Pelicans outhustle and outplay Blazers, sweep series

In a series many expected to be extremely competitive, the Pelicans dominated the Blazers in a four-game series that was never particularly close. After taking the first two games in Portland, the Pels returned home to New Orleans and played with the intensity of a team that was down in the series, despite a 2-0 lead.

In game three, Portland came out to play without much focus, committing 24 turnovers, including eight by its star player and point guard, Damian Lillard. It was certainly surprising to see this team with a lack of intensity, following one of its most successful seasons of the decade in which they finished third in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, New Orleans came out as if it had something to prove, capitalizing on Portland’s mistakes from the start and keeping up a pace the Blazers couldn’t match, outscoring the team 32-12 in fast break points. Midseason acquisition Nikola Mirotic added a playoff career-high 30 points, shooting a scorching 12-15 from the field and helping the Pelicans win by a comfortable 17-point margin.

With a chance to close out the series at home, the Pelicans came out in game four with the same concentration and effort that led the team to its game three win. Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis both scored more than 40 points, the team shot 57 percent from the field and the Pelicans offense finished with 131 points in the close-out victory. The crowd at Smoothie King Center was deafening, roaring after every blocked shot and made basket, eager to see the team advance past round one for the first time since 2008.

For anyone who watched Portland throughout the regular season, the team’s play during this series was almost unfathomable. Portland relies heavily on the shot creating abilities of their backcourt duo, Lillard and shooting guard CJ McCollum, and have very little offensive firepower in the frontcourt or off the bench. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry focused on trapping McCollum and especially Lillard at the point of attack, double teams that would force the ball out of both players’ hands. This tactic disrupted the flow of the Blazers offense, and Lillard was unable to get into rhythm for the entire series. After finishing fourth in the entire NBA in scoring, his average dropped more than eight points per game along with a spike in his turnover rate.

Offensively, New Orleans continued to push the ball on the fast break throughout the series, after finishing the regular season first in pace. Playing at this breakneck rate helped the Pelicans offense to shoot greater than 50 percent in the final three games of the series. Portland prefers to play a slower game, but the team’s poor shooting made it difficult to dictate the speed of the game. This offseason will be chockfull of difficult decisions for the Blazers, as the team will have to address its roster discrepancy, which may mean splitting up the Lillard-McCollum duo.

For the Pelicans, the team will face the winner of the Warriors-Spurs series in a round two battle that will likely begin early next week. The Warriors currently lead the series, three games to one.

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