The winning streak began when Lonzo Ball returned to the Lakers’ lineup, and it ended Monday night under a downpour of three-pointers from Damian Lillard, an All-Star point guard known for sinking teams with that shot.
When the winning streak ended, Ball blamed himself.
“That’s on me,” he said after the Lakers’ 108-103 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. “It was my matchup. I had my hands down. They took the game from us. Live and learn. We let this one get away.”
Lillard scored 19 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter, including four consecutive three-pointers, to rally Portland past the Lakers in a battle of two teams that came in undefeated since the All-Star break. The Lakers had won five in a row and nine straight at home, and they led 97-86 with less than 51/2 minutes left.
But the Blazers, who had won six straight to surge into third place in the West, wouldn’t be denied, closing on a 22-6 run. Lillard’s threes turned a 97-91 deficit into a 103-99 lead in less than two minutes.
“Well, we had our chances,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said.
Of their past six games, this was the toughest team the Lakers faced by a wide margin. While they had beat three potential lottery teams, the Miami Heat and a San Antonio Spurs team missing its two best players during their win streak, the Blazers had wins over the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder during theirs.
Adding to the Lakers’ hardship was their own play early on Monday. They were tough defensively but couldn’t score, missing their first five threes.
Lillard’s first outburst came in the second quarter, a period in which the Lakers never led. In fact, they trailed by as many as 14 as Lillard scored 14 points. Still, the Lakers recovered on the strength of their defense and trailed by three at halftime.
Each team made just five field goals in the third quarter, but the Lakers had a 10-point advantage in that period. Lillard scored only three points, making one of seven shots. At that point, he’d made only two of seven threes.
But it was only a matter of time before Lillard reminded everyone he was still Lillard.
It happened late in the fourth quarter, with the Trail Blazers having clawed back from a double-digit deficit to within six.
Lillard hit a three. Then another. And another. And another.
Suddenly Portland had the lead back and the Lakers on their heels with two minutes left.
The Lakers made only two field goals in the final 51/2 minutes, and none after Ball’s tying three with 1:51 left. But they still had a chance, trailing by three with 7.4 seconds left. A dead-ball foul sent Isaiah Thomas, their most reliable free-throw shooter, to the line for one shot, then the Lakers would get the ball back. Thomas missed the free throw.
“I don’t miss free throws,” said Thomas, who had been eight for eight from the line and finished stuck on 19 points. “Just one of them nights. I was, I think, 100% before that free throw and I end up missing it short. It is what it is. I’ll make up for it.”
He couldn’t in the final seconds, as Thomas raised up for a three but was stripped of the ball.
“This is a tough one because we had the win,” Thomas said. “I feel like we played a pretty solid game to secure the win, we just didn’t execute and didn’t get stops down the stretch. Once tomorrow comes you gotta have a short memory, good or bad.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli