The Blazers made them earn it, but after losing the series opener, the Lakers are officially moving on to the second round after four straight wins. The Blazers kept up all night even without Damian Lillard, but ultimately, the Lakers pulled away late in the fourth quarter. A late 20-7 run put Portland away, 131-122, and the LeBron James-Anthony Davis combination scored 79 points on the way to victory. The Lakers now await the winner between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder to determine who their second-round opponent will be.
The Blazers, meanwhile, put up a valiant effort, but their injuries ultimately doomed what could have been a promising season. Without Lillard, Trevor Ariza, Rodney Hood and Zach Collins, they managed to make a No. 1 seed sweat. That won’t mean much in the record books, but it’s an encouraging sign for next season. If these teams meet in the 2021 playoffs, expect a far closer series if the Blazers can get back to full strength.
Like Kobe and Shaq all over again
The styles are different. Anthony Davis made more 3-pointers in Game 5 alone than Shaq made in his entire career. Kobe Bryant didn’t make a habit of posting playoff triple-doubles. LeBron averaged one for the series. But the NBA has largely lacked the traditional combination of a superstar big and a superstar ball-handler competing for championships together in recent years. LeBron won with guards in Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving. The Warriors won with shooting. But no team has ever come closer to the turn-of-the-century Laker formula than these Lakers.
James and Davis scored 79 points on 28-of-37 shooting in Game 5. They got to the basket at will, and in turn, hit their jumpers with ease. Their pick-and-roll remains nearly impossible to defend with only two players. It may have come from Danny Green instead of LeBron, but we even got a symbolic ending to this one. The Kobe-Shaq Lakers beat the Blazers on the way to their first championship 20 years ago and buried them with an alley-oop from Bryant to Shaq. The capper tonight? An alley-oop to Davis.
These Lakers were, to an extent, built in Kobe and Shaq’s image. That vision has come to fruition over the past several games. Both Laker stars are firing on all cylinders heading into the second round. When the two of them are playing this well together, the Lakers are practically unbeatable.
The switch can’t keep flipping
The Lakers haven’t exactly hidden their issues with the bubble, and the last few days have been especially difficult for them as they were one of the teams that leaned towards leaving Orlando following the shooting of Jacob Blake. But this series probably should have been a sweep, yet the Lakers lost Game 1. Then they were gifted a blowout on a silver platter with the news that Lillard would miss Game 5, and they gave up their highest point total of the series. Their defensive effort was entirely underwhelming for most of the night.
The Blazers weren’t good enough to punish them for that, but the Rockets are. The Lakers can’t afford to ease into games or series anymore. They can’t afford to waste minutes with the wrong lineups and they can’t lose quarters on energy. The Lakers have been up and down since arriving in the bubble, and they can no longer afford it. Champions bring it every night. The Lakers will have to do so the rest of the way.
Portland’s organizational competence shines through again
Portland could’ve folded before even arriving in Orlando. Instead they went 7-2 to reach the postseason. They could’ve just been happy to get there. Then they won Game 1 of this series. They could’ve folded when they lost Lillard. Instead they pushed the Lakers to the brink in Game 5. Aside from C.J. McCollum, their leading scorers were a player they signed for the veteran’s minimum (Carmelo Anthony), a second-round pick in his second season (Gary Trent Jr.) and a center who returned from a broken leg only a month ago (Jusuf Nurkic).
Portland has never had championship-caliber talent during this run with Lillard, but they have a championship-caliber organization in every other regard. The culture built by Lillard managed to carry through even without him on the floor for the closeout game. They still have a lot of roster questions to answer this offseason, but as long as Lillard is in place, the Blazers will be a threat in the Western Conference.