For nearly a full minute after his postgame news conference ended, Lakers Coach Luke Walton stared at the box score from the Lakers’ 108-87 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday with his brow furrowed as he reviewed it.
“I’m still trying to figure out what just happened in the second half, honestly,” Walton had said nine minutes before, when the news conference began. “I was shocked that that’s how we came out, honestly.”
Two old nemeses returned for the Lakers. The Trail Blazers, a team that has beaten the Lakers in every meeting since March 2014, was one nemesis. The third quarter was another. The loss dropped the Lakers to 15-27 while the Trail Blazers improved to 17-23.
Luol Deng led the Lakers with 14 points, 13 of them in the first half, Julius Randle had six points and 10 rebounds. Brandon Ingram scored 11 points and Lou Williams had 10.
Portland point guard Damian Lillard finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists — 18 of those points coming in the second half. Portland guard C.J. McCollum scored 25 points with one rebound and four assists, making 10 of 18 shots.
In December, the Lakers were one of the league’s worst third-quarter teams in nearly every statistical category. That carried over to some games in January, but lately the Lakers’ third-quarter fates had improved.
Heading into Tuesday, the Lakers were coming off consecutive games with strong third quarters — they beat the Miami Heat, 127-100, and the Orlando Magic, 111-95, allowing only nine points to the Magic in the third quarter while extending their lead.
“I thought we had really taken a step — and we had,” Walton said. “The Orlando third quarter was incredible. We were talking, flying around on defense. I guess we had to realize that whatever we’re doing at halftime, we gotta come out and really get warm. We had some good looks. We were getting some stops early in the third. We couldn’t make any of our shots. If I had to guess, our guys had kind of gotten sick of the third-quarter rut we’re in.”
On Tuesday, they regressed to what plagued them early in the season. The Lakers scored only 12 points in the third quarter on five-for-23 shooting and making none of their seven three-point attempts. The Lakers were outscored, 53-30, in the second half.
Lillard only had two points in the first half, but scored 11 in the third quarter to help a Trail Blazers turnaround. In the middle of Lillard’s resurgence, with 6 minutes 5 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Russell blocked one of Lillard’s shots, then the two exchanged words.
Lillard said his confrontation with Russell goes back to the teams’ last meeting when Russell was throwing “slick elbows.”
“I’m from Oakland, I ain’t with that extra stuff,” Lillard said. “Nobody can just do what they want to me. … After he blocked my shot I was walking to my spot and I felt like he went out of his way to get that elbow in there again. I told him that ain't gonna fly. I wasn’t interested in anything else that was said after that.
“We ain’t gonna do it on the court. We’ll be in the back and whatever happens happens. It was nothing. He poked the bear and you see what happened the rest of the game.”
Both players were assessed technical fouls, then Lillard scored 11 straight points. His 11 third-quarter points were one fewer than the Lakers scored in that period.
Walton assured his team he knows eventually this will change. He also made clear what happened Tuesday wasn’t acceptable.
“It’s frustrating to lose, but I’ve rarely been disappointed in our team throughout the season because I feel like our guys have given us a great effort,” Walton said. “This second half, I didn’t really recognize that team out there. Hopefully it was just a little speed bump."