PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers moved to 53-28 on the season and 30-10 at home with a 119-117 overtime victory versus the Golden State Warriors Sunday night at the Moda Center. With the win, the Trail Blazers ensure they’ll play the Houston Rockets in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
‘That was a terrific game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “A lot of big plays on both sides, a lot of big shots. It was good to get the win and good to secure the fifth seed. It was a good game to tune up for the playoffs. A lot to be pleased about.”
While Portland’s first round opponent is set, which team will get home court is still yet to be determined. The Rockets can clinch home court with a win in either of their final two games, while the Blazers need to win their final game of the season versus the Clippers to have a chance at the fourth seed.
“I think that’s pretty exciting,” said Trail Blazers center Robin Lopez of the first-round matchup versus the Rockets. “We’ve had some close ones with them. We won a game, we had one that could have gone either way. I think it’s a good matchup for us. I like it.”
Many people, whether they were one of the 19,995 in attendance at the Moda Center or watching the game on television, would probably like to see the Trail Blazers and Warriors meet in the playoffs after Sunday night’s game, which featured 16 lead changes, 27 made three-pointers and two teams shooting better than 48 percent from the field.
“That might have been the best game of the year in the NBA,” said Wesley Matthews. “It’s got to be up there. Atmosphere was great. We went in with a playoff mentality, as did they. There was a lot riding on this game and both teams rose to the occasion. It just seemed like every play one team made, the other team countered it.”
Playoff position was at stake, and both teams played like it from the opening tip. The Warriors took an early seven-point lead in the first quarter after an Andre Igoudala layup with 4:54 to play in the first quarter put the visitors up 16-9. But the Trail Blazers would finish the quarter on a 14-3 run to take a 23-19 lead into the second quarter.
But then Golden State point guard Stephen Curry got hot, as he’s done so many times this season versus the Trail Blazers. Curry went 5 of 7 from the field, 2 of 3 from three and 6 of 6 from the free throw line for 18 second-quarter points, which was just three points fewer than the Trail Blazers scored as a team in the second.
“He’s been special all year long,” said Warriors head coach Mark Jackson of Curry. “He should be first team all NBA. He’s special, he’s been absolutely special.”
That special play in the second quarter all but single-highhandedly lifted Golden State to a 52-44 halftime lead, though he was assisted by Portland’s poor execution to end the second quarter. After Robin Lopez tied the game with two free throws with 1:06 to play in the first half, Portland finished the quarter with three straight turnovers. Even worse, Damian Lillard would foul Curry on a last-second three-pointer, sending the Warriors guard to the line for three free throws, which he converted to give Golden State a eight-point lead.
“We definitely got too passive and got to loose with the ball in the last minute,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “I thought we tried to do too much rather that just playing the game. Coach talked about it and we all did. I thought in the second half, guys did better.”
That was particularly true in the third quarter. Portland shot 11 of 19 from the field and 4 of 7 from three in the third quarter to retake the lead. But even more impressive was holding Curry, who had scored 21 points in the first half, to just six points in the quarter. Matthews was the catalyst on both sides of the ball for the Trail Blazers in the third, scoring 11 points on 3 of 4 shooting and while also being primarily responsible for guarding Curry.
“(Curry) is one of the better third quarter players in the league,” said Matthews. “We held him to six point in the quarter and I think that just really tired him out. He found his groove a little bit in the fourth quarter but, at some point, it’s got to weigh on him.”
That “little” groove that Curry found resulted in 17 fourth-quarter points. With Curry hitting almost every shot he put up and Klay Thompson making all three of his attempts, the Warriors were able to take a lead 100-99 lead after Curry converted a layup with 1:45 to play in regulation.
Matthews would make two free throws, followed by Thompson hitting a jumper, followed by Aldridge hitting two more free throws, which put the Trail Blazers up 102-103 with 24 seconds to play in regulation.
On the next possession, Curry would get an open lane to the basket after Matthews was rubbed off by a screen from Draymond Green. Aldridge switched onto Curry and was able to contest the shot enough to force a miss, something Curry rarely did Sunday night.
“I didn’t want him to hit a stepback three, because that’s what he’s known for,” said Aldridge. “So I was trying to crowd him a little bit. Then I saw that he was trying to go off the dribble, so I was trying to stay in front of him. And then once I saw he was going to try to float it I tired to block it and I tipped it just enough where he missed it.”
