ATLANTA — What a difference an All-Star makes.
Trail Blazers starting power forward LaMarcus Aldridge returned to the lineup, putting up 25 points and 16 rebounds in 32 minutes to lift the Trail Blazers to a 100-85 victory versus the Atlanta Hawks at Phillips Arena.
“Very important, just for our mental psyche, our confidence, everything,” said Aldridge of the win. “The standing with guys winning — Phoenix won, Dallas is back there — so I think it was overall just good for us.”
With the win, Portland moves to 46-27 on the season and 20-18 on the road while ending a three-game losing streak.
“He looked very good,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We planned on playing him 32 minutes, I thought he made the most of the minutes he had. He rebounded the ball extremely well, got rebounds in a crowd, I like the way he took the ball to the paint. He competed inside, he didn’t look like he shied away from any of the contact, stroke looked good. Defensively, he was very locked into our gameplan.”
Aldridge had missed Portland’s last seven game with a lower back contusion, and though his return to the court wasn’t confirmed until Thursday morning’s shootaround, he looked as though he suffered no ill effects from the fall he took on March 12 versus the Spurs in San Antonio.
“The shots (to his back) didn’t bother me,” said Aldridge. “I got tight from going up and down. I think that’s definitely the most work I’ve done in two weeks, but we did things on the sideline to open it back up.”
With Aldridge back in the rotation, the Trail Blazers looked like a much more fluid team on both sides of the ball. The 6-11 forward shot an airball on his first attempt in nearly two weeks, but followed that up with a vicious block on Atlanta’s Elton Brand, a made 17-footer of a Nicolas Batum pass and got to the line in his first five minutes.
“I wasn’t winded, I was surprised,” said Aldridge. “They actually gave me time to workout and go up and down and do things like that. I thought that was big for my cardio tonight. I didn’t even get tired, really.”
Aldridge would go on to put up eight points, fives rebounds, a steal and a block in eight first-quarter minutes to help the Trail Blazers take a 22-16 lead into the second.
The Trail Blazers would follow up a quality first quarter with arguably their best offensive quarter of the road trip thus far in the second. Atlanta’s defense, playing shorthanded without Kyle Korver and Pero Antic, had to pick their poison after Aldridge’s hot start, which gave both Robin Lopez and Damian Lillard space they had not been afforded in recent games. Lopez finished the second with seven points and Lillard went 3 of 4 from the field and 2 of 2 from three for eight second-quarter points.
“There’s a lot of security in being able to throw (Aldridge) the ball in the block,” said Stotts. “The way were were playing before (without Aldridge) there was a lot of movement, it’s very fatiguing to constantly be driving and trying to push the pace. In pick and rolls he creates a problem so defenses have to make a decision how they want to guard the pick and roll with him and Mo or him and Dame or him and Nic. He gives us a lot of security at the offensive end.”
Portland shot 65 percent from the field in the second to outscore Atlanta by 10 in the quarter to take a 53-37 lead into the intermission.
But when you’re in the midst of a three-game losing streak, nothing comes easy for 48 minutes. The Hawks weren’t able to make up much ground in the third quarter, but managed to make a push early in the fourth to apply pressure to a team struggling to hold position in the Western Conference playoff race. Atlanta went on a 12-4 run, with 10 of those points coming from Lou Williams, to cut Portland’s lead to six with 8:10 to play in regulation. You could almost feel the nervousness back in Portland, as the Trail Blazers have struggled in the second half of the season to finish close games.
But rather than letting another game slip away, Portland would finish the game on an 18-9 run to pull away for a 15-point victory. Aldridge would score seven of those points late, including an and-1 finish off a Wesley Matthews dish with just under six minutes to play that put Portland up 11.
“I’m just trying to make it easier on everybody else,” said Aldridge. “I felt like we all made the right plays tonight. (Matthews) gave me a really good pass on that one. I tried to go to the basket because I had one play like that previously, I settled for the jumpshot. So that time I was trying to go to the basket, went up strong. I think just me being out there, trying to make reads, it helps everybody else make reads off of me.”
With Aldridge putting pressure on Atlanta’s defense, Lillard was freed up to take care of business on the perimeter. The second-year guard out of Weber State went 7 of 15 from the field and 4 of 9 from three to finish with 21 points while adding six rebounds and four assists in 34 minutes.
