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.
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.”