Often seen as an afterthought in the Western Conference, the New Orleans Pelicans came out in game one of their series against the Portland Trail Blazers and showed that they will be a tough out over the next week and a half. Despite a bad shooting night and falling down by 19, the Blazers managed to come back and lose by only two points. This will be one of the more competitive round one matchups. Here is what to look at for in game 2 tonight.
Battle of the Backcourt:
Rondo/Holiday – 13/29 FG 27 points 19 assists 15 rebounds
Lillard/McCollum – 13/41 FG 37 points 9 assists 9 rebounds
The dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum began game one 1-15 from the field and were frustrated by the defensive and physical efforts of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday. Holiday should be on one of the All-Defensive teams this season and Rondo always makes his presence felt in the postseason. Zack Boisvert of pickandpop.net created a video that showed how Lillard’s night was not just a bad shooting night. His 23% from the field is his new career low from the field at home.
For hoopers, this was the game in high school where your teammate is guarding a highly touted player from the other school and they have them locked up in space prison. I can hear the “THAT BOI SCAREED!” from home. Lillard is going to have to bring his A+ game night in and night out in order to score effectively in this series. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts in order to get better shots off.
It was apparent immediately what the defensive plan for New Orleans was. Alvin Gentry’s plan was to trap Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum off of every pick and roll. Even in the video above, if you watch again you will see the big man involved in the screen and roll stay out and trap Lillard nearly every time. This takes away from what Portland wants to do.
The goal of a defense is to reduce the opposing offense to it’s third or fourth option and the Pelicans did a great job of making the Blazers’ highly heralded backcourt offensive spectators during the majority of possessions. This created situations where Dame and CJ were forced to shoot difficult attempts late in the shot clock. I would look for the Blazers to counter in game 2 by possibly having the big man slip out of the pick and roll to create opportunities to punish New Orleans for trapping so aggressively.
On the other end, Anthony Davis had a great night finishing with 35 points and 14 rebounds. With your best guy having a career night and Rondo throwing assists in Drew Brees-like action the Pelicans rode a double-digit lead for large portions of the night.
Rajon Rondo had 17 assists — as many as the entire Blazers team altogether. Seven of his assists went to Anthony Davis and 5 to Nikola Mirotic. Also, 7 of his assists led to shots at the rim and 5 to 3-pointers. Here's the Pelicans assist network: pic.twitter.com/vFlDl9noar
— Positive Residual (@presidual) April 15, 2018
During the Blazers late run, the Pelicans offense lost it’s ball movement and relied on much more individual plays down the stretch. I will be watching their offense tonight throughout the game to see if they make the extra pass. The Portland Trail Blazers are a solid defensive team and will make adjustments.
Portland had 15 offensive rebounds throughout the night. I would look for more attempts at the rim as big men slip out of the screen and roll and Portland will attack New Orleans aggressively on the glass to get second looks. Their willingness to outhustle the Blazers during their comeback lead to some excellent second chance opportunities. Converted offensive rebounds are one of the great demoralizers of any defense.
Game 2 tips off tonight at 10:30 pm est on TNT. Portland will be attempting to prevent the dreaded 0-2 start that is famously difficult to recover from. The Pelicans will be seeking a second straight victory to continue to put the league on notice that even without Demarcus Cousins they can be a factor in this playoff.