“We’re a whole different team with (Aldridge),” said Lillard. “He’s our best player. He brings balance to our team. We had an inside presence and we were able to play inside-out like we have been all year. He played well to have sat out for so long. I think, with him out there, we just got more quality shots.”
Aside from Lopez, Aldridge’s return also had a positive effect on Thomas Robinson, who played alongside Aldridge for much of the game and responded with 10 points on 4 of 4 shooting in just under 19 minutes.
“Because of LA’s minutes (restriction) I had to tweak the rotation, but I liked playing Thomas and LA together,” said Stotts. “I thought that worked well for us. Thomas, I thought, played a good energy game, made some good plays at both ends of the court. That’s what we need from him.”
Stotts also got an efficient game from backup point guard Mo Williams. Despite playing through a minor knee injury, Williams shot 3 of 6 from the field for eight points while dishing out a game-high 11 assists, with a number of those coming off alley-oops, in 25 minutes.
“I thought Mo, when he came into the game, he found a lot of things offensive,” said Stotts. “Found Robin on some rolls, pushed the pace, made his shots. He played a very good game, but when he came in, it seemed like the game changed a little bit.”
With the victory, Portland is now a game ahead of the Warriors for the fifth seed in the West and three games up on the Dallas Mavericks, who sit in ninth after losing Thursday night to the Clippers.
“The race is getting tight and we’ve got nine games left,” said Lillard. “We just need to finish out nine games strong and that’s all we need to focus on. Having a win, it gives us momentum to try to go get another one tomorrow. It’s refreshing because we had kind of … it was just losing. That energy, we was off a little bit just from losing games and other teams winning, the season coming down to an end. Having a win, I think that brings up our energy. It helps us mentally.”
With that boost of energy, the Trail Blazers head northwest to wrap up a five-game trip with against the Bulls in Chicago. Tipoff is scheduled for Friday at 5 PM.
Greetings from San Fransisco. After the Trail Blazers lost 118-106 to the Warriors in Game One of their Western Conference semifinal series, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, grabbed a couple mics to record the first second round edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which is now available for your afternoon listening…
On this edition, we discuss Sunday afternoon’s loss, Portland’s tough start and whether there’s anything positive to be taken from the last three quarters, dealing with Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, the eventual return of Stephen Curry and if there any similarities between Sunday’s game and Game One versus the Clippers. We also answer a host of questions about Allen Crabbe, the enthusiasm at Oracle Arena, the quick turnaround from Game Six to the second Game One and give some tips on packing for regular business travel. And we also start the show off with some bad Mike Meyers impersonations. Sorry about that.
Even at full strength, the Trail Blazers were having a hard time keeping up with the Golden State Warriors in the first game of their second round, best-of-seven playoff series. But that task got significantly harder after reserve guard Gerald Henderson, who is averaging 7.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists in the 2016 postseason, was ejected after a series of altercations with Warriors center Anderson Varejao that occurred late in the third quarter of Portland’s 118-106 loss Sunday night at Oracle Arena.
The first incident took place at the 3:29 mark of the third. Henderson and Varejao collided during the run of play, sending Varejao tumbling to the floor. As he was falling, he seemed to extend his leg out in an effort to trip Henderson, which ultimately proved successful. Henderson immediately got off the floor and into Varejao’s face, prompting the officials to call assess technicals to both players.
“I bumped him — not on purpose — he tripped me on purpose,” said Henderson. “I fell hard, I didn’t like it, so came together, that’s what happens.”
But that wouldn’t be the end of the tete-a-tete between Henderson and Varejao. Though Varejao was on the bench, that didn’t stop him and Henderson from continuing their less than cordial discussion, which the officials apparently noticed, as both players were once again awarded technicals, resulting in double ejections.
“The ref threw me out from across the way. I guess he could hear what I was saying from across the court,” said Henderson. “We were talking since the first technicals happened, but there’s a lot of talking going on out there. For both of us to get kicked out of the game, it was surprising.”
Despite the tense moments, Henderson said postgame that there was no lingering animosity while noting that he was more mad at himself than at Varejao.
“I been put it behind me,” said Henderson, who finished with five points and three assists in just under 17 minutes. “We lost the game, that’s the only thing that matters. I was pissed I got thrown out, we still had a chance to win the game. I got ejected, I’ve got to be smarter, regardless of if I thought I should have got kicked out or not.”
OAKLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers had roughly 36 hours to prepare for Game One of their Western Conference Semifinals matchup versus the Golden State Warriors after eliminating the Clippers in Game Six at the Moda Center on Friday night. There was only so much film they could watch, only so many Warriors-specific plays they could learn before a 12:30 pm tipoff Sunday afternoon in Oakland.
That was a reality reflected in Portland’s performance to start the game, as they made just five field goals and trailed by as many as 20 in the first quarter before going on to lose 118-106 to the top-seeded Warriors in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 at Oracle Arena.
“Certainly wasn’t the start we wanted,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “It was disappointing to get off to such a poor start. Our offense, we had trouble scoring. Their defense got into us. It was just — we struggled at both ends, and probably more so on the offensive end, which fed into their defense. They had second chance point, they had fast-break points. It was a little bit of everything.”
The Warriors now lead the series 1-0 with Game Two scheduled for Tuesday.
“To start the game, we played like a team playing it’s second game in 30 hours,” said CJ McCollum. “We can’t start like that, especially here.”
The good news is the Trail Blazers improved as the game went on. Portland shot 52 percent from the field an 67 percent from three in the second quarter, utilizing small lineups that featured Maurice Harkless at “center” to eventually outscore Golden State 34-28 in the quarter. The Trail Blazers managed to cut the Warriors’ lead to single digits on numerous occasions before the half but were never able to keep the deficit in check for more than a possession or two, allowing the home team to take a 14-point lead into the intermission.
The Warriors, playing without reigning MVP Stephen Curry, who is sidelined with a sprained right MCL, would reestablish their dominance in the third quarter, holding Portland to 9-of-27 shooting from the field and a particularly stingy 1-of-8 from three. Between their defense and shooting 50 percent from both the field and three in the quarter, Golden State took a 26-point lead, their largest of the night, before heading into the fourth up 93-73.
Portland was able to give the final score an air of respectability by outscoring Golden State 33-25 in the fourth, but never realistically threatened the defending champs before the final buzzer. And while there was little to like about their Game One performance, the Trail Blazers can take some comfort in knowing they were able to bounce back from a rough start in the first round to win their series versus the Clippers.
“We got beat pretty soundly in Game One against the Clippers and we made some adjustments, we played a little bit better and got better as the series went along, and we need to do the same thing,” said Stotts. “So we’ll watch the video, see what we can come up with for Game Two. But there’s no question that we have to play better and learn from Game One like we did with the Clippers.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who finished with 30 points, five assists and four steals in 41 minutes. CJ McCollum added 12 points, three rebounds and three assists in 40 minutes. Portland’s starting backcourt combined to shoot 13-of-43 from the field, with many of those makes coming when the game was already out of reach.
“We’ve just got to be better,” said Lillard, who said he’s been battling a chest cold the last few days (and sounded like it when answer questions postgame). “I got some looks that I need to make, CJ did as well. We just got to be better offensively if we want to have a chance against this team.”
Al-Farouq Aminu shot 6-of-13 from the field and 3-of-8 from three for 15 points in 25 minutes. Harkless added 10 points and three rebounds, with Mason Plumlee grabbing a game-high 13 boards.
Allen Crabbe continued his strong play as of late, going 6-of-9 from the field for 15 points and five rebounds in 33 minutes. Ed Davis went 5-of-6 from the field to finish with 11 points and seven rebounds before fouling out in 18 minutes.
Gerald Henderson finished with five points and three rebounds in 16 minutes before being ejected after getting receiving two technicals for arguing with Warriors center Anderson Varejao, who was also ejected.
The Warriors were led by Klay Thompson, who shot 50 percent from both the field and three to finish with a game-high 37 points to go along with five rebounds in 37 minutes.
“We’ve got to do a better job, starting with me if I’m guarding (Thompson),” said McCollum. “Got to make sure I’m pacing better and making him curl. Hard hedges got to be there, especially if it’s Bogut or somebody setting setting that screen where he’s not really a good shooter. We’ve got to make sure we make them pay for that.”
Draymond Green put up a triple-double of 23 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in 37 minutes. Shaun Livingston added 12 points and with both Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut finishing with 10 points.
Next up, the Trail Blazers will try to regroup before heading back to Oracle for Game Two on Tuesday.
“I got some looks that I usually would have made that I didn’t knock down,” said Lillard. “So next game, I look forward to the challenge again. At this point in the season, all that matters is winning. You either win or you lose; you advance or you go home. At this point, we’re just trying to fix things and make sure that our season keeps going.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm.