NEW ORLEANS — The Portland Trail Blazers broke a four-game losing streak Friday night in New Orleans with a 111-103 victory versus the Pelicans in front of 16,913 at the Smoothie King Center. With the win, the Trail Blazers improve to 43-23 on the season and 19-15 on the road.
“A much needed win, needless to say,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I was really proud of the way we competed. Our focus, the style of play, just the way we moved the ball offensively. Even though we gave up 103 (points), I thought we did a lot of good things … Everybody that was on the floor tonight really had an impact on the game”
The Trail Blazers, playing without both LaMarcus Aldridge (lower back contusion) and Mo Williams (hip strain), were led by Nicolas Batum, who finished with a monster double-double of 22 points and 18 rebounds in 45 minutes. Batum also added five assists and a steal in the winning effort.
“That was big for us to get this win without LaMarcus, without Mo, without Joel (Freeland),” said Batum. “Everybody stepped up tonight. That was a tough one. A win is a win, so we’re good.”
Batum is the first player in Trail Blazers history to record at least 22 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and four 3-pointers in a game and joins Kevin Love, LeBron James and Antoine Walker as the only players in NBA history to accomplish the feat. He’s also averaging 12.6 rebounds in the month of March, which is almost six boards higher than his season average.
“We played small, so (rebounding) is kind of my job to do,” said Batum. “I tried to do it the last couple of games when LaMarcus was out. I can’t leave Robin by himself inside or Meyers or T-Rob, so I’ve got to go (to the boards). I’ve got the ability to go get rebounds. That’s what I do the last couple games, so I just tried to keep doing it.”
Batum played the entirety of the second half and sat less than three minutes total, which was an unfortunate necessity with two of Portland’s top six rotations players on the bench due to injury.
“I just couldn’t take him out,” said Stotts. “He was playing so well, doing every as a facilitator, shooter, rebounder, various defensive assignments. I just couldn’t take him out. I don’t like playing a guy a whole half, but Nic was able to handle it.”
The Trail Blazers used a 9-0 run in the fourth quarter, with seven of those points coming courtesy of Damian Lillard, to turn a five-point deficit into a four-point lead with 3:47 to play in regulation. The second-year guard, who most recently played at the Smoothie King Center as a member of the Western Conference All-Star team, scored 16 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter.
“Everybody was contributing,” said Lillard. “I think that’s how we was able to stay in the game. Coach just kept deciding to put me in ball screens and put me in situations where I could attack, especially late in the game. Shots started to fall. I was able to make some plays and get it going a little bit.”
After shooting just 3 of 10 in the first three quarters, Lillard went 5 of 7 from the field and 2 of 3 from three in the fourth, including a deep triple with 1:14 to play to put Portland up 107-100 to all but assure victory for the road team.
“Big plays,” said Stotts of Lillard’s fourth-quarter. “He lives for those moments. The three that he hit was a big three for us. But defensively he was into the ball, got some deflections. He was very determined.”
The Blazers were aided by the play of Dorell Wright, who started in place of Aldridge and responded by going 4 of 8 from the field and 4 of 6 from three to finish with 15 points, four rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes. Wright was particularly effective in the early going, scoring 12 of his 15 points in the first half while Lillard and Wesley Matthews struggled from the field.
“If I’m open, I’m going to take my shots and I’m going to knock them down with confidence and I’m going to shoot them with confidence,” said Wright. “Guys were able to find me early on in the game. I was able to hold it down a little bit before Wes and Dame really got it going. I think the shots I did make in the first half really kept us in the game as well when I was in there. Wes finally got it going, Dame finally got it going and I think they did a great job as far as closing the game.”
Wright also drew the unenviable task of guarding Pelicans All-Star power forward Anthony Davis for much of the game. The second-year player out of Kentucky finished with a career-high 36 points on 15 of 27 shooting but pulled down just nine rebounds against an undersized Portland squad.
“He’s a young, good player,” said Wright of Davis. “He’s going to be real, real good. He’s going to be a big star in this league. You can just see the potential. He’s still raw out there but he definitely has the tools to be one of the great players. I just tried to challenge him, use my speed against him, speed him up a little bit and make him make tough shots. He’s about six inches taller than me, so sometimes he didn’t see me. I just tried to do the best I could, make him take tough shots.”
