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.
Now back in Portland for games Three and Four of the second round series versus the Golden State Warriors, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio to record a Game Two recap edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this latest edition we discuss Portland’s collapse in the fourth quarter of Game Two that turned what looked like a rare road win at Oracle Arena into an 11-point loss, how the Trail Blazers go about putting that game behind them before Game Three at the Moda Center, the reports of Stephen Curry sitting out Game Three, Maurice Harkless’ defense on Klay Thompson, the overall quality of the defending champs and answer a few questions about Game Three adjustments, Portland’s locker room, Draymond Green, how far we can run at this point in our lives and a few more random things that I’ve already since forgotten.
OAKLAND — For the first three quarters, it looked as though the Portland Trail Blazers might actually beat the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena, something that only two teams have managed to do in the last seven months.
But unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, NBA games last four quarters. And Tuesday night in Oakland, the Warriors outscored the Trail Blazers 34-12 in the final 12 minutes to come away with a 110-99 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 in Game Two of the Western Conference semifinals.
“We played three really good quarters, and we showed that we can compete with them, and it got away from us in the fourth quarter, obviously,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “It was disappointing to lose a game that you’re competitive and you’re in a position to be in the fourth quarter. But we’ve got to close it out… It was an opportunity to get a win on the road, and we’ve got to learn from it and be ready to go get one in Game Three.”
The Warriors now lead the series 2-0.
“I think nights like tonight, they suck,” said Damian Lillard. “It hurts to go back in the locker room after you play so well for so long and you come back in there with the L. But it is a part of growth. The entire season has been growth for us. But nights like tonight, we have to close that out. We have to get that done. It was just a missed opportunity.”
The first half of Tuesday night’s game went about as well as the Trail Blazers could possible expect, with Portland taking a 17-point lead in the second quarter thanks to shooting 51 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. Though the Warriors would cut into the Trail Blazers lead thanks to an 18-3 run, Portland, as was the case for most of the night, always seemed to counter at just the right time to quiet the Oracle Arena crowd. That counter in at the end of the second quarter came courtesy of back-to-back threes from Al-Farouq Aminu and Damian Lillard to push the lead back to eight by the intermission.
Portland, thanks mostly to Lillard going 6-of-11 from the field and 4-of-5 from three in the third, extended their lead to 11 going into the fourth quarter before Golden State got white hot to finish out the game. The Warriors took their first lead of the night early in the fourth quarter and would go on to win by 11 after finishing out the game by shooting 11-of-18 in the final 12 minutes of regulation. The Trail Blazers also play right into the Warriors’ hands by turning the ball over five times while going 5-of-19 from the field.
“I think the last run, they were desperate,” said Lillard. “It got to the point where it was win or lose. There wasn’t another quarter after that. It wasn’t just stay with it. It was, ‘We’ve got to do it now.’ And they played desperate, and we just didn’t respond to it well enough to finish the game.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who scored 17 in the third quarter before finishing with 25 points on 8-of-20 shooting from the field and 6-of-11 shooting from three, six assists and four rebounds in 40 minutes. CJ McCollum went 9-of-19 for 22 points, two rebounds and two assists in 41 minutes.
Aminu got off to a fast start, scoring 10 points in the first quarter before finishing with 14 to go along with six rebounds and two assists. Maurice Harkless would add 11 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes with Gerald Henderson coming off the bench to add 12.
As was the case in Game One, Klay Thompson would lead the Warriors with 27 points on 7-of-20 shooting from the field and 5-of-14 shooting from three. Draymond Green, who was the driving force along with Festus Ezeli in Golden State’s pivotal fourth quarter, was just shy of another triple-double with 17 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in 41 minutes while also blocking four shots.
“I think there came a point where me and Klay were trying to do too much,” said Green. “When we settled down and trusted everybody else, that’s when everything started to click for us. So as far as the way I’ve been playing with the exception of that one game, it’s playoff basketball. This is what we live for. You play the whole season to get to this point.”
Shaun Livingston and Harrison Barnes scored 14 and 13 points, respectively, with Andre Igoudala putting up 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting off the bench.
Next up, the series takes a three-day break before shifting to Portland for Game Three on Saturday at the Moda Center.
“We’ve been in bad positions time and time again, and we’ve never shied away,” said Lillard. “We’ve never not answered the call. I don’t see why this time it would be any different. In our last series against the Clippers, we were down 0-2. We went home, and the next two games they were pretty much full strength. They had their guys and we got it done those two games. Obviously, Golden State is a different monster, but we know the same thing can happen, and that’s what we’re going in there thinking and believing, and we’re back on our home floor. We’ve got to go out there and play a game like tonight and go finish it.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 pm on ABC and 620 AM.
