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Mirotic, Davis lead Pelicans to 3-0 series lead over Blazers

NEW ORLEANS — Nikola Mirotic watched his third 3-pointer of the first half swish through the hoop, turned to acknowledge the raucous, roaring crowd and raised his first triumphantly as he trotted back up court.

Portland had a hard enough time dealing with Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis and the New Orleans backcourt of Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo in Games 1 and 2. Pile on the finest playoff performance of Mirotic’s four NBA seasons, and the rout was on in Game 3.

Mirotic scored a career playoff-best 30 points to go with eight rebounds, three steals and a block, and the Pelicans pushed Portland to the brink of elimination with a 119-102 victory on Thursday night.

“I never thought I’d score 30 or something like that,” Mirotic said. “I’m just trying to play simple. If I have a shot, take a shot, so I need to give credit to my teammates. ... It’s just about the team. It’s about winning.”

To illustrate how hard New Orleans has been to defend in the series, Portland coach Terry Stotts made a point of noting that Mirotic was the third different Pelicans player to score 30 in a game. Davis had 35 in Game 1 and Holiday 33 in Game 2.

“New Orleans played extremely well,” Stotts said. “We arguably had one of our worst games of the year, so it was a bad combination.”

Davis had 28 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and two blocks for New Orleans, which can advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008 with one more victory. Game 4 is Saturday.

The 6-foot-10 Mirotic, acquired in a midseason trade after DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending Achilles tear, made 12 of 15 shots, scoring on everything from quick-release 3-pointers to cutting dunks and fast-break layups.

“I knew I was capable to have games like this, but I never want to force any shots and always want to play simple, play for my teammates the same way they play for me,” Mirotic said. “I just want to show them they were right to bring me here.”

Damian Lillard scored 20 for Portland, but missed nine of an unusually low 14 shots. He averaged about 19 shots per game this season, but said the Pelicans were defending him relentlessly.

“They’re making me give the ball up,” Lillard said. “This is a different coverage than I’ve seen at any point in my career. ... It’s two or three layers of defense. It’s tough to play against, man.”

CJ McCollum scored 22 and Al-Farouq Aminu added 21, but Portland trailed by double digits for most of the first half and all of the second.

The Blazers had no answer for a Pelicans offense orchestrated once again to prolific effect by Rondo, who had 16 points and 11 assists — giving him 37 assists in the series. Holiday added 16 points for New Orleans, which shot 53 percent (46 of 87).

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard goes to the basket ahead of New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, top right, and guard Ian Clark, top left, during the first half of Game 3 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series in New Orleans, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Veronica Dominach)