The “Are The Portland Trail Blazers For Real?” home stand continued Wednesday night with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the reigning kings of the Northwest Division and one of the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, visiting the Moda Center.
And they would leave as so many other teams have this season, with a loss.
The Trail Blazers overcame a double-digit halftime deficit to defeat the Thunder 111-104 for their 16th victory of the season. Portland has now won 14 of their last 15 games and has lost just once at the Moda Center this season. Their 16-3 record is tied for the second-best record through 19 games in team history.
“Needless to say, it was a good win for us. Especially after we really didn’t have much going in the first half, we couldn’t quite come up with loose balls, offensive rebounds, hustle plays. It seemed like they had a lot of momentum in the first half. But I really liked the way we came out at the beginning of the third quarter, obviously. Offense and defense a lot of times go hand in hand. Our defense picked up and our offensive picked up. The crowd got into it and everybody contributed, so the second half was great.”
No Trail Blazer was greater than LaMarcus Aldridge, who lost out on Western Conference Player of the Month honors to Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant earlier in the week. But while Durant won the award, Aldridge all-star won the night, scoring 16 points in the third quarter alone while leading Portland’s comeback from an 11-point halftime deficit.
“I don’t know if I have the words, to be honest,” said Stotts when asked about Aldridge’s performance. “Offensively, obviously he can score. But I liked his toughness, I liked his leadership, I liked his competitive fire. As much as he played very well, it was a lot of the intangibles that I really appreciated from him tonight.”
Aldridge would be Portland’s go-to whenever the offense started to stagnate, and was more than up to the task, finishing the game with a season-high 38 points on a career-high 17 made attempts while logging 13 rebounds, five assists and two steals. With his performance tonight, Aldridge passed Geoff Petrie for sixth on the Trail Blazers’ all-time points list and also passed Jerome Kersey for fourth all-time in made field goals.
“He’s our go-to guy, he’s our franchise player, he’s the face of the franchise,” said Nicolas Batum of Aldridge. “So when we need something — every team go to somebody — Miami goes to LeBron, Lakers go to Kobe, OKC goes to Durant. Us, we go to LA. That’s it.”
Aldridge’s performance in one of Portland’s biggest games of the season thus far inspired an “M-V-P” chant while the the eighth-year power forward, who has spent his entire career as a Trail Blazer, was shooting two clutch free throws with 24 seconds to play (free throws he made, by the way).
“Just surreal,” said Aldridge of the chants. “It was humbling to have that moment here. I’ve been here so long and I’ve had very few of those type of chants here, so that was fun. I thought that made the night just complete for me.”
While he was surely the hero of the night, two of the most important plays of the fourth quarter didn’t involved even involved Aldridge.
The first came with 8:33 left to play and the Trail Blazers leading 88-84. Oklahoma City’s Jeremy Lamb stole a Mo Williams pass and looked to have a wide-open layup in transition. But Dorell Wright hustled back on defense and got in Lamb’s way just enough to force the guard to blow the layup. Derek Fisher would get the rebound, but miss the putback as well. Wright was then able to corral the rebound and the ensuing possession resulted in a three-pointer for Damian Lillard that would put the Trail Blazers up 91-84.
“I thought Dorell Wright’s play … was a huge play for us,” said Stotts. “We’re up four and Lamb is going to dunk it and gain the momentum and that play, making him change it and Dame following it, that was a big momentum play for us. Those are the little things that win games like this.”
Oklahoma City was able to rally later in the quarter, cutting Portland’s lead to 105-104 with 37 seconds to play. Stotts drew up a play coming out of a timeout with the goal of having Batum dump the ball into Aldridge in the post. But Batum found himself wide open a the three-point line after catching the inbounds pass and, rather than finding Aldridge, decided to take the shot, which he hit to put Portland up four, essentially icing the game.
“The play was for LaMarcus,” said Batum. “I should come off pindown and give the ball inside. I just run baseline cut and I received the ball and I was like, I was surprised at first to be that wide open. So, shoot it.”
