Detroit — The Portland Trail Blazers are looking like one of the top contenders in the Western Conference. With a new addition, they look to be primed for another playoff run.
For much of the first three quarters against the Pistons, they looked like world-beaters, especially from beyond the arc. They needed a fourth-quarter surge to create enough comfortable to pull away and take a 124-101 win at Little Caesars Arena on Wednesday night.
They were in good hands with their All-Star guard, Damian Lillard, who had 33 points and 10 assists. Lillard had 16 points in the third quarter, including 10 in the first four minutes, and the Blazers (29-18) pulled away with an opening surge in the fourth quarter, including a three-point play by Norman Powell (14 points) and a 3-pointer by Robert Covington.
The Pistons (13-34) were shorthanded, with only 11 players available, with continuing injuries on the roster. Sekou Doumbouya (migraine) and Wayne Ellington (calf soreness) were out. With that, the Pistons relied on their bench, which outscored Portland’s 51-31, but the starting unit didn’t have the same production.
Jerami Grant had 28 points and four assists and Mason Plumlee 18 points, but the other three starters combined for just two points.
The Pistons struggled from 3-point range, hitting just 9 of 27, while the Blazers feasted, converting more than 60% through the first three quarters and finishing at 53% (16-of-30).
“It’s a 3-point shooting league and if you’re going to beat the elite teams (you have to make them),” coach Dwane Casey said. “We had some good looks and we couldn’t buy one. They shot 53% (from 3) and they have a lot of good shooters.”
The Pistons led, 52-51, at halftime, but Lillard had a good start to the third quarter with 10 points in the first four minutes, including a pair of 3-pointers. It was a 12-4 open to the second half, with a pair of free throws and an alley-oop for Plumlee, which pushed the lead to 63-56 and the Blazers kept pouring it on.
They added another 7-2 run to increase the margin to double digits, with a pair of free throws by Jusuf Nurkic, and the Pistons trimmed some of that away with a 16-5 spurt, with a 3-pointer and three-point play by Diallo, to get within 75-70, after Isiah Stewart’s second 3-pointer of the game.
Lillard finished the quarter with another surge, scoring six points, and Carmelo Anthony (16 points) added eight in the final five minutes, for an 87-79 lead entering the fourth.
The Pistons opened with a putback by Frank Jackson, but a pair of free throws by Anthony and a three-point play by Powell pushed the lead back to 11.
Every time the Pistons seemed to get close, the Blazer had an answer, and Lillard’s 3-pointer with 6:00 left made it a 15-point margin, and the Pistons didn’t get within single digits the rest of the way.
Diallo had his second straight strong offensive game, coming off a groin injury. He shot 7-of-8 from the field and hit a pair of 3-pointers, showing his efficiency and ability to create near the rim, as well as beyond the arc.
In just a couple of weeks, Diallo is still getting accustomed to things, but the early signs are encouraging.
“He plays hard,” Casey said. “He gets to the basket at a high clip. He runs the floor and he plays at a pace that’s hard to compete with.”
The Blazers maintained their lead by getting to the free-throw line, and with the Pistons amassing fouls in the fourth quarter, it was to their detriment.
“We were in the bonus at 8:20 in the fourth quarter and they milked that for the rest of the game,” Plumlee said. “It’s tough when you send them to the line every time down the stretch, and they definitely took advantage of it.”