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.
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”