HOUSTON — Before walking onto the court for Game 1 at the Toyota Center in Houston, LaMarcus Aldridge stopped for a moment to joke with Rockets broadcaster and arguably the greatest Trail Blazer in franchise history, Clyde Drexler.
“When I walked by him I said ‘I’m coming for you’ and I meant in every stat possible,” said Aldridge. “He said I still have some work to do, but he said I could do it. I was joking with him about trying to break all of his records.”
Aldridge would break a record Sunday night in Houston, though it was a mark that even The Glide had never achieved in his 12-year career in Portland.
Thanks in large part to a franchise playoff high 46 points from Aldridge, the Trail Blazers were able to overcome a 13-point fourth quarter deficit to defeat the Rockets 122-120 in overtime of Game 1 of the Western Conference playoffs. With the win, the Trail Blazers wrestle home court advantage away from Rockets and join the Warriors, Wizards, Hawks and Nets as teams that won Game 1 despite playing on the road.
“I was really proud of the way we competed,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We were kind of down and out at least three times — once in the first half, once in regulation and once in overtime. We stayed together, kept competing. We had guys make big plays, fought through some adversity and foul trouble. It’s good to get a win.”
And one the Trail Blazers could not have gotten without Aldridge, who added 18 rebounds, two assists and two blocks before fouling out in overtime. While he was stellar all night, he was at his best when the Trail Blazers need it most.
Down 13 points with 10:10 to play in regulation, Aldridge checked into the game and immediately went to work, hitting a three-pointer after having netted just three three-pointers throughout the entire course of the 2013-14 season.
“He pulled the three-point shots, he’s been hiding that all season,” said Stotts. “We saved that for the playoffs and I’m glad he pulled hit out for us.”
Aldridge would finish the quarter shooting 7 of 8 from the field and 4 of 5 from the free throw line for 19 of his game-high 46 points.
“It was just one of those nights,” said Aldridge. “I got into a good rhythm and I started to feel good down low and I think my coaches and teammates did a good job trying to find me down low. I was trying to lead tonight.”
While Aldridge was doing his part offensively to get Portland back into the game in the fourth quarter, the Trail Blazers coaching staff decided to intentionally foul Houston center Dwight Howard, a career 58 percent free throw shooter, down nine with 4:43 to play in regulation. Howard made his first two free throws in the fourth to put the Rockets up 11, but the Trail Blazers kept fouling in hopes that the averages would eventually catch up to the All-Star center.
And they were right. Howard missed his next four free throws, forcing Rockets coach Kevin McHale to take him out of the game rather than risk the Trail Blazers sending him to the line over and over in the fourth.
“As soon as they were in the bonus, we had to extend the game,” said Stotts. “Whether (Howard) made them or missed then, if he missed one or two, that would be great. But it prolonged the game for us no matter what he did, it gave us more opportunities. That was the thing. Thankfully he made the first two and missed the next four and that kind of got us back into it.”
But there was one other factor that was required for the Trail Blazers to win their first playoff game in Houston in franchise history. That being Damian Lillard, playing in his first career playoff game.
Lillard went 3 of 5 from the field and 2 of 2 from three and 3 of 5 from the free throw line to score 10 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter. It was his three-pointer that tied the game at 104-104 with 29 seconds to play in regulation. And even though he couldn’t get a putback off a Wesley Matthews three-pointer with five seconds to play in regulation, he did keep the possession alive long enough for Aldridge to swoop in for a putback of his own, with was the bucket that send the game to overtime.
“Damian rises to the occasion,” said Stotts. “For all the people who were wanting to know if he was ready for the playoffs, I think he answers that question, so we don’t have to answer that anymore. He made big plays. The three was big, getting to the rim was big, making free throws. It was a big time performance.”
The second-year point guard from Weber State would finish with 31 points on 9 of 19 shooting, nine rebounds and five assists in almost 46 minutes. Lillard and Aldridge are the first teammates to score at least 30 points and 45 points in a playoff games since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen did so for the Bulls in 1992.
Both Aldridge and Howard would foul out in the overtime, leaving James Harden and Lillard as the game’s only remaining All-Stars. Lillard would score five in overtime, which included two free throws with 17 seconds to play that put Portland up 121-120. Harden, on the other hand, went 0 for 4 and scoreless in OT, missing Houston’s final shot as time expired while being defended by Nicolas Batum.
“We all know he’s a great player, one of the clutches players in the world,” said Batum, who shook off a lackadaisical first half to finish with 14 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. “He made big shots for them all season long. He got one against us a couple of weeks ago … I don’t expect him to miss a lot of shots like this. I’m happy tonight he missed those two shots. I’ve got to say that.”
Harden finished the game with 27 points but shot just 8 of 28 from the field and 3 of 14 from three. Howard also finished with 27 points while also pulling down 15 rebounds and blocking four shots before fouling out late in the overtime period. Chandler Parsons added 24 points and six rebounds in the losing effort.
Houston potentially lost more than just home court advantage Sunday night, as starting point guard Patrick Beverley was diagnosed with a right knee sprain after colliding into an Aldridge screen in overtime. Beverley partially tore the meniscus in that right knee almost a month ago, though the injury did not require surgery. He is scheduled to have an MRI on Monday and his status for the rest of the series is not yet known.
What is known is that the Trail Blazers now lead the series 1-0. But Portland also knows that winning one game, even a road game, does not win a playoff series.
“We wanted to win at least one here, so we’ve done that,” said Stotts. “We’re not by any means satisfied. We’ve got a lot of work cut out for us. We knew we had to win at least one here and we put ourselves in a position to win. We were able to eek it out. This one, after tonight, is behind us. We’ve got to move on.”
Greetings Trail Blazers fans. With the 2016 NBA Draft scheduled to take place on Thursday and the Trail Blazers recently making changes to their broadcast team, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, felt like it was a good time to break our hiatus to record a new edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
In this edition we discuss the Cavaliers winning the 2016 NBA Championship, talk to Kevin Calabro, fresh off of calling the deciding Game 7 of the NBA Sunday night, about taking over play-by-play duties for the Trail Blazers, discuss Portland’s options going into the draft considering the team doesn’t have a pick in either round and answer a host of your Twitter-submitted questions. Hopefully there’s enough here to get you through until the next time we record, which probably won’t be long.
A happy Friday the 13th to all of you loyal podcast listeners. Before everyone goes their separate ways now that the offseason is here, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net and TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio one last time to record a season-ending edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we attempt recap the series versus the Warriors, which ended in five games with a 125-121 loss at Oracle Arena Wednesday night, and the season in general, discuss the lasting effects of the playoff run and the respect that they earned from around the league due to their performance and look forward to some of the questions the Blazers will have to answer in the offseason, particularly in regard to free agency. And as always, we finish up by answering your Twitter-submitted questions on topics such as the culture the Trail Blazers have developed, (more) free agency, exit interviews and favorite moments from the just-completed season. It’s been a fun one.
Less than 12 hours after being eliminated from the postseason, the Trail Blazers returned to their practice facility in Tualatin to meet with the coaches to discuss offseason plans, clean out their lockers and take questions from the media one last time before starting their vacations.
Here’s the audio and a few quotes from Terry Stotts and the players from today’s exit interviews…
On the 2015-16 season…
“Like I said last night, this has been a special season. This group of players, what they were able to do individually and collectively, our chemistry was really good. We had good guys, they got along, players and coaches. It means a lot and it goes both ways. It was a joy. I think players enjoyed coming to work every day and I know the coaches and staff did, too.”
On whether this was his most rewarding season as a head coach…
“No question. This was an extremely rewarding season because it kind of played out the way we wanted it to. And we’re not talking about the record or the playoffs, everything was about growth, improvement, getting better throughout the season and being better at the end of the season. I think we did that individually and collectively and from a coaching standpoint, that’s as pure as it gets. That’s what coaching is about. You don’t get to experience that very much at the NBA level.”
On whether he expects anyone on his staff to be interviewed for various open head coaching positions…
“I hope so. I can’t say enough about how good my staff is. I think Jay Triano and Nate Tibbetts and David Vanterpool are all ready to be considering for head coaching jobs. I think they’re all prepared to do a great job as a head coach depending on whatever a team is looking for. I hope they get consideration because they’re all very deserving.
