WASHINGTON — Staring an 18-point deficit in the face at the halfway point of Friday’s game, and playing in front of a sellout crowd that has seen its team pull off a remarkable turnaround of fortunes over the past three three weeks, the Portland Trail Blazers needed some inspiration in trying to claw their way back into a game they were being outclassed in.
Anfernee Simons’ third quarter proved to be nothing short of inspirational, as well as the catalyst of a remarkable Blazers’ comeback victory.
Simons scored 26 of his 33 points in the second half — including 20 in the third quarter — as Portland defeated the Washington Wizards 124-116 inside Capital One Arena on Friday night. Simons backcourt mate, All-Star Damian Lillard, added 29 points as the Trail Blazers moved back to the .500 mark for the first time in almost a month.
The Wizards, buoyed by a 15-2 start to begin the game, controlled the contest in the game’s first 24 minutes and built a lead as much as 20, 67-64, with a half a minute left in the first half before the Trail Blazers mounted a serious charge in the third to cut the lead down to four to begin the final frame.
“Our team is just so much better when our backs are against the wall,” Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups said. “I’ve been on teams like that before, so I understand it, but it’s a dangerous place to live.”
Simons put on a masterclass in the third quarter, making seven of his eight field-goal attempts in the frame, including knocking down 6-of-7 from three-point range. After a Josh Hart layup to begin the quarter, the Trail Blazers next nine field goals made from the field were from beyond the arc. Lillard, who scored 17 points in the first half but on 4-of-12 shooting, made two of his three long-distance attempts in the third quarter.
A layup by Simons late in the third cut Portland’s deficit to two, 92-90, and his ninth and final three-pointer of the gave the Trail Blazers the lead for good at 105-103 with 6:32 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“We ran plays for him. We started off the third quarter kind of running his play,” Billups said of Simons. “He came off and got a couple looks, and then I thought Dame and Josh and those guys, they all just did a really good job of continuing to keep the ball in his hands.”
Bradley Beal scored 34 points for the Wizards, the fifth time this season he has gone for at least 30 points. Kristaps Porzingis added 32 points for Washington, with half of those coming in the first quarter.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Friday evening’s game, with all photos taken by DC-area photographer Clifford Ray Williams. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 12 pictures in total.