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.
Neither Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard nor Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love were selected to participate in the 2016 NBA All-Star Game taking place Sunday night in Toronto. But instead of spending their time sulking, the point guard who plays in Portland and the power forward who grew up just down the road in Lake Oswego, aka The Brothers Hooper, hit the studio to collaborate on the new “Droppin’ Dimes” track for State Farm…
It’s not nearly as serious as Lillard’s “Bigger Than Us” video, but every discography needs some good party tracks.
Howdy kind listeners. Before we all take some much needed respite before the start of a brutal March schedule, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the studios at the Moda Center to record an All-Star break edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this week’s episode we marvel at the Trail Blazers being 27-27, good for seventh in the Western Conference, and how that’s going to cost Freeman some money/beer at some point, the emergence of Maurice Harkless since joining the starting lineup, Portland rising while other teams in their general range struggle, discuss how we’ll be spending our respective All-Star breaks and answer a host of questions pertaining to the upcoming trade deadline, Gerald Henderson’s tenure in Portland, Damian Lillard passing Brandon Roy and a bunch of other stuff that I’ve already since forgotten. As I noted during the show, my brain is already on vacation.
You can find the Rip City Report on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher. And consider using a small portion of the time you would usually spend watching the Blazers to give us a review on iTunes! You can be as mean as you want!
Though they were never teammates, Damian Lillard and Brandon Roy manage to talk from time to time. Their relationship started not long after Lillard was selected by the Trail Blazers with the sixth overall pick of the 2012 Draft and they’ve stayed in contact ever since over the years. During those somewhat regular chats, the current and former faces of the Trail Blazers’ franchise sometimes discuss the responsibility that comes with that title, especially at a relatively young age, and what could have been if the 6-3 guard out of Weber State and the now-retired 6-6 guard out of Washington ever had the opportunity to play alongside each other in Rip City.
And the next time they talk, they’ll have something new to discuss. With his 31-point performance in Tuesday night’s victory versus the Rockets, Lillard passed Roy for 15th in franchise history in points. Lillard now has 6,119 in less than four seasons in Portland, surpassing the the 6,107 points that Roy scored in five seasons before knee injuries ended his career far too prematurely.
“I mean, that’s an honor,” said Lillard of passing Roy. “Just to be moving up on that list period, but I mean, if Brandon Roy got to play as long as he should have played and people would have liked to have seen him play, I probably would never pass him, so it’s a great accomplishment. It’s an honor you know, but the more important thing is just continuing to be myself and continuing to win games.”
Which Lillard has done an excellent job of his season. He’s the only player to rank in the top-6 in both scoring (24.3 points per game) and assists (7.3 assist per game) this season and has led the Trail Blazers to a 27-27 record this season, vastly outperforming preseason expectations, despite being the only holdover from last season’s starting five.
Though he’s had plenty of help this season from the likes of CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis, Lillard’s performance through 54 games is the the primary reason that the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in seventh place in the Western Conference. Roy, a three-time All-Star, was a fantastic player in his own right, a player whose peak performances are still the stuff of legend in Portland, but even he never carried the load that Lillard has this season. And of course, Lillard has already helped the Trail Blazer win a playoff series in his first four season in Portland, something Roy never accomplished.
“He’s been pretty good in a short amount of time,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of Lillard. “I mean, Brandon Roy, I wasn’t here for that, but I know what an imprint he made on the city and the franchise and how important he was to the Blazers. The fact that Damian has passed him this early in his career really says something because I know how good Brandon was. I know his career was cut short but everybody here holds him in high regard.”
Assuming Lillard experiences relatively good health — the seven games he missed this season due to plantar fascitiis are the only games he’s missed in his profession career thus far — there’s no reason to think that he won’t replace Roy as the best guard to play in Portland since Clyde Drexler, if he hasn’t taken that mantel already. But Roy can take some satisfaction in knowing that at least some of the success Lillard has had as a Trail Blazer was accomplished in part due to emulating the example he set on and off the court.
“When (Roy) got to Portland, a lot of the stuff he did, it brought excitement,” said Lillard. “I think the city really embraced him, they liked who he was as a person along with what he did as a player, obviously. I think because I kind of came and did the same thing, did some of the same things he did, I think he respects that… He was well respected, people appreciated the kind of person he was and he got it done on the floor. I think I can say the same for myself.”