The Portland Trail Blazers came up with one of the more inspired efforts in what seemed like weeks before falling to a much-more determined Los Angeles Lakers squad, 113-106, on Wednesday night at the Rose Garden.
It was Damian Lillard vs. Kobe Bryant. Nothing much else needed to be said as Lillard put up a career-high 38 points along with nine assists. Bryant, who is seemingly willing the Lakers to the postseason, scored a season-high 47 points and played all 48 minutes.
The Blazers lost their ninth straight game, falling to 33-45 on the season. But after starting four rookies—Lillard, Will Barton, Meyers Leonard and Victor Claver—against an All-Star lineup, Portland definitely did not go away without a fight.
Here are the grades, analysis and reaction of a Blazers' rare home loss to the Lakers.
Player of the Game
Damian Lillard: 38 points, 1 rebound, 9 assists, 12-25 FG
Lillard was sensational in the first half, scoring 25 points and played with an extreme confidence that was on display earlier this season. The favorite for Rookie of the Year had the green light to do anything he wanted, and he showcased his entire repertoire against the Lakers.
Stepback 3-pointers, mid-range jumpers, floaters in the lane and dunks on the fast break. They were all shown.
After the game, Lillard received a shout-out on Twitter from the Mamba.
There is no doubt after this performance that Lillard should be the fourth ever unanimous Rookie of the Year selection in NBA history, following Blake Griffin, David Robinson and Ralph Sampson.
Key Moment of the Game
After Barton converted on a jumper with 5:48 remaining, the Blazers had a 100-98 lead.
The Lakers stormed back with a quick 8-0 run to take a 106-100 advantage and never looked back. Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol scored 23 of the Lakers' 25 points in the fourth quarter and simply wore down mentally the younger Blazers.
Lillard (A+): Can't say enough about Lillard, who put on a masterful performance in defeat.
Will Barton (B-): Barton had nine points off 4-12 shooting, and was dared to shoot from outside 15 feet by Kobe. Barton's outside shot is one of his weaknesses, but he had a solid game with major minutes.
Victor Claver (C+): Claver also had nine points off 3-11 shooting. He was a non-factor at times but has shown he has potential to become a solid rotation player.
LaMarcus Aldridge (B): Hobbled by an injured ankle, Aldridge chipped in 17 points and 16 rebounds. He didn't have as much of an impact as the Lakers' bigs with the Blazers' offense geared more toward penetrating and kicking out to open shooters.
Meyers Leonard (D): The rookie struggled against Howard and Gasol, who took advantage with wide-open driving lanes to the rim and easy dunks. Leonard's defense is far from being NBA-caliber right now as the center spot will be a huge priority this summer.
Bench (B): Luke Babbitt, Eric Maynor and Sasha Pavlovic combined for 29 points. Usually that would be enough to anchor the Blazers to a win, but not tonight.
"That's about as good as you can get. That's about as good a rookie as I've ever seen." Mike D'Antoni on Damian Lillard— Ben Golliver (@blazersedge) April 11, 2013
Lillard: "I think there was a lot of pride involved, him being a Hall of Fame guard, and me being a rookie that’s not going to back down."— Mike Tokito (@mtokito) April 11, 2013
LaMarcus Aldridge on Kobe: "However old he is, getting 47, that's impressive. He played the whole game and he just imposed his will on us."— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) April 11, 2013
Major props to Lillard & Portland, though. They played a fantastic game despite missing four of their main guys. Amazing performance.— Lakers Nation (@LakersNation) April 11, 2013
Damian Lillard is the first NBA rookie with 38 points, nine assists and five 3-pointers since Jason Kidd (4/11/95 at Houston).— Trail Blazers PR (@TrailBlazersPR) April 11, 2013
Kobe on Lillard: "Hes fantastic man. ... the moves, the patience, the intelligence...he's the real deal."— janis carr (@janiscarr) April 11, 2013
Kobe hasn't praised a rookie (Lillard) this much since LeBron.— chris palmer (@ESPNChrisPalmer) April 11, 2013
The first half was as good as it got offensively for Portland, scoring 41 first-quarter points and taking a surprising 69-61 lead at halftime.
The Lakers, however, seemed determined not to let Lillard go off in the second half, leaving Barton wide open on several occasions.
While it was another disappointing loss, if the Blazers can just find help around Lillard, Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum for next season, they can for sure find a way to climb back into the playoff hunt.
The future is bright, but it isn't here yet for Rip City.