The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Washington Wizards on Friday night, 124-116. The Wizards gave up a 20-point first-half lead to snap their six-game win streak and fall to 24-27 on the season.
Tonight’s matchup was unusually important for a February game, as both teams entered just below .500 and were trying to claw back into playoff contention. The Wizards rode the momentum of their six-game win streak, while the Blazers were trying to cash in on Lillard’s recent scoring rampage. Lillard, the recent All-Star selection and the lone such player on the court tonight, had averaged 42.2 points over the previous five games.
The first half looked like a blowout waiting to happen. The Wizards led by as many as 20 points in the first quarter and maintained an 18-point halftime lead. Kristaps Porzingis was torching the Blazers’ defense early, but the real culprit in the massive scoring deficit was Portland’s putrid first-half shooting — the Blazers shot just 37% from the field over the first two periods.
Portland dialed the shooting to 11 in the second half, and by the fourth quarter you would never have guessed that they began the game shooting about as efficiently as an under-12 AAU team. The Blazers rapidly eliminated Washington’s lead in the third quarter, and the two teams went shot-for-shot until the waning minutes of the final period. An Anfernee Simons transition slam put the Wizards down nine with a minute and a half left and proved to be the final nail in their coffin.
The Wizards played smart defense all game long, frequently doubling Lillard and forcing anyone else to step up to the plate. Though Lillard finished with 29 points, the Wizards did about as good a job as possible preventing a Dame Time heat check.
Looking back, Lillard’s two three-pointers on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter broke the Wizards. They had been doubling Lillard before then, but once he went on that solo six-point run, Washington began throwing even more defensive attention at him. They smartly challenged the rest of the Blazers to beat them, and timely threes from Josh Hart, Trendon Watford and Simons ultimately sank them.
Though losing hold of a 20-point lead is inexcusable in nearly all circumstances, the late Blazers’ surge was in spite of good Wizards defense. Portland simply shot the ball extremely well late, especially Simons, who finished with 33 points on an absurd 9-for-12 from deep.
The Wizards play the Brooklyn Nets tomorrow at 6 p.m.