On many of his teammates deciding to stay in Portland during the offseason…
“That means a lot because I stay here every summer. I’m used to coming in here like ‘I wonder when everybody else coming back to town,’ you know what I mean? The trainers are here, the coaches are here and it’s an empty gym. And even after the game last night, on the plane, I started getting worried already. I was sitting on the plane like ‘Man, we had some success this year, it was unexpected it was no pressure. Next year people gonna expect a little bit more’ and I started to get worried about too many pats on the back. ‘They weren’t supposed to do this but they did that.’ I started getting worried, but we don’t have those kind of guys. We’ve got hungry guys, we’ve got humble guys that work hard. We had a taste this season as a young group of how well we could do and what it takes. We lost to a really experienced, championship team. That makes me happy to hear that so many guys are going to be here working out in the summer because that lets me know that they see how close we are and they see how important it’s going to be going forward.”
On free agency and having a say in the process…
“I’m pretty sure they’ll communicate what the plans are with me, but like I’ve said in the past, my job is to be a good teammate, to make sure I put in my time and become a better player and that’s what I’ll do. They ask me my opinion on something, I’ll give them my honest opinion, but I love all the guys that we have on our roster now. I think going forward, if we continue to grow together, we’ll be a good team. Obviously it’s a business and rosters change, players make decisions for themselves, so when that time comes, we’ll see what happens. But when they come to me ask for my opinion or what I think about something, I’ll tell them what I think.”
On what he’s looking for as a restricted free agent…
“Any pay raise is going to be significantly higher than what I’m making now. But like I said earlier, it’s just situation really for me. It doesn’t make sense to make a lot of money and go to a team that, if you don’t fit that system, then get paid a lot of money to be frustrated? That doesn’t make sense to me. The culture here, it’s great. I know this organization well, I know the system, know the coaches, players. It’s just real comfortable here. I wouldn’t mind being here, I really wouldn’t. It’s really just coming down to situation and how I can continue to improve as a basketball player.”
On head coach Terry Stotts…
“Definitely think he should get an extension. I feel like everybody here knows that he should get an extension. He’s done a great job with this team. It’s really hard to put into words what he did with this group because nobody expected us to do what we did. Even from Day One, even through the games where we were 11-20, seven-game losing streak, he never folded and he always told us it’s all about trusting the process and we stuck with that throughout this whole year.”
On spending time in Portland this offseason…
“I think, for one, it doesn’t rain a lot in the summer, so that helps. Just being around the facility, 24 hour access, you’re able to get a lot of things done without a distraction. You go home, you go to certain cities, you either got to pay to get in the gym or you’ve got to worry about people interrupting you while you workout. I go back to my high school but sometimes I’ve got to just like lock the door so I can just workout and not have to worry about certain interruptions because you can’t get through a full workout when people are coming in, talk to you. It’s meant to be a compliment to you, it’s hard. So I think it helps that here, you just come in, the doors are locked, you’ve got your finger scan, you workout when you want, the weather is nice. You’re paying rent here anyway, so it makes sense.”
On the camaraderie of the roster and the changes that might be in store…
“I think we had a really unique group. They did a great job of putting together like minds, young guys who are easy to talk to. Nobody is really arrogant or overly cocky. We’ve got some ignorant guys on the team that you guys guys know who’s outlandish with his statements. I won’t put him out there, he knows who he is. Besides that, we all got along well, everybody spoke their minds, nobody was afraid to say certain things. If somebody played bad, if somebody wasn’t doing things the right way, you could address it and nobody would frown or look at you the wrong way. So I like the way our team is put together, I like the work ethic everybody had. This is one of the rare teams where you could hang out with players off the court. Everybody’s got their friends, but I could hang out with any one of the 15 guys off the court and be perfectly comfortable, eat dinner, et cetera… We’ve got a really good unit and a lot of guys made themselves some money this year, a lot of guy’s prices went up. Hopefully we can rekindle the flame, but if not, we had a good run, we had a good year together collectively and wish everybody the best of luck in the free agency process.
