NEW ORLEANS — Jerami Grant dribbled between his legs, knifed between New Orleans forwards Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram and dunked hard with two hands before defenders Herb Jones and Trey Murphy III could meet him at the rim.
That forceful fourth-quarter flush highlighted Grant’s 27-point performance, and the Portland Trail Blazers overcame the absence of star guard Damian Lillard to defeat the Pelicans 106-95 on Thursday night.
Anfrenee Simmons, who hit five 3-pointers and scored 23 points for Portland, called Grant’s explosive dunk, which left fans gasping, a “nail in the coffin.”
Grant, who hit four 3-pointers and several midrange shots, said he knew Pelicans defenders would “have to press up a little bit” as he dribbled near the top of the key.
“I gave them a little misdirection and then the lane opened up,” Grant said. “I knew I had to be aggressive, especially with Dame out.”
Former Pelican Josh Hart added 17 points for the Blazers, who improved to 6-1 on the road.
“We’re winning. That’s all that matters to me,” said Hart, who was a fan favorite in New Orleans. “I want to win. I said that. I made that clear, and we’re doing that. I’m fully happy, fully committed and ready to keep it going.”
The Blazers, who won at Charlotte a night earlier, rested Lillard, who’d recently missed four games with a right calf strain.
But Portland wound up not needing him to improve to 4-1 on its six-game trip and get the best of former Blazers guard CJ McCollum.
“They just played harder, and we didn’t play smart,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “We just got to run our stuff and take care of the basketball, and we didn’t. I thought their zone disrupted our flow, our rhythm, and that’s what it’s meant to do.”
Williamson scored 29 points and Murphy added 16 for New Orleans. Ingram scored 14 but fouled out with 3:32 left.
“We just weren’t mentally locked in,” Williamson said.
McCollum, who played despite feeling ill, finished with 13 points but missed 11 of 17 shots and went 1 of 7 from 3-point range.
New Orleans, normally among the NBA’s highest-scoring teams in the paint, shot just 41.8% (33 of 79) and was outscored inside, 46-36.
“Everything isn’t supposed to be easy,” McCollum said. “We’re supposed to go through some trials and tribulations. It’s about how you respond. … I’m not worried about it.”
The Blazers looked a step quicker, rebounding 11 of their own misses and scoring 18 second-chance points.
Portland also converted 17 Pelicans turnovers into 21 points while committing only nine turnovers.
“A will to win,” Grant said. “We want it more than a lot of teams right now. So, we’re coming out and we’re giving it everything.”
Portland took its first double-digit lead with an 11-2, fourth-quarter run that included a 3 by Justise Winslow and a 15-foot jumper by Grant. Nassir Little added a dunk and a layup as he was fouled after a Portland offensive rebound.
Little finished with 15 points and Winslow with 12.
Trail Blazers: Jusuf Nurkic was in uniform but was kept on the bench, missing his second straight game with right adductor soreness. … Shaedon Sharpe, who scored 17 points in a reserve role a night earlier in Charlotte, was held out with a sprained finger on his right hand.
Pelicans: Larry Nance Jr. returned from a left knee hyperextension. He played 23 minutes and had six rebounds but missed both of his shots and did not score … Pelicans had scored at least 100 points in their previous 36 games dating back to last season. … Williamson was limited to just 12 minutes on the court in the first half, when he scored 12 of his points but also committed three fouls. … Herb Jones scored 10 points. … New Orleans fell to 2-2 at home.
Portland coach Chauncey Billups said he understood why Lillard wasn’t pleased about being scratched from the lineup, but that players, coaches and team doctors all “have to trust each other,” adding that the club’s medical team knows “a lot more about this than I do, than Dame does.”
Although Lillard told Billups he “felt great,” the Blazers’ medical staff decided it wasn’t wise for Lillard, who scored 26 points in the win over the Hornets, to play a third game in four nights after he’d recently missed four games with a right calf strain. Lillard wanted to play for the first time against McCollum, who was his teammate in Portland for eight years before being traded to New Orleans last February.
“It’s just a medical decision — coming back from a soft tissue injury is always tough,” Billups said after Lillard had been ruled out. “He’s a little down about it, but it is what it is. We’ve got to keep our guys safe.”
Trail Blazers are at Dallas on Saturday.