Matthews would corral the rebound and was immediately fouled by David Lee, which sent Matthews to the line for two and Lee to the locker room with six fouls. Matthews made both, giving the Blazers a 105-102 lead with 12 seconds to play.
But once again, late-quarter execution would be an issue. Rather than fouling up three and with a foul to give, the Trail Blazers opted to play defense, which they actually did quite well, as evidenced by neither Curry or Thompson getting Golden State’s final shot of regulation. But Green, who had not hit a shot all night, nailed a stepback three-pointer of his own to tied the game at 105-105 with three seconds to play.
“I didn’t do a good job of relaying what we were going to do,” said Stotts. “LA and Wes were both on the lane line and they were involved in the screen. We had a foul to give plus down three, we wanted to foul. But we didn’t relay the message very well. That being said, Draymond Green hit a hell of a shot, I mean a step back by three feet and Wes was right there, so it was a great shot, but yeah we did want to foul.”
Portland would have one last look, a three-pointer by Matthews, but it missed the mark, sending the game to overtime.
The teams, as they did for most of the night, traded baskets for most of the overtime period. Curry and Thompson did all of the scoring for the Warriors, which the Blazers got points from all of their starters. Nevertheless, the Warriors took a 117-116 lead after a Thompson three-pointer with 55 seconds to play.
Aldridge would hit a 20-footer of a Lillard assist with 39 seconds to play. And to the surprise of likely everyone in the building, Curry missed a 17-footer with nine second to play. Batum grabbed the rebound and got the ball to Lillard, who advanced the ball past halfcourt. But once again, their was confusion about what the Trail Blazers wanted to do with the possession. Rather than holding the ball for as long as possible with the shot clock and the game clock separated by roughly two seconds, Lillard drove and was fouled with nine second to play, which was far too much time to leave on the clock in such a scenario.
“I actually made a mistake,” said Lillard, who finished with 13 points, five assists and three rebounds in 43 minutes. “I kind of got confused because they weren’t fouling. There was only two seconds difference. Every time we went flat, they kept sending two people out there and I saw him keep turning his head and I just went around him, but that was a bad call on my part.”
Lillard hit one of two free throws, which gave the the Warriors a chance to tie the game with a two or win with a three, as they did the last time they played the Trail Blazers at the Moda Center. But Andre Igoudala missed a wide-open attempt with two seconds to play, the result of which was two-point victory for the Trail Blazers and a date with the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs starting in a week.
Portland was led by LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with 26 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists in 38 minutes. Wesley Matthews went 6 of 13 from the field and 4 of 10 from three to finish with 24 points in 42 minutes.
Nicolas Batum turned in a double-double performance with 18 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block in 44 minutes.
Stephen Curry nearly lifted the Warriors to the win on his own, scoring 47 points on 16 of 29 shooting.
Next up, the Trail Blazers finish their regular season versus the Clippers Wednesday night at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.
The 2015-16 NFL season comes to a close Sunday with the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers facing off at Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, CA. And after having an official rooting interest the last two years by way of the Seattle Seahawks, a team owned by Paul Allen, making the Super Bowl in consecutive seasons, the Trail Blazers seem fairly ambivalent about the result this time around. Various player on Portland’s roster have acquaintances on both the Broncos and Panthers, and Gerald Henderson is probably pulling slightly for Carolina considering he spent his first six NBA seasons in Charlotte while playing for the Bobcats/Hornets, but outside of those casual ties, the preference among most of the Trail Blazers is to simply see a good game regardless of which team wins.
Outside of Terry Stotts, that is. While he’s not taking the game too seriously, if at all, Portland’s head coach would like to see the Broncos win the Super Bowl for one reason: he looks a bit like Denver quarterback and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Despite being almost 20 years older and roughly five inches taller, it’s not uncommon for Stotts to be mistaken for Manning, at least outside of Portland.
“I was sitting in Starbucks in a Vegas and a guy kept looking at me while I was drinking my Starbucks,” recalled Stotts. “As I was leaving he showed me a picture on his phone and he goes ‘Is this you?’ and it was a picture of Peyton Manning. I said ‘No, wrong guy’… And last summer I was up in Canada and somebody thought I was Peyton Manning up there, too.”
It’s not hard to see the resemblance. They share similar complexions, similar builds and just have the somewhat difficult to pinpoint look of men who have played contact sports at their highest levels for extended periods of time. Putting your body through that kind of rigor obviously takes a toll, one that can be seen in both Stotts and Manning, the most obvious example being the long, thin nose rendered permanently crooked by countless hits and multiple breaks that both men share.
