Saturday’s slate of NBA playoff games—Game 1s? Games 1?—mostly went as expected: the Warriors made lunchmeat out of the Spurs; the Raptors almost Raptored against the Wizards, but pulled away in the fourth quarter; the Sixers just ran away from the Heat in the second half. Home teams went 3-0 through the first three games. Then the late game happened, and Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday were unreal, and suddenly we had ourselves an upset.
First, Davis. Holy cow:
So it was a huge offensive night for Davis—35 points on 26 shots—and the Trail Blazers had no real answer for his insane physical gifts, but it’s worth noting that the Pelicans, who finished the season with the 9th-ranked offense by points per possession, scored just 97 points against Portland’s stout team defense. And a game where the Trail Blazers hold a visiting team to 97 points seems like it would for sure end with a Portland victory. In fact, during the regular season, the Trail Blazers lost just once at home in a game in which they held their opponent to 97 points or fewer.
The problem, in this one, was that Damian Lillard just could not score. He and C.J. McCollum finished the first half a combined 1-of-15 from the floor, and the Blazers finished the half with just 36 points. McCollum got it going in the second half—19 points on 7-of-12 shooting—but Lillard looked totally out of sorts from start to finish. He knocked down an above-the-break three for Portland’s second bucket, and didn’t make another shot until the 9:34 mark of the third quarter. He had layups swatted away by Nikola Mirotic and Ian Clark and Cheick Diallo; he had a step-back jumper blocked by Jrue Holiday; in probably the single most impressive defensive play of the game, Lillard tried to blow by Anthony Davis after a switch, only for Davis to stay glued to him into the paint and spike his layup into the floor. Lillard finished with 18 points on 23 shots, including a truly sickening 2-of-14 from inside the arc.
For however brilliant Anthony Davis was, let’s take a moment to marvel at Jrue Holiday! According to NBA stats, Holiday guarded Lillard on 47 possessions Saturday night, by far the most of any Pelicans defender; the Blazers scored just 38 points on those possessions; Lillard scored just five points on 1-of-11 shooting, plus a couple free throws. Damian Lillard will show up on some MVP ballots for what he did this season, mostly offensively, and Jrue Holiday decisively outplayed him in Game 1 of a playoff series, in Portland:
Holiday finished with 21 points on decent efficiency, but it was his defense, especially late in the game, that made the difference. The Blazers fought back from a 19-point second-half deficit to make it a one possession game down the stretch. Holiday locked up and bothered Lillard into a miss with the Pelicans up one with under 20 seconds left on the clock; after a pair of Davis free throws made it a three-point game, Holiday sniffed out misdirection on a Portland baseline inbounds play, switched onto Pat Connaughton darting towards the cup, and blocked Connaughton’s layup from behind to effectively seal the game. It’s been easy to forget about Holiday in New Orleans—he played 74 total games in his first two seasons there, came off the bench for all but 23 games the following year, and only really regained his form from the Philadelphia days this season—but last night was a reminder of just how sturdy and versatile and dynamic he can be. It was a real show.
It’ll be fascinating to see how this series evolves after a Game 1 upset. Lillard’s 26.1 percent from the floor is his worst shooting performance since November 7; his very worst shooting performance of this campaign—13 points on 3-of-16 from the floor, way back on October 24—came against, that’s right, Jrue Holiday and the New Orleans Pelicans. The Blazers will have to find a way to get Lillard loose and in rhythm, and right away. These teams meet again Tuesday night, and it will be an absolute must-win for Portland.