Trail Blazers vs Lakers Wednesday, 10/31/12 AT 07:30PM

Starters Lead Trail Blazers Over Lakers As Lillard Dazzles

  1. Written by: erikgundersen


    The Trail Blazers ran from end-to-end to win their season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers 116-106. Nicolas Batum led all Trail Blazer scorers with 26 points but it was Damian Lillard who dazzled the raucous Rose Garden crowd, finishing with 23 points and 11 assists in his NBA debut. 

    Lillard joins Oscar Robertson and Isaiah Thomas as the only other players to record over 20 points and over ten assists in their NBA debut. In addition to that, he was the first rookie to get over 21 points and nine assists since LeBron James in 2003 as well as being the first rookie since to record 11 assists in their debut since Jason Kidd in 1994.

    The Lakers were sloppy with the ball, recording 25 turnovers, which the Trail Blazers took advantage of early and often.  They had 28 points off 25 Lakers turnovers. The Lakers did everything else in the game as good, if not better, than the Trail Blazers.

    “Stats are a funny thing, you know they shot more free throws, they outrebounded us by a ton and we win the game,” said Terry Stotts.

    “We were flyin’ around, I think our activity and how hard we tried kind of wore on them,” said Lillard about the Trail Blazers defense.

    LaMarcus Aldridge kick-started the Trail Blazers offensively, hitting his first five shots. He and the Lakers’ Pau Gasol went at each other in the early going. The first quarter was their show as Aldridge finished the quarter with 12 and Gasol finished with 10. However, each of them would cool off considerably as the game went on. Gasol finished with 16 and Aldridge finished with 19.

    Although Aldridge would start the scoring, it was truly a team effort that led the Trail Blazers to victory on this Halloween night. Nicolas Batum exploded in the second quarter as he scored 12 of his 26 points.  However, Batum was not just scoring but he was active in all facets of the game. He was hitting the offensive glass and got a nice tip-in in the game’s early going. He made steals and forced tough shots.  His final line was 26 points, six rebounds, three steals, one assist and one block.

    “I try to be aggressive and bring it on offense and defense. I know on offense people expect big things from me. I have to bring it. People are going to be focused on L.A. (LaMarcus Aldridge) so much this year because he is the go-to guy,” said Batum.  “Nobody respects Damian, Wes, JJ or Me, so we have to show them that we can play too, to free up L.A. a little bit and we’ll have some good nights.”

    The Trail Blazers starters were what won the game for them tonight. They gave the Lakers every reason to respect them. Aldridge finished with 19 but along with Lillard and Batum, JJ Hickson had a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds and Wesley Matthews poured in an efficient 22 points on just 11 shots.

    The Lakers, despite the turnovers and the Trail Blazers ability to capitalize on them, were everything you’d expect offensively as far as production. It was the way they scored, specifically Dwight Howard that was surprising.  After a 3-14 performance from the free-throw line against Dallas the night before, it seemed that the “Hack-a-Dwight” would be in order. Howard flipped the script and he finished 15 of 19 at the line. He was catching the ball deep in the paint and the Trail Blazers, it seemed, had no choice but to foul and he made them pay. In fact, the whole Lakers team did a much better job of hitting their free-throws, going 26 of 31 after only hitting 12 of 31 against Dallas. Howard found an unlikely source of wisdom in one, unnamed Rose Garden fan.

    “He earned every foul he got. It wasn’t ‘Hack-a-Dwight’ or anything like that,” said Stotts. “He got the ball deep and we fouled him.”

    “Actually one of the fans said something, I just kept thinking about it the whole time at the line. He was saying the same thing the coaches been saying, ‘just elbow up and follow through,’” said Howard.

    Despite Howard’s efforts and the words from an unlikely source, Portland’s offense was just too much for the Lakers to handle on this night.

    “We just can’t allow a team to score three quarters over thirty points. It can happen one quarter, maybe, if that, but not three quarters in a row,” said Pau Gasol.

    The Lakers were not bad offensively, turnovers aside, despite not having Steve Nash for the entire second half. Nash was hurt on a collision with Damian Lillard in the second quarter. After attempting to start the third quarter, he went to the locker room.

    “I thought I’d be OK, but after getting treatment, I just ran out there and didn’t do any kind of lateral movements, so right away it kind of flared up when I moved laterally,” said Nash.

    The third quarter was where the Trail Blazers began to open up the game. Again, it came from everywhere on the court.  Aldridge hit a jumper, then Hickson made two buckets, followed by a bucket from Batum and one from Matthews. It was that kind of night.  The Lakers closed the Trail Blazers lead to three with 3:26 in the third quarter at 79-76.

    Sasha Pavlovic, who had not recorded a statistic up until the 3:13 mark of the third quarter provided a spark beginning with a great assist that led to a Lillard jam. Pavlovic followed that play up with an odd four-point play, missing the free-throw after an “and-1” but following the miss and scoring on the put back.  It would continue to be Pavlovic and Lillard as the quarter closed.  Pavlovic finished with seven off the bench. Although Pavlovic provided the spark, it was Lillard who made the final moments of the third truly electric. On the quarter’s final possession, he sized up his man, drove the lane and made a running lay-up as the clock expired.  As the ball went through the twine, the crowd erupted and Lillard punched the air in celebration.

    “Any time you got a crowd behind you like this crowd, you can just feel it inside you. It’s a feeling you get when you have that type of support and I wouldn’t look forward to that anywhere else,” said Lillard about that moment.

    The fourth quarter was the only one that the Lakers won on the evening and despite being down 16 after the third, they continued to fight as Mike Brown continued to play his starters after they got a brief rest. The starters came back in and it seemed like it was a fruitless endeavor for the Lakers, as the frustrated mounted and Kobe Bryant got hit with a technical foul as the Trail Blazers were up by 17. Kobe, who usually does not perform well at the Rose Garden had a great offensive night scoring 30 points, but it seems he could not escape his Portland frustrations. All of a sudden, it felt like things were about to turn truly frightening in the game’s final four minutes as Howard and Bryant put together a quick 5-0 run to make Portland’s lead only 11. However, Nic Batum hit a huge pull-up three to stop the momentum and put a dagger in the Lakers chances.  

    “It seemed like he made timely shots,” said Stotts on Batum. “He plays a game that kind of flows.”

    Things certainly flowed for the Trail Blazers tonight. They forced turnovers, ran, passed the ball well and had offensive balance. It was as good of a start as they could have hoped for in Rip City but the road beckons and it does not get any easier. The Trail Blazers begin a three-game road trip on Friday at the defending albeit different Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder.

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