The Trail Blazers held shootaround Tuesday morning at the Olympic Club in downtown San Fransisco in preparation for tonight’s Game Two of the Western Conference semifinal matchup versus the Warriors at Oracle Arena (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on TNT and 620 AM). Some notes from shootaround…
• The Trail Blazers, after losing badly in Game One of their first round series versus the Clippers, made a host of adjustments going into Game Two. Whether it was having Al-Farouq Aminu guard Chris Paul, using Mason Plumlee to initiate more of the offense or giving spot minutes to Chris Kaman, Terry Stotts and is staff came up with a number of ways to mitigate L.A.’s advantages, which ultimately helped the Trail Blazers go on to win the series in six games.
So after the Trail Blazers lost 118-106 to the the Warriors in Game One of their second round series on Sunday afternoon, one might have assumed that Portland would once again make wholesale changes in time for Game Two Tuesday night at Oracle Arena. Turns out, that isn’t necessarily the case. While the Trail Blazers are sure to try a few different things, their adjustments will likely be a change of approach rather than tactics.
“The short answer to that is a little bit less only because it’s such a different style,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of whether he’d be make more or less adjustments versus the Warriors. “So the adjustments that we’re making for this series is just trying to adjust from playing a team that’s so different than the team that we just played six games. Clippers play a different style of game, and that’s the adjustment we have to make.”
That difference in styles between the Clippers and Warriors makes Portland’s preparation for Game Two a bit more abstract than it was in the last series. The Warriors tend to play more of a freewheeling brand of basketball than the Clippers, which requires more nuanced adjustments on Portland’s end.
“I would say fewer adjustments for sure, because they play basketball,” said Mason Plumlee. “There aren’t a whole lot of plays, they exploit what they see as their playing the game. So it’s not a whole lot of scouting of plays, it’s more tendencies and personnel.”
The changes that worked versus the Clippers not necessarily working versus the Warriors is more proof of the individuality of every playoff series. The situations might be somewhat similar, but that doesn’t mean the solutions are the same.
“Everybody keeps drawing comparisons; you’ve got to let that last series go,” said Plumlee. “Every series is new, they’re a better team. This series is completely different so we have to make a point to come out and win this next game. I don’t think you can count on them getting up 2-0 and then giving you four-straight, so this next game is a big one.”
• When the Warriors went to their small lineups in Game One, the Trail Blazers countered by doing the same, with varying degrees of success. Portland played multiple lineups during the course of Sunday afternoon’s loss that have rarely been on the court together this season, if at all, including a five-man group that featured Maurice Harkless at “center” surrounded by four guards.
But Golden State has extensive experience utilizing small lineups, at least relative to Portland, and with the personnel on their roster reflecting that reality. So it’s debatable just how much the Trail Blazers should try to match those units rather than trying to take advantage of a size advantage.
“I’ll be dating myself, but when Seattle beat Golden State back in ’92, ’93, something like that, and (Don Nelson) was playing small ball and George (Karl) stayed big with Benoit Benjamin and Derrick McKey and Shawn Kemp. So (Seattle) beat (Golden State) playing to their strengths. I think the important thing is that you play to your strengths more than anything else.”
Stotts will likely continue to give some nontraditional lineups a try when the Warriors go small, but it’ll be just as important for their standard lineups to fare better than they did in Game One, particularly after giving up 16 offensive rebounds, which led to 17 second-chance points.
Said Mason Plumlee: “I think a way to punish them when they go small is to own the glass, get second-chance points and finish everything inside.”
• Though no one in the media knew about it until he answered questions in a decidedly raspy voice after Game One, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has been battling a significant chest cold for roughly the last week. While it stands to reason that an athlete, especially one playing at the highest level, would be affected negatively by such an illness, Lillard refused to blame the infirmaty for his less-than-stellar performance Sunday afternoon at Oracle Arena.
“I actually felt pretty good,” said Lillard. “Obviously being clogged up inside, it has you a little bit more winded than usual. There’s no excuses. The bottom line is my team needs me to perform better than I did.”
And it sounds, literally, like Lillard’s lungs won’t be as much of an issue in Game Two. The 6-3 point guard in his fourth season out of Weber State didn’t exactly sound like his normal self prior to Tuesday morning’s shootaround, but he said he’s making progress toward feeling better and didn’t sound as though his chest was on fire when making said proclamation.
“I feel better,” said Lillard. “Obviously still trying to shake it. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing the last two days, just trying to do different stuff to make myself feel better for tonight.”