Holiday party: Pelicans hold off Blazers, go up 2-0

PORTLAND, Ore. — Several times during the three days between the New Orleans Pelicans’ Game 1 road win over the Trail Blazers on Saturday and their Game 2 matchup on Tuesday, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry was asked if he worried his team would be complacent after stealing home-court advantage in the series. Gentry had no such concern.

Why would Gentry worry when he had Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday on his side? While the Blazers found solutions for their shooting struggles in Game 1, Portland couldn’t find a way to stop New Orleans’ stars in a 111-102 Pelicans victory that gives them a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series heading home for Games 3 and 4.

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Though Davis was his usual double-double self (22 points, 13 rebounds) and Rajon Rondo finished an assist away from a triple-double (16 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists) in another strong playoff performance, this night belonged to Holiday. When the Blazers were able to get their sellout crowd going, it was Holiday to whom Gentry turned to slow down the Pelicans’ usual fast pace and ensure a good shot.

“He’s so underrated as a guard that can do things on the floor,” Gentry explained. “He can get to the basket against just about anybody there is, and his outside shot has really improved.”

Taking advantage of New Orleans’ strong floor spacing, Holiday got wherever he wanted off the pick-and-roll, repeatedly reaching the paint to either finish himself or find an open teammate. According to ESPN Stats & Information tracking, Holiday’s 19 drives yielded 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting for himself and seven points on 3-of-4 shooting from teammates. Holiday scored 20 of his 33 points in the restricted area, shooting 10-of-14 on those attempts, and handed out nine assists.

At the other end of the court, Holiday took a leading role as New Orleans again contained Damian Lillard. While the Blazers got excellent production from role players Al-Farouq Aminu, Zach Collins and Maurice Harkless, as well as 22 points from CJ McCollum, Lillard struggled to make the playoffs Dame time. He finished with 17 points on 7-of-18 shooting, including six misses on his seven 3-point attempts.

Lillard was particularly inaccurate when defended by Holiday, missing all four of his shot attempts (he’s 0-of-8 with Holiday as a primary defender in the series, per ESPN Stats & Information data) and committing a pair of turnovers.

Still, Portland led 100-99 on a Harkless trey with 3:20 to play. The Blazers scored just two points the rest of the way. Nikola Mirotic answered with a 3-pointer at the other end to give the Pelicans the lead, and the score was the same with 1:35 left when Gentry called Holiday’s number after a pair of offensive rebounds. He delivered a pull-up 3-pointer to push the lead to five. Portland would get no closer.

“There was no doubt in my mind that he was going to take the long 3,” Gentry said. “When the clock got to five, I knew that he wasn’t going to drive that one, but I thought he created separation enough that he got a good shot off.”

Despite his team winning both of its first two games on the road, Gentry wasn’t yet in a celebratory mood.

“We’ve still got two games to win,” he said, “so we’re not celebrating anything.”

That’s understandable from Gentry’s perspective, but the rest of us can appreciate the daunting task the Blazers now face. Of the 20 teams to lose the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home since 1984, just three have come back to win the series. (One of those comebacks happened last year, when the Boston Celtics rallied to beat the Bulls after Rondo — then with Chicago — was sidelined for the series following Game 2.)

And if Holiday keeps playing at this level, New Orleans won’t have any reason to worry about reaching the second round for just the second time in the franchise’s 16 years in the Crescent City. – NBA

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