Anthony Davis, LeBron James lift Lakers past Trail Blazers into second round
There were moments this week when it wasn’t clear if the Lakers would ever get to the point that they reached Saturday night.
Game 5 of their first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers wasn’t certain to happen, and for a time Wednesday night, the Lakers and others were thinking their season, filled with so much potential, was over.
Instead, the games resumed, the Lakers ended the eighth-seeded Trail Blazers’ spirited bubble run, 131-122, and secured themselves a few days of rest before facing Houston or Oklahoma City in the second round.
“Tonight I’ll decompress, I’ll get away from the game,” LeBron James said. “… For me personally, I won’t lock back in until I know exactly who we’re gonna play.”
Anthony Davis scored 43 points with nine rebounds and James had 36 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds for his 25th career playoff triple-double. Portland, playing without injured star Damian Lillard, was led by CJ McCollum’s 36 points while Carmelo Anthony added 27.
Both teams, in concert with other players, the NBA and the players association, had spent the previous two days coming to an agreement for returning to play, with commitments from the owners to promote voting and social justice initiatives. Play had halted Wednesday afternoon when the Milwaukee Bucks, overcome by police in Kenosha Wis., shooting 29-year-old Jacob Blake in the back seven times, refused to take the court.
While the Milwaukee Bucks’ off-court social justice work is far from done, they showed how quickly their power could be brought together for change.
The rest of the playoff teams joined their protest, and other sports followed. At a tense Wednesday night meeting, players discussed whether to continue playing. At the time, James was of the mind to leave.
Ultimately he, his teammates and the rest of the teams decided to stay.
“We came out here for a mission and it was, yes, basketball was the vehicle, but we had a mission and we wanted to continue that,” James said. “And we believe that mission, it was kind of lost in translation, especially once the playoffs started because we were playing every other day, but there was a game on every single day. … When you’re trying to create change, you can’t lose sight of what the main thing is and why we came out here.”
Key plays from the Lakers’ 131-122 victory over the Trail Blazers in Game 5
With an agreement with the owners for enhanced support in place, a return to basketball was possible Saturday.
On paper, this would be an easier matchup for the top-seeded Lakers than it had been in the first four games. Portland’s star guard Lillard went home after spraining his knee in Game 4, and the Lakers’ defensive game plans had been built around stopping him.
In the absence of Lillard, the Lakers couldn’t stop McCollum, who made his first four shots and scored 21 points in the half, with Anthony adding 18. The Lakers’ once-stifling defense became porous, allowing the Trail Blazers to score 68 points in the half.
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“They’re a good team,” Davis said. “No matter who they have out there, they’re going to compete. They didn’t get this far just to give up. And we knew that. Close-out games are already tough, but we’ve just gotta keep fighting.”
At halftime the game was tied, mostly due to James’ sheer force of will.
The Lakers star showed an intensity that was otherwise lacking from his teammates. He scored 24 first-half points on 10-for-13 shooting with five assists. James made two three-pointers in the half, including one just before the buzzer that tied the game at 68.
Davis shined in the third quarter. He scored 20 points, making three of four three-pointers.
James Harden scored 31 points and Russell Westbrook returned to action as Houston beat Oklahoma City 114-80 for a 3-2 lead in the first-round series.
“We know we get the majority of the looks but at the same time we want to be efficient with our looks,” James said. “We don’t want to take bad shots, we want to take great shots. I think tonight was one of those instances where we didn’t settle much; when we had our shot we took it. When we had our drives we took it. Got to the free throw line … being very efficient, very conscientious of how we play ball and playing Laker basketball.”
The Lakers put together a 13-0 run to give themselves a 14-point lead. But it didn’t last.
Portland, unwilling to be quietly eliminated, chipped away little by little and early in the fourth quarter, the Trail Blazers tied the score at 100.
Back-to-back steals by Alex Caruso helped the Lakers finally build a bit of a cushion. The second led to an alley-oop from Danny Green to Davis, which gave the Lakers a nine-point lead. On their next possession, Davis took a pass from James and scored again for an 11-point lead with 3:39 left.
“We know we’re a tough team to beat,” Davis said. “We know we’re a great team and we just got to play that way every night.”
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