But on a more obvious and less esoteric level, the two share some easy to distinguish features that make for apt comparisons. They both have narrow jaws, long faces, large foreheads and closely cropped, slightly thinning brown hair parted from left to right. Then there’s the shared facial expressions that fluctuate between aw-shucks when content and red-faced, about-to-blow when angered. Whatever is, Stotts looks enough like a Manning to get mistaken for Peyton on the regular while somehow avoiding comparisons to his younger brother Eli, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants.
One might assume Stotts would take offense at being mistaken for a Manning considering he’s built an impressive pro sports resume of his own, but apparently the flattery of the comparison more than outweighs the annoyance of being lesser known.
Said Stotts: “Saying that I look like someone who is 20 years younger than me is totally okay.”
It’s been a bit of an up and down year for both Maurice Harkless and Gerald Henderson in their first seasons as Trail Blazers since being acquired via separate trades during the 2015 offseason,
Henderson missed all of training camp, preseason and the first eight games of the regular season, a difficult hurdle for a new player to clear, even for one entering his seventh NBA season, after undergoing a minor hip surgery in the offseason. As for Harkless, he’s already appeared in more games this season with the Trail Blazers as he did during the entirety of his last season with the Orlando Magic, though he’s seen most of his statistics, from minutes to points to rebounds, diminish every month as the year has played out.
For much of the season, Harkless and Henderson have been in a competition for playing time, with head coach Terry Stotts playing both roughly equal minutes in the first half of games, with the second-half minutes going to whoever played the best in the first. That went on for the first half of the season until Stotts opted to cut his rotation from 10 players to nine, which resulted in Henderson’s minutes increasing considerably while Harkless was relegated to playing mop-up minutes or simply drawing DNPs.
But Saturday night in Houston, Stotts would need both Harkless and Henderson with starting power forward Noah Vonleh out with a sprained left ankle and Allen Crabbe, Portland’s top sixth man this season, sidelined with a bout of gastritis. They responded by combining for 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting while taking turns checking Rockets All-Star shooting guard James Harden as Portland defeated Houston 96-79 at the Toyota Center. It was arguably the first game in which both players exceeded the high hopes Trail Blazers fans had for the two athletic wings, a game in which they were menaces on the defensive end while managing to take advantage of the opportunities provided by playing alongside the likes of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the offensive end.
“I (Harkless) he was very consistent with (Harden),” said Stotts. “He had good length, he was really in tune every possession. Harden is a great player, he’s going to get shots and you’re not going to completely stop him but I thought he worked really hard on him.”
Harden finished with 33 points, but needed 18 shots from both the field and free throw line while committing a career-high 10 turnovers, due in large part to the effort Henderson and Harkless put in.
“Gerald had a lot of bounce,” said Stotts. “He’s been on a roll, he’s feeling very comfortable out there. I thought defensively, he was good as well, he had his stint on Harden.”
As noted by his head coach, Henderson played easily his best basketball of the season since the middle of January, which has coincided with the Trail Blazers winning 10 of their last 13 games. Whether it’s due to being completely fit after missing the start of the season or knowing he’s going to second-half minutes — or a combination of both — Henderson has looked more like the player who started 292 games over six season with the Hornets.
“I feel good. I think that’s how I’m used to playing. I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor. I think that helped us win tonight.
“I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor,” said Henderson. “I think that helped us win tonight.”
While Henderson’s production has become somewhat expected over the last month of the season, seeing Harkless go from playing seven minutes combined in the five games prior to starting the last two games in place of Vonleh has been a surprise. Harkless himself said he was a bit taken aback by his promotion, though it was something he had prepared himself for, even when he was only playing fourth-quarter blowout minutes.
“I just stayed locked in the whole time,” said Harkless. “Even when I wasn’t playing at all, just stayed locked in, stayed ready, just kept working every day. I knew it would come back around.”
He only got 16 minutes in his first start of the season versus the Raptors, taking just one shot and scoring just two points in the loss. But on Saturday, Harkless almost doubled his playing time to 30 minutes and made a much larger impression in the process, going 2-of-3 from three in the first quarter and 6-of-13 from the field for the game while grabbing six rebounds and tallying two steals.
“I definitely think I just played better tonight,” said Harkless. “Last game, I hadn’t played in six games or something like that, it kind of caught me off guard when (Stotts) told me I was starting. So I think a little bit of it was rust but tonight I just went out there and just played. Making those first two shots, that was big for me as well.”
