Three thoughts on the Lakers’ 116–108 win over the Blazers on Saturday, giving Los Angeles a 2–1 lead in the first-round series:
LeBron James & Anthony Davis
Okay, so this isn’t so much of a thought as it is a statement of nouns, but LeBron and AD were both outstanding in Game 3. After scoring only 10 points in Game 2, James was aggressive in looking for his shot Saturday. He finished with 38 points in 34 minutes, with all of his field goal attempts coming in the paint or from behind the three-point line. Davis, meanwhile, overcame a slow start to score 29 points, doing most of his damage in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter.
It was only a matter of time before James and Davis thoroughly dominated like this. Portland simply doesn’t have the right matchup for either player. Carmelo Anthony did a serviceable job on LeBron at times, but he’s not a solution. Gary Trent is too small. Anfernee Simons is too green. James had his way with every defender thrown his way, settling for threes when he wanted to, and otherwise getting to the rim at will. He was in complete control whenever he was on the floor, and his attack mentality and constant forays into the paint went a long way in putting the Blazers in foul trouble.
Davis looked uncomfortable early, then wore down Portland’s frontcourt. In the fourth quarter, AD helped put the game away while LeBron caught a brief rest, picking on Jusuf Nurkic in pick-and-rolls. Portland perhaps paid too much respect to Alex Caruso as a ball-handler, and ultimately paid the price. Davis scored 12 points in the final period, and he finished the night a game-best plus-15, thanks to his stellar defense as well.
Practically no team in the NBA has the perfect setup to guard both James and Davis. The Blazers, unfortunately for them, seem to especially lack the personnel to keep them both contained.
Are the Blazers Running Out of Steam?
Portland didn’t look sharp down the stretch of Game 3. The Blazers blew multiple fast breaks. The offensive execution was sloppy even as the sense of urgency picked up. And in the final 12 minutes, C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard combined to shoot only 4-of-13 from the field—including 0-for-5 from three.
It’s fair to wonder if the Blazers are starting to feel the effects of their mad dash into the postseason. Maybe Game 3 proves to be an anomaly. Even the Lakers looked tired at times in the fourth. But in addition to the physical toll of playing what essentially amounted to an extra playoff round, Portland has also exerted much more mental focus than many of the teams in the bubble. It can be difficult to maintain that focus in any series, let alone in the bubble, let alone against a team that demands constant attention like the Lakers and their superstar duo.
I don’t expect Portland to fold. However, their ability to maintain an intense focus on attention to detail if Game 4 also comes down to the final few minutes bears watching.
P.S. Lillard seemed mostly fine despite the injury to the index finger on his left hand. After the game he said he had to ease up on his finger at times, which may have contributed to some of his inefficiency. Lillard still finished with 34.
After losing Game 1, there was certainly some consternation about the Lakers’ outside shooting. They bounced back with a solid performance in Game 2, and while the Lakers weren’t setting the world on fire from beyond the arc in Game 3, they did just enough to stretch the defense.
In the later rounds of the playoffs, much of Los Angeles’s success could come down to one or two role players sinking their open looks. Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Alex Caruso combined to hit six threes Saturday. Those kinds of nights won’t win games on their own, but they can be very impactful. A timely three here or there can quell a run or steal a few more minutes of rest for James or Davis.
The Lakers aren’t going to become a great three-point shooting team overnight (and it helps that James hit four of his own Saturday.) But even a game in which the team shoots only 10-of-33 from deep can go a long way in making the offense as a whole run much more smoothly.