– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
BOSTON — If it was not for that plucky thing called geography, where the city of Portland clearly is defined as a West Coast city, its basketball team, the Portland Trail Blazers, might very well be the best team this season in the Eastern Conference. As it stands, they will just have to settle for continuing to beat up on the best the Eastern Conference has to offer, at least for this season.
Damian Lillard scored 33 points, including 15 in the third quarter, as Portland defeated the struggling Boson Celtics 97-92 on Wednesday, handing the Trail Blazers their fifth consecutive victory.
On their current seven-game road trip, Portland has won the first four games, defeating playoff contenders Philadelphia, Brooklyn and the Celtics in the process. Those wins continue a dominating trend for Portland against teams from the East, as it is 18-4 this season in match-ups against teams from the Eastern Conference.
“We are focused. I think our minds are right,” said Lillard after the game. “We are playing for each other and we are playing together offensively. Defensively, we have been sharp to the scouting report and we are getting it from everybody on both ends of the floor. It has been consistent, when you get that type of consistent effort from multiple guys everybody in the rotation this is what it looks like.”
The Trail Blazers specifically turned up the intensity on the defensive end in the third quarter, forcing seven Boston turnovers while scoring 13 points off of those turnovers to turn a one-point halftime lead into a 74-64 advantage after 36 minutes played. Lillard and forward Moe Harkless played every second of the quarter, combining for 23 of the Blazers’ 31 points in the third.
I thought defensively we were solid all night,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “To win a game for us shooting 6-for-33 from three is kind of indicative of our defense…Road wins are hard to come by and this is a good win against a good team.”
Harkless added 17 points and 10 rebounds while center Jusuf Nurkic had 16 points. Lillard’s backcourt mate, C.J. McCollum, scored 14 points but only went 6-for-19 shooting, missing seven of his eight three-point attempts.
Boston has now lost four consecutive games for the first time this season, and tonight marked the first time it has not reached 100 points in a game in back-to-back contests. Kryie Irving led all Celtics scorers with 31 points, but Boston was undone by hitting a season-low five three pointers (out of 28 attempts).
“I actually just told the guys, you walk out of here a little bit more encouraged because the reason we lost, if anything, was we didn’t make shots and I think it was because we were pressing,” said Boston head coach Brad Stevens. “I think we were disappointed in ourselves and we looked like a team that really wanted tonight to go well. And it didn’t.”