“For a guy to go games without even checking on sometimes or getting in for the last few minutes of blowouts, he could have easily been in his feelings and checked out on us, but he’s stayed locked in,” said Damian Lillard of Harkless. “At practice when they get out there and play three-on-three, he’s playing hard, he’s competitive, he’s positive. He’s been himself. I talked to him, I told him ‘You’ve just got to stick with it. You’re a huge part of what we’re gonna do. Just keep your mind right and be ready because you never know.’ We had a few guys do down and now he’s playing really well for us. I was happy with the way he played tonight.”
It’s hard to tell what will happen to Harkless’ and, to a lesser extent, Henderson’s minutes once the Trail Blazers are back to full strength. But for the first time this season, the full potential of both players was a welcomed sight.
HOUSTON — The old saying goes that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If Saturday’s result in Houston is any indication, the Trail Blazers’ collective memory is well intact.
After losing to in overtime in the last game in Houston despite owning a 15-point fourth-quarter cushion, the Trail Blazers did a much better job protecting their lead in the second meeting, with the result being Portland besting the Rockets 96-79 Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd of 18,308 at the Toyota Center.
“That was a really good win, obviously,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I like the way we came out. Defensively we were solid all night, for the most part… They’re a dangerous team. They can get the threes going and I liked we kept our composure when they made their run.”
Portland is now 25-27 overall and 10-16 on the road this season after playing their last seven games in the cozy confines of the Moda Center. The Trail Blazers have now won 10 of their last 13 games and are currently mere percentage points behind the Utah Jazz for eighth in the Western Conference.
The Trail Blazers looked to be the better team Saturday night from the opening tip. Portland shot 52 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in the first quarter while scoring eight points on six Rockets turnovers to take a 29-23 lead into the second quarter. They’d start the quarter a 13-2 run to take their first double digit lead of the night and would go up by 21 by way of holding the Rockets to just four made field goals in the second quarter while turning six more turnovers into seven more points. Add with the Portland bench outscoring Houston’s 18-0 in the first half and it was easy to see how the road team took a 55-36 lead into the intermission.
“We played really well defensively, I thought,” said Damian Lillard. “We set the tone from the start of the game with active hands, getting our hands on the balls. We just weren’t fun to play against to start the game. That’s what we wanted to go coming out tonight and we did a great job.”
Portland would take their largest lead of the night at the 5:01 mark of the third quarter, though Houston managed to get that down to 21 before the start of the fourth. The Rockets would continue to slim the Trail Blazers’ lead, getting it down to 11 points in late in the fourth quarter. One can imagine there had to be a little nervousness on Portland’s bench after seeing two-thirds of a 32-point third quarter lead evaporate, especially with the specter of the last game in Houston still looming. But after a 10-0 Rockets run cut the lead to 91-76 with two minutes to play, Portland scored the final five points of the game to secure the 17-point lead.
“I don’t know if nervous is the right word, but certainly the way (Houston) won the last time here, I think that was probably in the back of everybody’s mind,” said Stotts. “They’re capable of doing that… I liked the way we kept our composure and pulled out the win.”
Six Trail Blazers finished in double figures led by Damian Lillard, who went 7-of-20 from the field and 3-of-9 from three to finish with 21 points and 10 assists for yet another double-double in 36 minutes.
CJ McCollum went 6-of-13 from the field to finish with 16 points, while Gerald Henderson went 5-of-8 from the field to 16 points as well. Al-Farouq Aminu filled up the stat sheet with 11 points, seven rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block. Maurice Harkless, who started his second-straight game in place of Noah Vonleh (sprained left ankle) and saw extended minutes due to Allen Crabbe missing the game with gastritis, went 6-of-13 from the field for 14 points, six rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes.
Portland’s bench would outscore Houston’s 24-12 thanks in part to the Rockets not getting any points from a reserve until early in the fourth quarter. James Harden finished with a game-high 33 points with Dwight Howard adding 17, but no other Rocket scored more than eight points in the loss.
“James (Harden) is a good player,” said Henderson, who spent a good chunk of his minutes defending the hirsute shooting guard. “He knows how to score, he knows how to draw fouls so sometimes it’s very difficult to guard him. He got his 30 but we felt like we did a good job containing some of the other guys.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers head to Memphis to finish a quick two-game trip versus the Grizzlies at FexEd Forum on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 pm.