PORTLAND — If you looked at the box score after three quarters of Portland’s home opener versus the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday night and saw that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum had combined to shoot just 4-of-20 from the field, even the most diehard Trail Blazers fan would probably assume Portland went on to lose the game, perhaps even by a wide margin.
Then again, it was Opening Night, and the Trail Blazers don’t lose on Opening Night, at least not at any point in the last 17 years.
Despite shooting less than 40 percent from the field and getting little from their starting backcourt in the first 36 minutes, the Trail Blazers beat the Pelicans 103-93 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,446 at the Moda Center.
The Trail Blazers are now 3-1 overall and 1-0 at home this season. The victory also extends the Trail Blazers’ winning streak in home openers to 17 games, an NBA record.
“Well it seemed like it was a struggle most of the night,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We had a couple nice runs here and there, but in a game that basically our defense won it for us, our offense struggled most of the night. We had a rough time getting it going, but we made plays when we needed to. I thought Ed Davis and Caleb (Swanigan) gave us a nice spark of the bench, as did Pat (Connaughton). Obviously Dame struggled, but we ended up doing what we needed to do.”
Even both Lillard and McCollum struggling from the field and Jusuf Nurkić saddled with foul trouble, the Trail Blazers were able to use a 16-1 run, powered in large part by the play of Davis and Evan Turner, at the end of the first quarter to take a 29-19 lead into the second.
But the Pelicans shot 53 percent from the field and 56 percent from three to outscore the Blazers by 11 in the second quarter to take a one-point lead into the intermission.
With Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins dominating on both sides of the ball, New Orleans managed to retain their lead going into the fourth quarter. But after three abysmal quarters, you almost knew that one of Portland’s guards was going to get it going in the final 12 minutes. And sure enough, McCollum answered the call, going 4-of-7 from the field, 3-of-4 from three and 5-of-5 from the line to spark an 11-0 run that turned the game in Portland’s favor.
McCollum scored 16 of his team-high 23 points in the fourth quarter to go with four rebounds and two assists in 36 minutes. Lillard went just 3-of-16 from the field but went 6-of-8 from the free throw line to finish with 13 points, seven assists and five rebounds in 35 minutes.
“Tough offensive game for me shooting the ball but you’re going to have nights like that in a long NBA season with a lot of attention getting paid to you,” said Lillard. “I’m just happy that we was able to pull it out. Usually when you come off a road trip, a good road trip, you come home to a disappointment. Even though I thought we could have done a lot of things a lot better I was proud of what we did on the defensive end to actually pull out an ugly game.”
Turner had yet another yeoman effort, finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block in 29 minutes. Davis put up the 50th double-double of his career with 12 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes. Rookie Caleb Swanigan added five points, eight rebounds, three assists and a block in his first regular season game at the Moda Center.
“I think one of the positives after four games is we’ve had different guys have a game,” said Stotts. “If you go through each game, we’ve had different guys, whether a starter or a bench player, come in and contribute. That’s a sign of a good team that different guys come in and help you win games.”
Nurkić was limited to 20 minutes after picking up three fouls in the first six minutes of play but finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. Connaughton added eight points and six rebounds off the bench.
Cousins led all scorers with 39 points to go with 13 rebounds in just under 39 minutes.
Pelicans all-star power forward Anthony Davis started the game but left early in the first quarter with an apparent left knee injury. After initially being listed as questionable to return, Davis sat out the rest of the game. Replays showed the injury seemed to occur when the 6-11 Kentucky product banged knees with Lillard while setting a screen. An MRI on Davis’ knee came back negative.
Next up, the Trail Blazers continue stretch of 10 of 11 games at home by hosting the LA Clippers Thursday night at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.