Trail Blazers fall short in a big Game 1

The Portland Trail Blazers came up short after a late run in the fourth, to lose Game 1 of the NBA playoffs to the New Orleans Pelicans 97-95.

There was a coming out party in Portland on Saturday night for Game 1 of the NBA playoffs, turns out it just happened to be for the wrong team. The New Orleans Pelicans escaped the jaws of defeat in Portland on Saturday, much to the chagrin of the Trail Blazers in front of their home crowd at the Moda Center and claimed Game 1 heading into the must-win battle coming in Game 2 for the Trail Blazers.

Superstar Forward, Anthony Davis, paced the Pelicans and led all scorers with 35 points and 14 rebounds on 14-of-26 shooting and 7-of -9 from the charity stripe. Davis, the likely runner-up or at no worse than the No. 4 leading vote-getter for the MVP dominated the big men of Portland and found his way to the rim, time-after-time. Davis, who elevated his game after Center Demarcus Cousins went down with an Achilles tear, also reached another milestone on Saturday, he earned his first playoff win in 5 games played and as pundits always say,"the playoffs don't start, until the road team wins a game." Consider this step one for the Pelicans, and if the Trail Blazers are smart about it, they will recognize immediately that they are in trouble. 

In a game where Portland was down for much of it, the Pelicans controlled the game the way "great teams" always do—on the defensive side of the ball.

The Pelicans finished with 12 blocks in Game 1 and none crucial than Jrue Holiday's block over Pat Connaughton in the waning seconds of the game. Looking to tie the game, down by three points, the Trail Blazers absurdly went to Connaughton on a cut to the basket during an inbounds play and Jrue Holiday did the rest, pinning Connaughton's attempt to ice the game for New Orleans.

Holiday provided the spark that he has much of the season, playing out of his mind on the effort side of the ball, and the nine-year veteran locked down anyone else thrown his way to power his club to victory. Finishing with 21 points, Holiday continued his consistency in the absence of Cousins, while playing off the leadership that only "Playoff Rondo" disperses at this time of the year.

Rondo picked up where he left off in the 2017 Playoffs and steadied the ship, picking up 17 assists and eight rebounds commanding the floor and being the extension of Head Coach Alvin Gentry, teaching the Pelicans Championship ways along the way. Disrupting Damian Lillard with his savvy defense and length, Rondo held Dame to 18 points and 6-of-23 from the field.

What to do?

The Trail Blazers must get their star players hot early, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum must show up and show out. Outside of the late 10-0 run in the fourth to get the Trail Blazers back in the game, the 1-2 punch of McCollum and Lillard was often pedestrian. Closing out the first quarter and midway through the second, the Traill Blazers' leading scorer was Evan Turner . . . something that cannot ever happen in the NBA Playoffs.

Lacking in athleticism and basketball IQ, Jusuf Nurkic will need to continue his improved defense and look Davis square in the face and affect his game. While Nurkic is light years behind Davis' play, he has the girth and junkyard mentality that can still legitimately affect Davis in an acceptable manner.

Nurkic will need to lean on his teammates for help, but affecting Davis needs to be the prime focus for the Trail Blazers and Nurkic for the remainder of the series. Keeping Davis from powering full-steam ahead downhill is something that Nurkic nor any other frontcourt player on the Trail Blazers roster succeded at in Game 1.

Outside of stopping Davis and being aggressive early on, the Trail Blazers need to force the effort on offense more from Rajon Rondo. As Rondo did last season before an injury sidelined him for the remainder of the playoffs, he's one step ahead of the Trail Blazers so far and they are allowing him to dictate all outcomes. Forcing Rondo to attempt shots and wearing him down on offense should be Head Coach Terry Stott's "broken record" phrase. If Rondo stays in "Playoff-Rondo" mode, it's liable that the Trail Blazers might not only be facing an early exit, they might be facing a sweep.

The Trail Blazers are the better team, have been the better team since the second half of the season and have arguably the best backcourt combination in the NBA. Can McCollum and Lillard overcome a future-MVP in-the-making in Anthony Davis?

The Trail Blazers play exceptional basketball when operating on all cylinders and if they want a shot to make it to the second round, it's time to wake up now, so you don't have to panic later.Game 2 will be Tuesday, April 15, at 10:30 p.m. EST broadcasted on TNT.

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