The Portland Trail Blazers returned to the court for the first time in four days Wednesday night and responded with a 108-96 victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers in front of a sellout crowd of 19,998 at the Moda Center.
“I was very please with our defense, for the most part throughout the game but particularly in the fourth quarter,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We did a nice job of protecting the rim and forcing mid-range shots.”
With the win, the Trail Blazers are now 29-9 on the season and sit behind only the San Antonio Spurs, their next opponent, in the Western Conference standings. They are now 7-0 against teams from the Central Division.
Wednesday’s game had all the makings of yet another photo finish, which wouldn’t have been surprising considering two of the last three games between the Blazers and Cavaliers were decided by last-second shots, one of those in overtime. Cleveland led 94-93 after a Dion Waiters netted a three-pointer with 3:44 to play in the fourth quarter.
But it would be all Trail Blazers from there after LaMarcus Aldridge hit a three-pointer as the shot clock expired to put Portland up 96-94 with 3:17 to play. Even though it was Aldridge’s first three-pointer of the season, he said after that game that he had been practicing shooting from deep after shootaround.
“Clock was running down, I saw where I was,” said Aldridge. “I figured, I’ve been working on (three-pointers) all day this morning, so might as well shoot it. It went in. That’s rare for me, but I made it, so that was good for us.”
Aldridge’s three-pointer also served as a lesson to his younger teammates that just because you don’t take a lot of three-pointers doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t practice shooting them.
“That was a big-time shot,” said Damian Lillard. “He had a hand in his face, he doesn’t really shoot threes. In shootaround today I told him to stop shooting threes because he never shoots them in a game and he just happened to make that one.”
After Aldridge’s triple, Anderson Varejao answered back with an offensive rebound and a putback on the ensuing possession to tie the game at 96-96, but the Trail Blazers would hold the Cavaliers scoreless for the remaining two minutes, 54 seconds of regulation.
“I thought everybody took an individual challenge,” said Stotts of his team’s defense late in the fourth quarter. “On their pick and rolls, our bigs were good at containing the ball and not giving them an alley to the basket. With the one-on-one defense, our stances were good and taking away angles to drive. The help defense was there. So I just think it was a combination of good individual defense and good, especially, pick and roll defense.”
On the flip side, the Trail Blazers found their flow on offense in the fourth, finishing the final quarter by shooting 57 percent from the field and 56 percent from three. Portland would end the game on a 12-0 run thanks to six-straight points from Aldridge and three-pointers from Lillard and Wesley Matthews.
“We’re a high-potent, offensive team,” said Matthews. “Eventually our shots are going to fall. We’ve got guys that make too many good plays and guys that can knock down shots too well to not make shots for a full game.”
Playing a nip-and-tuck game for the first three quarters before pulling away in the fourth has been a recent trend for the Trail Blazers, and that was no different Wednesday night against the Cavaliers.
“I think a lot of good team are able to (extend leads) in the fourth quarter,” said Stotts, “and I think we’re a good team. We want to be able to be in position to win games in the fourth quarter, whether we explode or whether we win a nail-biter. I think we have the confidence and resolve and determination to find a way to win in the fourth quarter.”
Aldridge led all scorers with 32 points on 12 of 26 shooting to go along with 18 rebounds, four assists and a steal in 35 minutes. The Blazers are now 19-3 this season when Aldridge records a double-double.
Damian Lillard got the best of Kyrie Irving in the matchup of up-and-coming point guards, finishing with 28 points, six rebounds, 5 assists and two steals in 36 minutes. Lillard scored 20 of his points in the first half.
Matthews scored five points in the fourth quarter
to finish with 15 points, four assists, a rebound and a steal. Nicolas Batum scored just seven points on five shots but also added nine rebounds and six assists in 36 minutes.
Mo Williams struggled through a three of 11 night from the field but finished with eight points and a game-high seven assists. And Thomas Robinson turned in another energetic performance off the bench with four points, six rebounds and a block in just under 13 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers begin an incredibly difficult four games in five nights stretch on the road with a contest Friday night against the Spurs in San Antonio.
“Challenging,” said Stotts when asked to describe the upcoming trip, with also includes games against the Mavericks, Rockets and Thunder. “It’s four teams that are in the playoffs. I’m always reluctant to talk about a whole road trip. Right now, it’s about San Antonio and they’ve won six in a row and have the best record in the NBA, or close to it. So the road trip is challenging, but like anything else, you can’t look at the whole thing. If you’re going to read a 2,000-page book, you can’t look at the whole book. You’ve got to take the first chapter.”
Tipoff for that first chapter is set for 5:30 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.”