Portland also got double-digit scoring from Matthews, who ended the night 20 points, two rebounds and two assists, and Robin Lopez, who put up 19 points, four rebounds and three blocks playing against his former teammates.
While finishing the trip 1-4, which included two regrettable losses to the Mavericks and Rockets to being the losing streak, the Trail Blazers return home to Portland basically in the same position when they left: in fifth place in the Western Conference standings.
“We needed to stop the bleeding, there’s no question about that,” said Stotts. “I think there was some frustration losing four in a row, but we played some good basketball during those stretches and we just came up short. You’ve got to stem the tide. This was, especially with LA and Mo out, I think that made it even that much more important.”
The Trail Blazers now head back to the Moda Center for a three-game homestand starting on Sunday versus the Warriors. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 PM.
PORTLAND — It wasn’t easy, but usually that’s the way things go in an elimination game.
Though it came down to the final seconds, the Portland Trail Blazers were able to defeat an undermanned Clippers team 106-103 Friday night at the Moda Center in Game Six of their first round playoff series. With the win, the Trail Blazers take the series 4-2 and move on to face the Golden State Warriors, the reigning NBA champions, in the Western Conference semifinals.
“Hey, 106-103 is beautiful,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, who become just the fourth Portland head coach to get his team out of the first round more than once. “Look, it was a grind it out game. They have some players who can put the ball in the basket and play off the dribble. Honestly, we lost so many of these type of games early in the season, to keep our composure and make the plays, get a rebound, make some free throws, trust your teammates. It’s not going to be a beautiful 48 minutes. But what I have a problem with is that when you don’t score, it’s considered ugly basketball – when two teams are really competing and playing hard and defending, to me, that’s a thing of beauty as well.”
With the win, the Trail Blazers improve to 10-0 all-time at home potential playoff series-clinching games. The Trail Blazers are the first team since 2000 to win four-consecutive playoff games in the same series. What’s more, the Trail Blazers are just the 16th team in NBA history to win a series after starting off losing the first two games.
And after failing to win a playoff series for 14-straight season, the Trail Blazers have now advanced to the second round in two of the last three seasons.
The Trail Blazers, as was the case in Game Five at Staples Center, were never able to put the Clippers away in the first three quarters, with the visitors, playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, taking an 82-80 lead into the fourth quarter. Portland would erase that slim deficit and take a seven-point lead of their own late in the fourth, but the Clippers never relented, tying the game at 103-103 with 32.1 seconds to play.
But Mason Plumlee would save the day, as he’s done on multiple occasions in the first round, by securing an offense rebound and getting fouled while attempting a putback with 14.7 seconds to play. He’d make both free throws, and would go 1-of-2 from the line on the next possession, to secure the three-point win.
“It feels great,” said Plumlee, who became the first Trail Blazer since 1977 to record at least 10 rebounds in five-straight playoff games. “There’s no easy playoff wins, there’s no easy series. Our guys were resilient, they really played well. We’re ready for the next round.
The Trail Blazers were led by Damian Lillard, who went 9-of-21 from the field for 28 points to go with seven assists and five rebounds in 38 minutes. CJ McCollum went 7-of-16 from the field and 2-of-3 from three to add 20 points.
Plumlee finished with nine points, 14 rebounds, four assists and a steal in 31 minutes. Maurice Harkless scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half to go with three rebounds in 29 minutes. Allen Crabbe went 5-of-9 to add 13 points and five rebounds in 31 minutes.
The Clippers had five players score in double figures led by Jamal Crawford, who went 10-of-25 from the field for a game-high 32 points. Austin Rivers, who was bloodied in the first quarter after catching an elbow from Al-Farouq Aminu, causing a gash that required 11 stitches, finished with 21 points, eight assists and six rebounds in 31 minutes.
The Trail Blazers now move on to face a Golden State Warriors team that set the NBA record for wins in a season with 73 after winning the 2015 NBA Championship. Reigning MVP Stephen Curry is currently sidelined with an MCL sprain and is not expected to be available for the first two games of the series, though Golden State still managed to advance to the second round nonetheless.
