After starting the series with two road wins, the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game closer to the second round of the 2018 NBA playoffs with a 119-102 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 3 on Thursday night at the Smoothie King Center.
The first two contests were hard-fought battles—but this one was over early.
Forward Nikola Mirotic sparked New Orleans to a 16-point lead after the first quarter by going off for 14 points and four rebounds in the opening 12 minutes. The only negative for the Pelicans was the fact that star Anthony Davis had to go to the locker room to be checked out for a left thumb injury, as Pelicans.com's Daniel Sallerson noted.
Fortunately for New Orleans, though, the five-time All-Star returned shortly after. And that helped keep the rout going.
The lead would grow to 20 midway through the second, but the majority of the half was played in the 15-point range.
It's easy to see how New Orleans held a 19-point halftime lead. The Pelicans shot 55.8 percent from the floor (including 7-of-14 from three-point range), recorded 17 assists on 24 field goals and forced the Trail Blazers into 12 turnovers, nine of which came via steals. It also helped that four players—Davis, Mirotic, Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday—were in double figures before the break.
Oh, and Playoff Rondo was on top of his game:
On the other side, only five Portland players got on the board in the first half. The Trail Blazers fell behind early in part because CJ McCollum went scoreless in the opening period, although his 14 points in the second quarter couldn't stop the deficit from swelling.
It was more of the same in the second half, with the lead reaching 33 points. Portland tried to make things interesting with a 10-0 run midway through the third quarter, but there wasn't enough in the tank.
Davis—showing his left hand was fine—shut down any thought of a comeback with an arena-rocking putback:
The Smoothie King Center received a scare when the star went down early in the fourth quarter holding his stomach, but he shook it off and stayed in the game.
Blazers fans looking for a silver lining will have a tough time finding one. In a virtual must-win situation, Portland only stayed competitive for a handful of minutes. Damian Lillard (20 points on 5-of-14 shooting) and McCollum (22 points, 9-of-16) couldn't catch fire, and that proved costly. Sure, the team showed life with an early second-half burst, but it had dug itself too big of a hole.
The Pelicans, meanwhile, used a team effort to cruise to victory. Davis (28 points and 11 rebounds), Mirotic (30 points and eight rebounds), Rondo (16 points and 11 assists) and Holiday (16 points and seven assists) were too much for the Trail Blazers.
It was also a record-setting night for the Pelicans defense:
The team finished with 16 steals, as six players recorded multiple thefts. New Orleans scored 35 points off 24 turnovers.
The Pelicans did something in Game 3 that Portland couldn't do in either of the first two meetings: defend home court. Now, the Trail Blazers will have to win the next four games to keep their season alive, while the Pelicans are one win away from advancing to the second round for the first time since 2007-08.
Game 4 tips off at 5 p.m. ET Saturday.