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New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis dunks against the Portland Trail Blazers during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Randy L. Rasmussen)

Randy L. Rasmussen/Associated Press

Anthony Davis scored 35 points, Jrue Holiday added 21 and the New Orleans Pelicans earned a 97-95 win over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals Saturday night at Moda Center. 

Damian Lillard dropped 18 points and led a fourth-quarter push that nearly propelled the Blazers back in front in the game’s waning stages, but the Northwest Division champions were largely listless as the Pelicans locked up one of the game’s most explosive backcourts with arguably their most impressive defensive effort of the season. 

Lillard, who was hounded by Holiday from the opening tip, shot 6-of-23 from the floor and couldn’t find sufficient air space to operate comfortably on the wing. He also came up empty on a leaner in the lane with 15.3 seconds remaining that would have put Portland up by one. 

The Blazers then had a chance on their next possession to tie the game at 95 with a three. However, Holiday came up with a huge swat of Pat Connaughton’s layup that led to a pair of game-sealing free throws. 

Likewise, CJ McCollum failed to crack New Orleans’ swarming pack of perimeter defenders and sputtered his way to 19 points on 7-of-18 shooting. 

Those two found points easier to come by with the Blazers in catch-up mode throughout the second half, but the early going was a slog. Specifically, Lillard and McCollum combined for three points on 1-of-15 shooting in the first half, as Positive Residual illustrated: 

And while Portland’s go-to scorers floundered, the Pelicans’ one-two punch flourished. 

Holiday, in particular, impressed thanks to a handful of determined drives into the paint that resulted in physical finishes around the rim or tough off-balance conversions over the outstretched arms of Portland’s defenders. 

Davis, who helped squash Portland’s preferred pick-and-roll actions with Holiday on defense, added 14 rebounds, four blocks and two steals as he asserted himself as the most dominant player on the floor from start to finish. He stood out to The Ringer’s Bill Simmons and CSN Chicago’s Vincent Goodwill: 

New Orleans also received a major boost from Nikola Mirotic, who dropped 16 points—including 11 in the third quarter—while drilling four threes in a standout performance that showed why New Orleans paid a high price to acquire him from the Chicago Bulls in February, according to NBA scribe Nate Duncan: 

Pelicans floor general Rajon Rondo, in a performance that encapsulated his unique approach, chipped in six points and accounted for 17 of the Pelicans’ 26 assists. 

The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie noted the mercurial point guard remains a particularly valuable player this time of year: 

With one win in the bag, the Pelicans will focus their attention on a repeat performance as they eye a commanding 2-0 series lead. 

Game 2 will get underway Tuesday night at 10:30 p.m. ET. 

Bleacher Report – Front Page

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