Great Dame! Lillard's third-quarter fireworks sink Grizzlies
Damian Lillard got off to a decidedly mortal start Thursday night at the Moda Center.
But oh, what a finish.
The All-Star point guard went for 14 third-quarter points -- and 16 in a four-minute, 42-span late in the third and early in the fourth -- to spell doom for the Memphis Grizzlies and give the Trail Blazers (4-2) their third straight victory.
Lillard's game-high 27 points, which included 7-for-11 3-point shooting, were the biggest reason for Portland's 115-96 rout of the same Grizzlies who eliminated the Blazers in five games in the first round of the playoffs last season.
These aren't the same Blazers as last year's, with four of five starters moved to other teams. But these may not be the same Grizzlies, either. Memphis (3-3) looked like an aging group, with six rotation players 30 years or older. Portland, even playing the second of back-to-back games, had the young legs.
The best player on the floor was Lillard, but he had plenty of help. Four Portland starters scored in double figures, and the fifth -- center Mason Plumlee -- collected eight points and 12 rebounds in only 22 minutes. Reserves Ed Davis, Moe Harkless and Allen Crabbe all had major contributions.
"They beat us by 20, but it wasn't that close," Memphis coach David Joerger said. "They beat us to every single ball, they got back-doors, they got into the lane any time they wanted. Lillard got hot, and every one of their complementary guys just tortured us."
It was a game for a half. Memphis led 23-18 after one quarter, and the Blazers went into halftime ahead only 50-46. CJ McCollum started 0 for 6 from the field, and at one point, he and Lillard were 1 for 11. Portland's backcourt tandem finished the first half a combined 6 for 19.
"We're down four, and Lillard and McCollum hadn't gotten going yet," Joerger observed.
Portland outscored Memphis 40-25 in the third quarter to turn a tight game into a rout.
Lillard had only seven points on 3-for-9 shooting in the first half. He scored 13 points -- including 3 treys -- in the final 3:47 of the third quarter, then hit another 3 in the first minute of the final period.
"From the start of the game, I felt good moving around," said Lillard, who made six of eight 3-pointers in the second half. "I didn't make shots at the beginning, but I could tell how the ball felt out of my hands. Even the misses felt like they were going in.
"Coach (Terry Stotts) was going to take me out with three minutes left (in the third quarter). I asked him to keep me in. That ended up being a huge three minutes for me."
Lillard is averaging 32.0 points in Portland's last three games.
"He really got in a groove," Stotts said. "He has in a nice rhythm with his shot. He is running the team really well offensively, picking his spots well. His teammates helped him find shots tonight. That lends itself to good shooting as well."
When Lillard got hot, "All I was thinking was, 'Keep feeding him, and keep shooting,'" Davis said.
Portland shot .506 from the field and .500 (15 for 30) from 3-point range. The Blazers also owned the backboards for a 47-36 margin.
"An understatement would be, that was a very good win," Stotts said. "The offense was clicking after a slow start. Our defense was pretty solid most of the night. We rebounded well. Offensively, we caught fire in the second half. We made shots, but I liked the way we passed the ball and played together."
The Grizzlies imposed their will on the Blazers during the playoffs last year. It didn't work that way Thursday night.
"They're a team that grinds on you," Lillard said. "It would be easy for us to play a good half and let them wear us down. But we came out in the second half and played with more energy. We moved the ball even better. That led to us getting better shots, and we knocked them down. And we also played great defense for long stretches."
Portland power forward Meyers Leonard had by far his best game of the season, making his first five shots from the field en route to a 14-point, five-rebound, 27-minute performance. Leonard -- who missed the second half of Tuesday's game at Utah with a sprained ankle -- entered the game averaging 5.4 points on .294 shooting, including 2 for 18 from 3-point range. Part of it, perhaps, is that the deadline for negotiations of a contract extension have passed. The Blazers chose to tender him a $4.2-million qualifying offer, and he becomes a restricted free agent next summer.
"I was happy for Meyers," Stotts said. "He didn't all of a sudden become a bad shooter. He has had some good shots, but guys go through it. You're not going to shoot 50, 60 percent every night. The best thing is to fight through a tough patch. I'm glad he was able to have a game tonight."
"I was trying to do too much in the beginning" of the season, Leonard said. "I told myself tonight to play as hard as I can, don't think about the ankle, do the intangible things and let the game come to me.
"I have to remember to continue to defend, rebound, get out in transition. Then shots and the offense seem to flow better. Be an all-around player instead of focusing on my shot. I know I can shoot. When I let it come to me and stay relaxed and play within the flow of the offense, everything seems to be more natural."
Did the Blazers have extra motivation from what happened to them against Memphis in last year's playoffs?
"We have so many new guys who weren't a part of that," Stotts said. "I don't know if there was a carryover."
And for him personally?
"Like the Troy Aikman commercial -- I don't dwell on the past," Stotts quipped.
At least one Blazer, though, was more stoked than usual. Davis, a Grizzly for a season and a half from 2013 to 2014, wanted to stick it to his former club.
"The team that gave up on me, with the same coach (Joerger) there?" he said before the game. "Yeah, I take that personal."
Then Davis went out and collected nine points on 4-for-5 shooting and eight rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench.
"This was a team I wanted to get a win against," said Davis, who is averaging 6.0 points and 8.2 rebounds this season. "I'm cool with a lot of guys on that team. It's fun playing against old teammates."
Davis said the Blazers are playing with a collective chip on the shoulder due to the low preseason expectations of the media.
"You guys had us as the worst team in the league, us and Philly," he said. "We're feeding off that."
NOTES: Lillard and McCollum -- who finished with 20 points on 7-for-18 shooting -- combined for 47 points. They have hit the 20-point mark together three times this season. "The two-headed monster played well," Davis said. "When they play well, we damn near guarantee ourselves a win."
Lillard, who is averaging 27.3 points, has scored at least 20 in every game this season. McCollum, who is averaging 22.2 points, has scored at least 15 points in every game. Portland's Al-Farouq Aminu notched his second double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds along with five assists. Crabbe knocked down 5 of 7 shots and scored 11 points in 21 minutes while Harkless contributed 10 points, four assists and three rebounds in 25 minutes . Courtney Lee led Memphis with 18 points while ex-Blazer Zach Randolph contributed 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Grizzlies. Stotts, pregame on Lillard finding a balance between being a scorer and playmaker for his teammates: "It's a delicate balance. He is very in tune with his teammates and wanting him to feel part of it. He takes that responsibility seriously. He also knows what he does best is score. It's been an adjustment for him. The last two games, he has shot the ball well and he's getting good shots. It's probably because he's figuring out the balance a little better." email@example.com