NBA Basketball

Blazers look to continue climb against Celtics

An elevator might be the only thing that could keep the Portland Trail Blazers from quickly rising to an elite level.

They're close, but like Wednesday's opponent, the Boston Celtics, Portland has flaws it wants to iron out in the final weeks of the season.

The next step in the Blazers' journey takes place in Boston, where on Tuesday some players were stuck in an elevator for more than 30 minutes at a practice facility at Emerson College.

That might be the only way to slow down Damien Lillard, who had an "off" night with only 21 points in Monday's 123-110 win in Cleveland. Lillard scored five points to spark a 14-3 run late that sealed the win for Portland.

"I think we came in and took for granted how hard we worked and the things that we were doing allowed that to happen," Lillard said. Portland shot 68.4 percent from the field in the first half and seemingly were in total control.

"And they got life. So not only were we not as sharp as we were in the first half, but they got a little more energy, a little more life to them," Lillard said. "They got a few shots to fall, a few extra rebounds, a few fouls and before you know it, you got a game."

A valuable lesson learned, even for a veteran NBA team.

"We've been through a lot," CJ McCollum said. "We've been in some great wins and some terrible losses, so you know how to win games down the stretch, we know what we need to do on the offensive and defensive end to give ourselves a chance."

A lack of intensity and inconsistency has plagued the Celtics this season.

Boston will be playing the second game of a back-to-back. The Celtics lost their third straight game on Tuesday, falling 118-95 on the road to the Toronto Raptors. A 13-point second quarter doomed Boston.

The Celtics' inconsistent play has been puzzling, especially when looking at the 10-point loss to Chicago on Saturday.

"Every team in the NBA, because every game is its own entity, you better bring it or else you'll get beat," coach Brad Stevens told the Boston Herald.

Stevens sees a disturbing pattern of his team playing up or down to its opponent. "It's not a good thing to happen, and it's largely why we are where we are, in the standings and everything else."

Stevens consistently harps on defense and transition basketball.

"When you're not getting back in transition that's just an issue ... you're gonna have a hard time winning," he said. "It's hard to keep teams from scoring five-on-five let alone five-on-three."

Kyrie Irving and Wednesday's counterpart, Lillard, are just two of six players averaging at least 23.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game.

Al Horford is getting healthier and Portland's frontline of Jusuf Nurkic, Enes Kanter and Myles Leonard should be a good test.

Since returning from the knee injury that sidelined him for two weeks, Horford has averaged 13.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game while shooting 54.9 percent from the field.

"He just puts the defense on their heels," teammate Marcus Smart said. "When he's aggressive, it's just another option for us, another threat that really makes us hard to contain on the offensive end."

The two teams met in Portland on Nov. 11 with the Trail Blazers earning a 100-94 win with Lillard and McCollum combining for 21 third-quarter points.

--Field Level Media

Updated February 27, 2019

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