On a night their rotation was diminished by injuries, the Los Angeles Lakers were able to stay shockingly close in a contest against the second best team in the Western Conference.
In the first quarter (and the game for that matter), the Lakers were able to stay about even with Portland with the aid of some hot mid range shooting from Jordan Hill, who looked on track for one of those random games where he makes every jumper he attempts, going 4-4 in the first period. Also helping Los Angeles was a dose of swag off of the bench, with Nick Young entering to hit this (nearly) half-court shot clock buzzer beating attempt. Both teams shot 38% overall in the period, with only Hill and Lamarcus Aldridge of the Blazers acquitting themselves well shooting wise.
The second quarter was mostly the same, as the Lakers bench scoring kept them in the game by outscoring Portland's 23-10. Jordan Clarkson made an appearance in the stead of the Lakers' injured wing players, and showed some of his talents, scoring 5 points on 2-3 shooting (including a nice and-1 finish through contact). The rookie did struggle predictably on defense however, especially when matched up with Damian Lillard, but the team was able to overcome this and end the half only trailing 47-45.
Hill continued to be unable to miss in the third quarter, and the Lakers actually opened up an 8 point lead on the Blazers at one point, closing the quarter up by 3. But then the fourth quarter happened, and against Portland, that is Lillard time and much better teams than the Lakers have fallen in his wake.
A late Lillard-led 10-2 run (he hit 2 consecutive threes plus a lob to Aldridge) gave the Blazers an 86-85 lead, and then another Lillard three with about 2:30 left pushed the score to 91-87. The Lakers were not ready to quit yet on this night, and Young came right back for LA, drawing one of his patented fouls on a three pointer and hitting all three free throws to cut the lead to one. Two made Jeremy Lin free throws later and LA had a 92-91 lead. But it was not enough, as Lillard continued his nuclear explosion (it's a miracle they did not evacuate the Moda center and the surrounding area) and hit a backdoor layup on the next possession, followed by two intentional foul free throws to put Portland up by three with 18.9 seconds left in the game. One Jeremy Lin airball later and the game was essentially over, with the Blazers eventually winning 98-94 after some more free throws as the Lakers were forced to play the foul game.
In the positive column for Los Angeles, their bench outscored the Blazers bench 41-17, but on a night when most of LA's more talented offensive players were coming off of the bench, and Portland's starting five is one of the best scoring units in the league that is not all that surprising. Had the result been different, tonight almost surely would have been remembered as the coming out party of Jordan Hill's MVP campaign, as the big man came through with one of his finest performances of the season (23 points on 10-15 shooting with 14 rebounds) and nearly dragging the Lakers to a win just by virtue of keeping the starting lineup's offense afloat nearly by his lonesome. But it was not enough tonight, because in a close game against the Blazers when Lillard is in the lineup, no team has much of a chance. The uber-clutch Blazers point guard finished the contest with a sizzling 39 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter.
It is hard to be too upset about this result, as the team clearly played a hard fought contest against a far superior team while missing two of their leaders in minutes. The Lakers will look to bounce back against their cross-hall "rivals" the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday after one day to rest and recover. See you there.