Outside of Aldridge, the Trail Blazers got yet another phenomenal performance from Robin Lopez, who scored all 12 of his points in the first half and used the second half to wreck havoc defensively, finishing with four blocks to go along with 10 rebounds for yet another double-double.
Batum finished with 14 points, size rebounds, three assists, two steal and a block while Damian Lillard also finished score 14 while handing out six assists.
Wesley Matthews finished with 13 points five rebounds and an assist. All five of Portland’s starters finished the night scoring in double figures.
The Thunder was lead by Kevin Durant with 33 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Russell Westbrook finished with 21 points and five assists and Serge Ibaka added a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds in the losing effort.
The home stand continues Friday with a game against the Jazz for the first of a Moda Center back-to-back. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.
PORTLAND — It wasn’t easy, but usually that’s the way things go in an elimination game.
Though it came down to the final seconds, the Portland Trail Blazers were able to defeat an undermanned Clippers team 106-103 Friday night at the Moda Center in Game Six of their first round playoff series. With the win, the Trail Blazers take the series 4-2 and move on to face the Golden State Warriors, the reigning NBA champions, in the Western Conference semifinals.
“Hey, 106-103 is beautiful,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, who become just the fourth Portland head coach to get his team out of the first round more than once. “Look, it was a grind it out game. They have some players who can put the ball in the basket and play off the dribble. Honestly, we lost so many of these type of games early in the season, to keep our composure and make the plays, get a rebound, make some free throws, trust your teammates. It’s not going to be a beautiful 48 minutes. But what I have a problem with is that when you don’t score, it’s considered ugly basketball – when two teams are really competing and playing hard and defending, to me, that’s a thing of beauty as well.”
With the win, the Trail Blazers improve to 10-0 all-time at home potential playoff series-clinching games. The Trail Blazers are the first team since 2000 to win four-consecutive playoff games in the same series. What’s more, the Trail Blazers are just the 16th team in NBA history to win a series after starting off losing the first two games.
And after failing to win a playoff series for 14-straight season, the Trail Blazers have now advanced to the second round in two of the last three seasons.
The Trail Blazers, as was the case in Game Five at Staples Center, were never able to put the Clippers away in the first three quarters, with the visitors, playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, taking an 82-80 lead into the fourth quarter. Portland would erase that slim deficit and take a seven-point lead of their own late in the fourth, but the Clippers never relented, tying the game at 103-103 with 32.1 seconds to play.
But Mason Plumlee would save the day, as he’s done on multiple occasions in the first round, by securing an offense rebound and getting fouled while attempting a putback with 14.7 seconds to play. He’d make both free throws, and would go 1-of-2 from the line on the next possession, to secure the three-point win.
“It feels great,” said Plumlee, who became the first Trail Blazer since 1977 to record at least 10 rebounds in five-straight playoff games. “There’s no easy playoff wins, there’s no easy series. Our guys were resilient, they really played well. We’re ready for the next round.
The Trail Blazers were led by Damian Lillard, who went 9-of-21 from the field for 28 points to go with seven assists and five rebounds in 38 minutes. CJ McCollum went 7-of-16 from the field and 2-of-3 from three to add 20 points.
Plumlee finished with nine points, 14 rebounds, four assists and a steal in 31 minutes. Maurice Harkless scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half to go with three rebounds in 29 minutes. Allen Crabbe went 5-of-9 to add 13 points and five rebounds in 31 minutes.
The Clippers had five players score in double figures led by Jamal Crawford, who went 10-of-25 from the field for a game-high 32 points. Austin Rivers, who was bloodied in the first quarter after catching an elbow from Al-Farouq Aminu, causing a gash that required 11 stitches, finished with 21 points, eight assists and six rebounds in 31 minutes.
The Trail Blazers now move on to face a Golden State Warriors team that set the NBA record for wins in a season with 73 after winning the 2015 NBA Championship. Reigning MVP Stephen Curry is currently sidelined with an MCL sprain and is not expected to be available for the first two games of the series, though Golden State still managed to advance to the second round nonetheless.
