The Portland Trail Blazers proved on Friday night that in any shootout, two guns are better than one.
Damian Lillard and Luka Dončić were putting on a terrific show in a crucial game, but when Lillard’s sidekick C.J. McCollum came out firing with 11 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, the barrage was too much for the Mavericks.
Luka Dončić did his best and had some solid help, but Lillard and McCollum kept firing and as a result, the Blazers hit the bull’s-eye with a 125-119 victory at Moda Center.
It was a critical win for the Blazers, who now are assured of winning the season series against the Mavericks after having won 121-118 on Valentine’s Day in Dallas.
The Mavericks (21-19) had a lead through much of the second half and were up 110-106 with under six minutes to play. But they were outscored 19-9 down the stretch as the offense dried up and they surrendered crucial offensive rebounds to the Blazers.
Lillard had two buckets to cap a 9-0 run that put the Blazers up 115-110 before a layup by Dončić. The Mavericks had five missed shots and a Dončić turnover during the Blazers’ surge.
When McCollum hit his third 3-pointer of the fourth quarter with 1:17 left to make it 118-112, the Mavericks were scrambling. They then gave up an unforgiveable offensive rebound to Robert Covington, whose 3-pointer iced it.
It was McCollum’s third game back since missing two months to a fractured foot. He had scored just 21 points in the first two games back.
“Down the stretch, we were unable to get the ball in the basket and they made plays offensively and made shots,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “That’s where it got away from us. We’re going to have to be better on the boards. We’re going to have to be better with turnovers. We’re going to have to play better overall.”
Lillard and Luka had traded blows for three quarters. Dončić had another monster night with 38 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Lillard had 31 points and six assists.
The Blazers had just six turnovers compared to 12 for the Mavericks. And the 13 offensive rebounds for Portland posed problems throughout the night.
There were other problems. Kristaps Porzingis was fighting a switching Portland defense that shut him down in the first half. He would come alive in the third quarter, but was ineffective in the fourth.
“He’s going to see a switching defense a lot of nights,” Carlisle said of Porzingis. “In those situations, he’s got to move and react, and we’ve got to find him in situations where he can be effective. He got off to a slow start and we just got to involve him a little more.”
Carlisle does not like to call plays because it slows down Dončić and his creativity. But the way defenses are playing Porzingis requires the entire Mavericks’ offense to adapt.
“Switching is designed to put hesitation in what you’re doing and to stagnate ball movement and we can’t allow those things to happen,” Carlisle said. “We’ll make adjustments.”
It was a game that the Mavericks played smartly for more than three quarters. And there were highlights galore thanks to Lillard and Dončić, who at one point flipped a pass backwards over his head to a wide-open Tim Hardaway for a 3-pointer.
“They were helping off a little on me, so I just made sure I was in a ready stance to knock down a shot, just in case the pass came early or game late,” said Hardaway, who did his best to support Dončić with 25 points, five rebounds and five assists. “It’s him knowing where his teammates are on the floor.”
Unfortunately, Hardaway and Luka were just a few bullets shy of matching Lillard and McCollum.
“That’s his running mate,” Hardaway said of the Blazers’ pair. “They do a great job of feeding off each other. And when Dame is out and C.J. is in the game, that’s his time to go. That’s one of the best duos in the league. They made some tough shots. But that’s what they do. We have to do a better job of getting the ball out of their hands and make sure they don’t get it back.”
Easier said than done.
The Blazers came into the game as one of four Western Conference teams with 16 losses. They were grouped closely with the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver and San Antonio in the fourth through seventh spots in the West standings.
Portland coach Terry Stotts was asked before the game about how close attention he pays to the standings, even with more than 30 games left in the season.
“I keep up with the standings both in the East and West just because I like following the league,” Stotts said. “But we look at how many teams are bunched up at 16 losses in the West.
“And we know that Dallas has the tiebreaker already with Denver, the Clippers and San Antonio. That’s part of our motivation with the game tonight is to get the tiebreaker with them because it is all bunched up.”
Indeed, the Mavericks have taken care of business against the teams around them in the standings. But they still are only eighth in the West, which means they’ll have to move up to ensure that those tiebreakers mean something come May.