“We thought this team was tough without CP and Blake, but (the Warriors are) a championship team,” said Lillard. “Even without Steph, they’re still a championship team. We’ve got to keep our mind right, compete and play together. We can’t be worried about who’s not out there because we just watched them beat Houston by 25 twice without Steph. We’ve just got to keep improving on the things we’ve done well and be locked in defensively.”
On the plus side, the Trail Blazers were one of the few teams to best the Warriors this season, blowing out the defending champs 137-105 on February 19. However, Golden State took the other three games of the season series by an average of 20.3 points.
“They pose a lot of problems,” said McCollum. “Historically speaking, they had a really good year breaking the record for wins, losing one game at home I believe this year, so you know it’s going to be a tough environment. Offensively, even without Steph, they do a great job of moving the ball. Draymond is the head of the snake now that Steph’s out, and he moves the ball well. He’s the heart and soul of the team and he gets everybody involved. Klay will be a little bit more aggressive looking to score without Steph and Harrison Barnes and Shaun Livingston and the rest of the guys will be a lot more aggressive too.”
The Trail Blazers will now fly to the bay area for Game One, which is scheduled for Sunday at Oracle Arena in Oakland.
“As the series goes along, both teams will make adjustments,” said Stotts. “They’ve had some time to think about us. It’s going to be a challenge obviously, but we’ll watch a lot of video tonight and tomorrow, have a meeting tomorrow, and be ready to tip it up on Sunday.”
Tipoff is set for 7:30 pm on ABC and 620 AM.
When the Western Conference first round series between the Trail Blazers and Clippers started, many assumed it would be a quick affair, with the Clippers eventually moving on to face the Golden State Warriors in the second round. And after Warriors point guard Stephen Curry suffered a knee injury that will keep the reigning MVP sidelined for the start of the second round, much of the conversation revolved around how that would improve the Clippers’ chances of beating the defending champs in the Western Conference semifinals. The fact that the Clippers still had to beat the Trail Blazers two more times didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
A few days later, that narrative has flipped. Leading the series 3-2 with a chance to clinch in Game Six tonight at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on KGW, ESPN and 620 AM), the Trail Blazers are now Golden State’s presumptive opponent, as injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have all but ended the Clippers’ playoff run.
But just as the Clippers still had to win four games to advance, so too do the Trail Blazers, which is a good reminder that there are no such thing as inevitability when it comes to sports. “That’s why the play the game,” might be trite, but it’s still as true as it ever was, something the Trail Blazers know as well as any team still alive in the postseason.
“We just go out there and play, we don’t really pay attention to what’s being said,” said CJ McCollum. “You can’t read into that too much. First we were supposed to get swept, first we were just happy to win a game, so you just go play. You don’t really worry about the other stuff, you just control what you can control, keep your mindset the same, understand that nothing is inevitable. You’ve got to go out there and play.”
Though the Trail Blazers were able to beat the Clippers 108-98 at Staples Center in Game Five sans Paul and Blake, a team led by JJ Redick, DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers still managed to take a five-point lead into the half and had the game tied at 71-71 going into the fourth quarter, so it’s not as if any team, including Portland, can just roll the ball out in a playoff game and expect to emerge with the victory. After all, if that were the case, the Clippers would already be in Oakland preparing for the Western Conference semifinals.
“We understand that they’re a good team,” said McCollum “Regardless of what’s happened, regardless of what injuries they’ve gone through, they’re still a good team and we’ve still got to go play the game.”
And we’re back. After the Trail Blazers defeated a shorthanded Clippers team 109-98 in Game Five at Staples Center to take a 3-2 lead in the first round series, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studios once again to deliver another playoff edition of the Rip City Report podcast. Please consider listening…
On this episode, Joe and I discuss the Trail Blazers being on the verge of winning just their second playoff series in the last 16 years, what we’re expecting to see during Game Six Friday in Portland, make our picks for the Trail Blazers’ MVP and most surprising during the first five games, how the injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin change the narrative surrounding the series and answer some of your Twitter-submitted questions regarding Chris Kaman’s birthday, non-Moda Center places to watch Game Six, player playoff bonuses and give a few binge watching suggestions, not that you’d ever need to watch TV again with all these fine podcasts we’re providing for you.