 

Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen is the Trail Blazers beat reporter for The Columbian. He's a graduate of the Allen School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon in addition earning a degree in Spanish. He's covered the NBA for four seasons. You can also occasionally find his work on ESPN.com's NBA section for their TrueCities series. He also fist-bumped with Kanye West once. Follow @BlazerBanter on twitter for more Blazers and NBA news.

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