On how he’s approaching restricted free agency…
“To be honest with you, I haven’t had a real concrete conversation with my agent about this. I wanted it to be, right now, about my rehab and about supporting the guys, being there however I could, I guess more from an emotional standpoint, for the team. I certainly wish I could have been out there. With that being said, I’m sure we’ll talk within the next couple of days about how we’re going to really approach this, the timing of things, I suppose what teams are interested, what teams would maybe like to meet in person. I don’t have a concrete plan at this point. Restricted free agency, it gets a little hairy, it takes time, teams maybe don’t want to tie their money up. I honestly don’t know all the ins and outs of it. Like I said before the season when I didn’t accept an extension, I’m confident in where I’m at. It’s my agent’s job to present whatever he has on his mind and what’s on my plate from that side of things. My job right now is simply to rehab my shoulder, continue to work on my leg strength, which is a huge focus of mine for this summer, and just figure out different way in the weight room or out here, even simple things as ball handling, just trying to improve as a player and as a man.”
On why he’s going to spend much of the offseason in Portland…
“I’m coming back to Portland just because went through all that rain, got to enjoy some of the sun. I like it here. I’m renting a spot, so I’m just going to stay here. I like Todd (Forcier) and BK (Ben Kenyon) and those guys, so definitely going to put a lot of work in in the weight room. It’s always good vibes here so I don’t think guys want to get away. Some teams, you want to get away just because you don’t like certain people. It’s not like that here. I enjoyed being here so that’s why I’m going to stick around and do most of my training out here.”
On the realities of keeping a roster with multiple free agents together…
“It’s going to be tricky with all the salary cap stuff going on. I think a lot of the guys who are free agents definitely raised their value. I think everyone did. You never know. I hope all those guys get paid well, I think they will. They deserve it. You just never know with free agency, who they go after and things like that, but I hope everybody comes back, but that’s not really realistic. It doesn’t really work like that in the league. I just tried to enjoy that time yesterday because I’ve been around a little bit and I know how the business side of things work.”
On his mindset going into the offseason…
“This summer is big for me, become more of a scoring threat. I think there’s a lot to be added. I look forward, if the opportunity is there, to come back to have some stability from a staff perspective. I would look forward to coming back to a similar situation from one season to the next. I’ve played for three coaches in three years, so I think that would be something I’d look forward to as well… Once you’ve been traded, you never know.”
On being a restricted free agent…
“Free agency is something I haven’t really thought about. I’ve tried not to think about it during the season and we just finished yesterday, so it hasn’t really been on my mind yet. It’s something that we’ll have to think about soon.”
On his first season in Portland…
I loved it. It was by far the most fun season I’ve had. These guys here are great, the organization is great. I really, really enjoyed it and looking forward to seeing what happens this summer.”
On his first season in Portland…
“It’s the most fun year I think I’ve had as a pro. We had a great group of guys, high character guys, silly guys and it was a fun year. That’s without even being on the court. On the court, we had a special group. We came together halfway through, really made it a special year all the way until last night when we’re playing against the champions, gave them all we had. Played a tough series, obviously it didn’t end the way that we wanted it to, but it’s a year we’re all proud of.”
His thoughts on entering free agency and what he’s looking for…
This is my second time doing it and it’ll be a little different than the first time. I think getting a taste of what this year and this postseason was like and how much fun, how competitive it is, I think, number one, being on a team that’s a winning team. It’s obviously tough to get on one of the elite elite teams, but that could be a possibility. That could easily be a possibility here. Being on a team that is about winning and that’s a good fit for me.
On his first season with the Trail Blazers…
“It was an amazing journey of growth. We grew a lot throughout the season, personally and as a team. It was just fun to be a part of it.”
How he looks back on the season in terms of enjoyment…
The season was great. Any time you have guys that are the same age, it just makes it a lot easier to get along. It’s easy to have relatable points, different things like that. A lot of us are going through similar things in our careers so you get to relate on that note. When it came to comfortably in that sense, it was just unbelievable. And then I think that’s why the chemistry was there as well. Even our vets and the older guys like Chris Kaman, they were a joy to be around as well. From top to bottom, everybody was kind of in that same wavelength of what they were trying to do. It just made it easy to get along.