There's an adage in the NBA, repeated late Saturday night by New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, that a playoff series doesn't really begin on a team wins on the road.
"This one has started now, then," Portland's Damian Lillard said after the Pelicans' 97-95 win at Moda Center in the opener of their first-round series.
The Blazers are on the wrong side of the ledger, which makes Tuesday's 7:30 p.m. PT Game 2 all that more important for the local quintet.
"It puts some pressure on us," Lillard admitted. "You come in with homecourt (advantage) and you lose the first one. Now in (the Pelicans') locker room, they're saying, 'We got one. Why not go get another one?'
"Our job is to defend the home court, so it's one game at a time. We can't let (Saturday's) loss go into the next game."
Some thoughts on that subject, and some reflections on Game 1 ...
The Blazers' offense was atrocious in the first half, and it cost them the game. They shot .319 from the field, including 3 for 17 from 3-point range, and trailed 45-36 at intermission. Lillard and McCollum combined for three points on 1-for-15 shooting. That's not happened all season, and I'm not sure it has ever happened in the three years they've been in the backcourt together.
Portland came on to score 59 points in the second half, shooting .431 from the field while making 9 of 22 3-point attempts. The hole was just a little too big to dig out from, though.
New Orleans' defensive scheme was sound. Guards Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo, both able defenders, did a nice job keeping their bodies in front of Lillard and CJ McCollum.
The Pelicans also blitzed every pick-and-roll in which Lillard was involved and made sure a "big" — usually Anthony Davis or Nikola Mirotic — was there to defend him on the perimeter. And Davis was there to protect the rim on every drive to the basket. New Orleans blocked a dozen shots — four each by Davis and Mirotic.
"We just wanted to make sure we put as much pressure as we could on 'Dame' and CJ, and make someone else beat us," Davis said. "Our main focus was to make it tough on Dame and CJ."
McCollum finished with 19 points on 7-for-18 shooting after going 0 for 6 in the first half.
Lillard was 6 for 23 from the field — 1 for 9 in the first half — and had 18 points to go with seven rebounds and seven assists.
"I don't know if you can do a better job on those two guards than Jrue and those guys did," Gentry said.
But Lillard felt the Blazers should shoulder the blame.
"We just didn't make shots," said Lillard, who played 42 minutes, including the entire second half. "Give credit to what they did defensively. They were physical, and they were trapping a lot of my pick-and-rolls. But it comes down to the way we shot. We got a fair amount of good looks; we just didn't knock them down."
• All of the other nine Blazers who played Saturday night shot in the 40-percent range. That's a tick up from the way they ended the regular season. Portland's offense has been stagnant for some time.
Portland did not shoot well from 3-point range to close out the regular season. Over their final 11 games, the Blazers shot .279 from beyond the arc. On Saturday night, they made 9 of 22 attempts in the second half to finish at .308 for the game.
Several players were struggling from both the field and the 3-point line through the final weeks of the regular season. Among them: McCollum (.364, .243 over the last seven games), Al-Farouq Aminu (.364, .200 over the last 10 games), Zach Collins (.281, .188 over the last six games), Pat Connaughton (.320, .267 over the last 14 games) and Shabazz Napier (.329, .322 over the last eight games). Over his last 12 games, Lillard shot .410 from the field but only .271 on 3-point attempts.
The one Blazer who closed strong offensively was Jusuf Nurkic, who averaged 15.4 points and shot .654 from the field over his last 12 games. On Saturday, the 7-foot Bosnian had 11 points and 11 rebounds, making 3 of 7 shots from the field.
New Orleans won't vary its defensive plan Tuesday. The Pelicans will do what they can to be all over Lillard, and to a lesser degree McCollum, and make players such as Aminu and Evan Turner and Collins and Connaughton and Napier beat them from the perimeter. Those players are capable of hitting open shots.
• Portland had no answer for Davis, the reigning NBA Western Conference Player of the Month, who continued his sterling play with 35 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots. Davis is too quick for Nurkic and too big for Aminu. He's deadly in the 15-to-17-foot range, and Holiday and Rondo do a marvelous job finding him in open spaces — often at the rim for dunks.
Aminu is going to have to guard Davis and Nurkic will match up with 6-10 Nikola Mirotic, who has 3-point range — he hit 4 of 10 on Saturday while collecting 16 points and 11 boards.
Stotts may have to go more to Ed Davis, who scored six points and grabbed 13 rebounds in 20 minutes. Anthony Davis has a devil of a time keeping "Shirt Off Ed" off the offensive glass. Nobody is going to stop "A.D.," but Ed has a better chance to slow him down than Nurkic.
• Holiday was the best guard on the floor Saturday, with 21 points on 10-for-20 shooting and seven rebounds to go with outstanding defense.
"With Kawhi Leonard injured, I don't know if there's a better two-way player in the game," Gentry said. "We ask him to get 20 points every night and guard the best perimeter player on the other team, regardless of size or who it is."
Rondo wasn't far behind, contributing six points, eight rebounds and 17 assists while orchestrating the offense and leading the symphony on defense, too.
"When (the Blazers) were calling plays, he was telling us what it was in our version before they even got a chance to run it," Davis said. "He's locked in."
• The Blazers had 29 fast-break points in Game 1 — 22 in the second half, 15 in the fourth quarter. It was likely a season high for Portland, which was last in the league during the regular season at 8.1 per game. The Pelicans like to run — they were third at 15.3 per game — which makes them susceptible to the opponent running on them. The Blazers need to exploit that in Game 2 by getting as many easy baskets in transition as possible.
• Gentry was happy with the victory but looking at means for improvement from his team. Portland scored 23 points on 15 New Orleans turnovers and grabbed 15 offensive rebounds.
"We have to address their offensive rebounding and take better care of the ball," Gentry said. "And offensively, we can play better. We got stagnant and stopped running and played isolation basketball, which is not what we are. We're a much better offensive team than we showed. We didn't play with very much flow."
• The win was Davis' first in the playoffs in his six years on the league. He had only been in the postseason once, when New Orleans was swept by Golden State in 2015.
"It means a lot to get that first monkey off your back," he said. "But now that's over with. We want to come in Tuesday and get another one. We always believe. Winning this game makes us believe more, especially on the road."
The Pelicans were one of the NBA's best road teams through the regular season, going 24-17 both at home and on the road.
"We feel comfortable playing away from home," Gentry said. "If you can win the first game, it takes the edge off. But we have to do the same thing (on Tuesday). You can't take anything for granted. You still have to play with the same intensity."
Said Holiday: "The plan was to come here and get a win on their home court. To do that in the first game was big. It builds a lot of confidence for this game and here on out."
• The Blazers were a good road team, too, going 21-20 away from Moda Center. They know if they win Game 2 here Tuesday night, they stand a good chance of winning at least once in Games 3 and 4 at the Smoothie King Center.
They need to buck up their offense, though. That means good execution and knocking down the open shots the New Orleans defense affords. It's not must-win time for the Blazers on Tuesday night, but it's awfully close to that.