In Game No. 41 Monday night, the halfway point of the regular season, the Portland Trail Blazers showed what the first half of their season was like and what the second half could become.
Their 115-112 win over the lowly Charlotte Hornets did not come easy -- which has been what the first half has been about. Nothing has been easy for the oft-injured Trail Blazers. They shot the ball well Monday, 50 percent overall from the field and 43.2 percent from behind the three-point line, and are now 8-1 when they shoot 50 percent or better from the floor.
So obviously, shooting a higher percentage on a more consistent basis would improve the second-half record.
They also allowed Charlotte to shoot 47.4 percent from three. A constant theme during the first half, with 17 wins in 41 games, has been allowing opponents wide-open threes -- and that continued.
But Portland got a huge contribution from Anthony Tolliver off its bench. Tolliver had 16 points (all in the fourth quarter) and 11 rebounds and did as much to contribute to the win as anyone in uniform. And that's a big difference from the first half of the season, when the Blazers have struggled to find help off the bench during a season when so many starters have been injured or ill.
One other thing from this game so typified the first half was inconsistency -- not just from game to game but almost quarter to quarter.
The Trail Blazers outscored the Hornets 37-20 in the second quarter behind CJ McCollum to take a 16-point halftime lead, only to have Charlotte come out after intermission and bury four straight three-pointers to close the lead to four. It was nip and tuck the rest of the game against a team that had lost 10 of its previous 12 games.
Damian Lillard made a 47-foot three-pointer -- just a step across the halfcourt line -- to end the third quarter and push Portland into a two-point lead going into the fourth. But it was tied before Tolliver knocked down a three with 2:11 to go in the game to give his team a 112-109 lead. But neither team scored until 17.3 seconds remained when Lillard hit a driving layup.
That came after Carmelo Anthony picked off a pass and made a near-miraculous save before the ball went out of bounds.
"It was just a play I knew I had to make,:" he said. "I saw them looking for that pass in the corner, made a great play and got my hand on the ball, but couldn't really control it. My thing was to just try and keep it in bounds -- keep it in. My teammates did a great job of getting control of the ball. It made my hustle play look even better."
Anthony was asked about Tolliver's game.
"He's a pro," Anthony said. "That's what you call a pro. Somebody who never knows when his number is going to be called and always prepares himself for that moment and that game. Takes it one day at a time. When his number is called, he's ready to deliver. To me, that's a pro. This is a league where guys can lose their confidence. His preparation for the game, day in and day out, he's always prepared."
Tolliver brought his entire bag of tricks to this one -- quality defensive plays, tip-backs of offensive rebounds, reverse layups and a couple of three-pointers,
And if the Blazers continue to be short-handed for long into the second half of the season, bench play is going to be critical -- whomever it comes from.