ABOVE PHOTO: 76ers’ Jrue Holliday (11) shoots against Portland Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge (12) during the first half of a season opening NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Monday, Dec 26, 2011.
(AP Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens)
PORTLAND, Ore.—As the Portland Trail Blazers’ lead dwindled, coach Nate McMillan decided to pick up the pace.
Portland pushed the tempo late in the second half with a smaller quicker lineup and beat the Philadelphia 76ers 107-103 in the season opener for both teams.
“We have a lot of weapons,” said LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 25 points to lead the Blazers. “I think as times got tight for us guys stepped up and made big plays.”
Reserve Lou Williams had 12 of his 25 points in the second quarter and two clutch 3-pointers at the end for the Sixers, who are 0-1 on their season-opening five-game road trip. Andre Igoudala had 22 points and eight rebounds. The Sixers shot 48 percent from the field, but the Blazers took 97 shots to Philadelphia’s 83.
“They are a good team and they take away a lot of things with their energy and their defense,” Philadelphia’s Elton Brand said.
The 76ers got within 72-70 on Brand’s jumper near the end of the third, but the Blazers got a spark from their small lineup, sliding Aldridge and Wallace to center and power forward and getting up and down the floor faster. Jamal Crawford, Wallace, Matthews and Nicolas Batum all hit 3-pointers to put the Blazers up 95-80.
“When we go small like that if they double team we have a bunch of guys that can make plays,” Aldridge said. “That’s probably our most lethal offensive lineup.”
The Sixers weren’t dead, though. Williams scored 10 straight for Philly, including back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the lead to 106-103 with 16 second remaining. The game wasn’t over until Igoudala missed a 3-pointer and Raymond Felton made one of two free throws to ice it.
“Our competitive will kept us in the game,” Philadelphia coach Doug Collins said. “Our competitive will was strong; our execution has to get better.”
Philadelphia overcame a 3-13 start last year to finish 41-41. The Sixers lost to Miami in the first round of the playoffs last season. Leading scorer Igoudala returned despite rumors that he might be traded.
Portland is adjusting to life without All-Star guard Brandon Roy, who was forced to retire this month because of recurrent knee injuries. Portland also begins the season without Greg Oden, who has undergone two microfracture knee surgeries and has not played in two years.
The Blazers went 48-34 last season and were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by Dallas. After losing Roy, the Blazers strengthened their team by signing veterans Crawford and Kurt Thomas.
The Blazers led by as many as 13 in the first quarter as the Sixers missed 11 of their first 16 shots, but Williams keyed a rally in the second quarter to cut the lead to 48-44 at the half.
McMillan expects Portland to run more this season. He was unhappy when the pace slowed down at times.
“I thought we were up and down,” he said. “We would get to our tempo and the start to walk it down and I think that’s due to conditioning.”