The Lakers didn’t play their best game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night, but there are no style points in basketball — especially in the playoffs. This one may not have been as pretty as their last two wins, but the blunt force of hammering away at a mismatch with Anthony Davis was enough for them to send Portland packing their bags and heading to the team bus.
Despite a mostly lethargic first half (at least defensively) from the Lakers, they were all tied up with Portland at 68 at halftime thanks to a buzzer-beating three from LeBron James. They then were able to get going a bit in the third, outscoring the Blazers 32-24 in the frame, but by no means had locked up the game yet. That became plain in the fourth quarter, when things were all tied up again at 100 with just under 10 minutes to play after an 8-0 run from the Blazers to start the period.
Against a Blazers squad missing its best player, it was yet another example of these Lakers making things harder on themselves than they needed to in the bubble. CJ McCollum was great and Portland deserves credit for continuing to play hard and making this a game, but this should have been an easy win for the Lakers. Instead, their disinterested defense kept it tight enough that their stars needed to pull it out down the stretch.
Thankfully for the Lakers, their stars are pretty good. Davis continued to display the mid-range gawd-hood he’s shown since arriving in the bubble, canning long jumpers the Blazers repeatedly surrendered to him — as well as a few threes — to finish with 43 points and 9 rebounds. As was the case all series, Portland just had no answer for him. He and James became the first Lakers to score 30 points in the same playoff game since Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol did so.
Speaking of James, he was just OK by his lofty standards — despite ending the evening with 36 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists — but his presence was key to keeping the Lakers’ offense humming and helping the team pull this one out in spite of their repeated defensive breakdowns. The Lakers just had a few difficult days, but they’ll need to practice hard over the break and avoid any rust to start their next matchup.
With this series over, the Lakers will move on too the second round for the first time since 2012, where they will play the winner of the first-round series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, the latter of whom currently lead 3-2. They’ll have a bit of a break before then, and until then, it’s okay to enjoy this one a little more. It wasn’t pretty, but it was another sign that the Lakers are really, truly back where they belong in the postseason.