“We thought this team was tough without CP and Blake, but (the Warriors are) a championship team,” said Lillard. “Even without Steph, they’re still a championship team. We’ve got to keep our mind right, compete and play together. We can’t be worried about who’s not out there because we just watched them beat Houston by 25 twice without Steph. We’ve just got to keep improving on the things we’ve done well and be locked in defensively.”
On the plus side, the Trail Blazers were one of the few teams to best the Warriors this season, blowing out the defending champs 137-105 on February 19. However, Golden State took the other three games of the season series by an average of 20.3 points.
“They pose a lot of problems,” said McCollum. “Historically speaking, they had a really good year breaking the record for wins, losing one game at home I believe this year, so you know it’s going to be a tough environment. Offensively, even without Steph, they do a great job of moving the ball. Draymond is the head of the snake now that Steph’s out, and he moves the ball well. He’s the heart and soul of the team and he gets everybody involved. Klay will be a little bit more aggressive looking to score without Steph and Harrison Barnes and Shaun Livingston and the rest of the guys will be a lot more aggressive too.”
The Trail Blazers will now fly to the bay area for Game One, which is scheduled for Sunday at Oracle Arena in Oakland.
“As the series goes along, both teams will make adjustments,” said Stotts. “They’ve had some time to think about us. It’s going to be a challenge obviously, but we’ll watch a lot of video tonight and tomorrow, have a meeting tomorrow, and be ready to tip it up on Sunday.”
Tipoff is set for 7:30 pm on ABC and 620 AM.
When the Western Conference first round series between the Trail Blazers and Clippers started, many assumed it would be a quick affair, with the Clippers eventually moving on to face the Golden State Warriors in the second round. And after Warriors point guard Stephen Curry suffered a knee injury that will keep the reigning MVP sidelined for the start of the second round, much of the conversation revolved around how that would improve the Clippers’ chances of beating the defending champs in the Western Conference semifinals. The fact that the Clippers still had to beat the Trail Blazers two more times didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
A few days later, that narrative has flipped. Leading the series 3-2 with a chance to clinch in Game Six tonight at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on KGW, ESPN and 620 AM), the Trail Blazers are now Golden State’s presumptive opponent, as injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have all but ended the Clippers’ playoff run.
But just as the Clippers still had to win four games to advance, so too do the Trail Blazers, which is a good reminder that there are no such thing as inevitability when it comes to sports. “That’s why the play the game,” might be trite, but it’s still as true as it ever was, something the Trail Blazers know as well as any team still alive in the postseason.
“We just go out there and play, we don’t really pay attention to what’s being said,” said CJ McCollum. “You can’t read into that too much. First we were supposed to get swept, first we were just happy to win a game, so you just go play. You don’t really worry about the other stuff, you just control what you can control, keep your mindset the same, understand that nothing is inevitable. You’ve got to go out there and play.”
Though the Trail Blazers were able to beat the Clippers 108-98 at Staples Center in Game Five sans Paul and Blake, a team led by JJ Redick, DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers still managed to take a five-point lead into the half and had the game tied at 71-71 going into the fourth quarter, so it’s not as if any team, including Portland, can just roll the ball out in a playoff game and expect to emerge with the victory. After all, if that were the case, the Clippers would already be in Oakland preparing for the Western Conference semifinals.
“We understand that they’re a good team,” said McCollum “Regardless of what’s happened, regardless of what injuries they’ve gone through, they’re still a good team and we’ve still got to go play the game.”
And we’re back. After the Trail Blazers defeated a shorthanded Clippers team 109-98 in Game Five at Staples Center to take a 3-2 lead in the first round series, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studios once again to deliver another playoff edition of the Rip City Report podcast. Please consider listening…
On this episode, Joe and I discuss the Trail Blazers being on the verge of winning just their second playoff series in the last 16 years, what we’re expecting to see during Game Six Friday in Portland, make our picks for the Trail Blazers’ MVP and most surprising during the first five games, how the injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin change the narrative surrounding the series and answer some of your Twitter-submitted questions regarding Chris Kaman’s birthday, non-Moda Center places to watch Game Six, player playoff bonuses and give a few binge watching suggestions, not that you’d ever need to watch TV again with all these fine podcasts we’re providing for you.