Statistically, the Charlotte Bobcats are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. They’re ranked fourth in opponent field goal percentage and fifth in both opponent adjusted field goal percentage and defensive rating.
But they’re ranked just 18th in opponent three-point percentage and it would show Thursday night at the Moda Center with the Trail Blazers tying the franchise record for three-pointers made with 21 on the way to blowing out Charlotte 134-104 in front of a sellout crowd in their first game of 2014.
“It was a good game, obviously,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We looked fresh. We played well on both ends of the court. Not a lot to say. We caught a team on a back-to-back, but we played well. Probably more than anything else, we passed the ball really well and got good shots. Guys were feeling it.”
With the performance, the Trail Blazers became the first team in NBA history to make at least 20 three-pointers in two games in an NBA season after setting a franchise record of 21 three-pointers in a game against the 76ers earlier this season. For a team that is often asked, somewhat dismissively, if they can keep up their hot shooting all season, doing something that no other NBA team has done before provided a small bit of proof that their prolific shooting is not a fluke.
“I think because of how many shooters we have I think we can continue to shoot the ball well,’ said Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. “The shots that we’re getting – in this league, guys can make shots – so if we continue to move the ball, the shots are going to go in.”
To Lillard’s point, the Trail Blazers tallied 34 assists on 54 made baskets and 15 of their 21 three-pointers were assisted.
Portland’s backcourt did much of the damage from three, with Wesley Matthews and Lillard combining to go 11 of 12 from beyond the arc.
Matthews finished with a game-high 25 points, going eight of 11 from the field and five of six from three in 27 minutes. He said postgame he felt as though he might have a great performance in him well before he got to the arena.
“I’m not going to lie to you: I felt ‘on’ when I woke up from my nap today,” said Matthews. “Making shots is contagious. Our crowd gets into it and our crowd is almost willing the ball in for us before we even shoot it. When that ball is flying around the perimeter like that and (Aldridge) is getting double-teamed and he kicks it out, it’s almost like you’re expected to make it.”
Lillard shot nine of 13 from the field and a perfect six of six from three to end the night with 24 points, seven assists and two steals in 29 minutes. He has made at least two three-pointers in 28 games this season, best in the NBA and is the only NBA player to make at least four three-pointers in four straight games this season. He joins Terry Porter as the only other Trail Blazer to make at least six three-pointers without a miss in a game.
“I think we’ve got a lot of good shooters,” said Lillard, “so if we get in a good enough rhythm and we’re getting good looks and the ball is moving how it did, that’s what type of night it could be.”
Portland would shoot seven of eight from three in the first quarter from three and 12 of 22 from the field to take a 39-21 lead into the second quarter.
“I really liked our approach coming into the game as far as the starters just really set the tone with their defense, with the ball movement,” said Stotts. “Our ball movement really led to good shots and we’ve got good shooters.”
The route on by the half with the Trail Blazers hitting nine more three-pointers in the second while holding the Bobcats to 40 percent shooting to take a 70-49 lead into the intermission.
“We have to come out with an aggressive mentality,” said Matthews. “We didn’t do that against Miami, we didn’t do that against New Orleans and we took two losses. Oklahoma City kind of blitzed us early but we were able to hone in in the second half defensively. We just brought that energy, that fight over to tonight. (Charlotte) started out kind of going basket for basket, but they were contested shots. They were shooting shots we wanted them to and the numbers played out in our favor.”
With the game well in hand, Stotts was able to rest his starting lineup for much of the third quarter and all of the fourth, resulting Portland starter played more than 30 minutes. Every Portland player saw minutes, with Mo Williams leading the second unit with 15 points, including three three-pointers. Meyers Leonard played 20 minutes and responded by tying his career-high in rebounds with 10. Will Barton played just nine minutes but scored 10 points on four of five shooting while making both of his three-point attempts.
“It’s always good to get a win like this. Guys on the bench can get some minutes, starters can get some rest. You’ve got to enjoy these because they don’t come often.”
With the game decided, the only question was whether the Trail Blazers would set the NBA record for three-pointers. And while they attempted 11 threes in the fourth quarter, Portland’s bench had the good sense to hold the ball in the final minutes, rather than showing up their opponent by gunning for the all-time mark.
“I knew the NBA record (for three-pointers), but I didn’t want to get caught up in that,” said Stotts. “If we fell into it, then that’s great, but I thought the guys who played the fourth quarter played the game the right way. They were aggressive, they moved the ball. Defensively, they played hard. I think it’s bad karma to go out and try to do that.”
With their karma intact, the Trail Blazers now host the 76ers, the team they set the franchise mark for three-pointers made against earlier in the season, at the Moda Center on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.