The Lakers had been hurting the rim with their shooting through the restart — L.A. was the second-worst shooting team in the bubble. Los Angeles shot 30.3% from deep through eight games (worst of the 22 teams in Orlando).
But that was going to change against a Portland team playing terrible defense (third-worst in the seeding games, giving up an average of 123 points a game). Right?
Lakers not named LeBron James shot 32.5% in the playoff opener Tuesday night. The Lakers overall were 5-of-32 from three.
As for Portland’s shooting…
Portland looked battle-tested — which it is, having had to fight its way into the play-in game then win it — and it showed as the Blazers closed the game on a 19-6 run.
“Every game we played since we been here has been a playoff game, so it prepared us for a game like this one,” Lillard said in a televised postgame interview. “So, it’s only one win, but I’m happy to be here and competing in the playoffs again.”
The Lakers had an active defense and LeBron was brilliant — he had a 23 point, 17 rebounds, 16 assists triple-double, making him the first player in NBA history with a 20+, 15+, 15+ playoff game.
Anthony Davis had 28 points, but on 8-of-24 shooting.
Holding the Trail Blazers and that high-powered offense to 100 points and still losing feels like a blown opportunity. While the Trail Blazers were hot early, they shot 1-15 to start the second quarter and let the Lakers back in it. This was a close game the entire way, nobody pulling away after the first quarter.
In the end, shooting matters — Portland was +24 from beyond the arc and that is tough to make up against a good team. CJ McCollum had 21 points for Portland, Jusuf Nurkic had 16, and Carmelo Anthony had 11 points including a clutch three late.
All season long, the big-picture question around the Lakers was whether their role players were good enough to win a title (which is the only goal on a LeBron James team, or for the Lakers organization). LeBron and Davis are good enough, but would they have the help? Those role players were strong for the first 65 games, but not since the NBA reconvened in Orlando. And they were literally hitting-the-side-of-the-backboard bad in Game 1.
Maybe this was simply the slap in the face needed to wake the Lakers up.
But the Portland Trail Blazers have real hope now. And a 1-0 series lead. And Damian Lillard. That is a tough combination to beat.