PORTLAND — The Trail Blazers’ defense was trending in the right direction.
Portland had five solid defensive outings in a row and was looking to continue that trend against a Lakers team tied for last place in the Western Conference.
And then, the first quarter happened. The Lakers scored 33 points and were winning by 13 after the opening period — and they continued scoring in bunches all game.
The Blazers fought back to take the lead in the fourth quarter but were upset by the Los Angeles Lakers 107-106 at the Moda Center on Monday Night, snapping Portland’s five-game winning streak.
Wesley Johnson had the game-winner off a backdoor lob by Kent Bazemore with 7.1 seconds left. The Blazers trailed the Lakers by as much as 15 points in the early going and they fought back, but they were unable to overcome that slow start.
“They started in fifth gear. We kind of started in third gear” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts.
“We didn’t have the same type of energy we’ve had the last five or six games,” said Damian Lillard, who missed a a chance to win the game on Portland’s final possession.
“We didn’t have the intensity that we had the last few games and it showed,” said LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with 21 points and six rebounds.
It was much like watching
a good TV show that’s been high on drama and action but still has things to sort out: You know the plot points have to be sorted out before you can continue the action and they are going to have to get filled in at some point.
After defending better than anybody in the league the last game — and in particular holding Brooklyn to 81 points last week — there was bound to be some sort of regression to the mean. Portland did that Monday.
The Lakers leaked out in transition all night long, leading to a 32-9 advantage in fast break points. The Blazers finished with 20 turnovers, but Stotts said turnovers were not the main source of the Lakers fast-break success.
“To start the game, we gave up 22 in the first half and by our count we gave up 32. Most if it were after rebounds, not necessarily turnovers even though we had a lot of turnovers in the first quarter.”
The Blazers also could not stop the Lakers three-point shooting, and when they ran them off the three-point line there was no friction on their drives.
“They figured it out pretty well: We let them shoot to start the game” said Nicolas Batum on the Lakers success shooting from deep. “When you make shots early in the game they come easy and then when they are on you they find solutions to drive. They play pretty well together.”
Aldridge said that he is not quite back to his usual self, specifically with his timing, on the offensive end, but scored 21 points to lead the Blazers, ramping up his minutes from the last game.
The Blazers were struggling early on and would have been in a very bad place had it not been for the play of Robin Lopez.
Lopez finished with another monster game, following his 18-point, nine-rebound performance on Saturday, with a 19 and 16 performance on Monday. He contested shots all night, as he has done all season and even played a few plays non-stop after losing his shoe.
However, he was not ready to throw anyone under the bus, saying that everybody — including himself — “didn’t show up to play” on Monday.
Nicolas Batum was active on the glass again, following up his career-high 16 rebounds on Saturday with 15 rebounds, 17 points and five assists.
The Blazers had scouted the play that got the Lakers the game-winner by Johnson. Aldridge said that they had normally gone to a Jordan Farmar three after he sets an initial screen.
“Jordan told me I would be open after the pick,” said Johnson, and Farmar ended up being right.
The Blazers ran an isolation play for Lillard, who has been one of the more efficient isolation scorers in the league since his rookie year, but Meeks did not bite on Lillard’s attempt for a stepback three.
“It was a tough look after I tried to head fake him. It was a tougher look than I thought it would be,” said Lillard.
When asked how the Blazers move on, Lopez was short in his response.
“Exactly what you just said. Move on.”