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.
With Portland’s foray into free agency now complete, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio to record another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
In this almost all Twitter-submitted questions edition, we discuss the signings of Evan Turner, Festus Ezeli and Meyers Leonard, the decision to match the offer the Brooklyn Nets extended to Allen Crabbe, how the additions and returns could change lineups going forward and the notion that the Trail Blazers need to make a trade. There’s also some hot Pokemon Go and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” talk to start the show, so you might want prepare yourself to fast-forward through the first few minutes.
UPDATE: The team has officially announced that they have matched the Nets’ offer sheet to Allen Crabbe, though a “formal announcement” and Crabbe actually signing the contract will not occur until later in the week.
After finishing up their pursuit of new free agents, the Trail Blazers have wasted little time in turning their attention to the free agents on their own roster. After reportedly signing restricted free agent power forward Meyers Leonard to a four-year deal, the Trail Blazers, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, have matched the four-year, $75 million offer sheet the Brooklyn Nets tendered to third-year guard/forward Allen Crabbe, ensuring that the former Cal Bear will be back in Portland next season…
The Portland Trail Blazers have matched Allen Crabbe’s four-year, $75M offer sheet with Brooklyn, league source tells @TheVertical.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 10, 2016
Nets bid on Crabbe has been thwarted — and Crabbe returns to Blazers on four-year, $75M contract. Now, Nets wait on Tyler Johnson sheet.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 10, 2016
The message out of Portland ownership and management is clear: Blazers trying to win this year and beyond — loading up on this roster.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 10, 2016
As is often the case when it comes to restricted free agents, the Nets offer to Crabbe, who has averaged 7.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game through three season, was considerably larger than many assumed the 6-6 wing would receive in an effort to discourage the Trail Blazers from matching. And after the Trail Blazers signed free agent guard/forward Evan Turner to a four-year deal, some assumed that combined with the size of the Nets offer might result in Trail Blazers letting Crabbe walk.
But that would not be the case. Crabbe has been a favorite of the front office and coaching staff since the team acquired former Pac-12 Player of the Year via trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2012 Draft. And though he played sparingly in his first two seasons, he saw his minutes increase dramatically in 2015-16, as he appeared in 81 games and responded with averages of 10.8 points on 44 percent shooting and 39 percent shooting from three, 2.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists while serving as one of the team’s best perimeter defenders.
There were rumors that outside of the money and years, Crabbe, who has typically come off the bench for the Trail Blazers, was intrigued by the opportunity to start and play a larger role with the Nets. But for his part, Crabbe seemed more than satisfied that he would be returning to Portland…
— Allen Crabbe (@allencrabbe) July 10, 2016
With Crabbe now signed, forward Maurice Harkless is the last Blazer still available on the free agent market. Like Crabbe, Harkless is a restricted free agent, which gives the Trail Blazers the right to match any offer he receives from another team. It is also possible for the Trail Blazers to sign Harkless even if he doesn’t receive an offer sheet from another team, as they have reportedly did Sunday with restricted free agent power forward Meyers Leonard.
UPDATE: The team has officially announce that they have signed Meyers Leonard to a new contract. From the press release…
“Meyers is a core member of our organization and continues to show the promise and potential we anticipated when we drafted him,” said Olshey.
Leonard averaged career-highs with 8.4 points (44.8% FG, 37.7% 3-PT76.1% FT), 5.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 21.9 minutes in 61 games (10 starts) in 2015-16. He missed the final 14 games of the regular season due to an injured left shoulder.
“Today is a day which is hard to describe. I’m overcome with happiness and joy,” said Leonard. “I’m thankful for the people who have remained loyal and loving in my life. This is the product of a lot of hard work and time. I feel like I have found a new gear mentally and physically and really am excited for the next four years. The future is going to be bright with this team.”
The Trail Blazers and Meyers Leonard sat down at the negotiating table prior to the start of the 2015-16 season in an effort to hammer out a new contract in an effort to keep the 7-1 power forward from hitting the (restricted) free agent market. Despite mutual interest, the two sides were unable to strike a deal, though considering the Trail Blazers had the right to match any offer Leonard received as a free agent, it always seemed likely he’d be back even if terms on an extension couldn’t be reached.
As it turns out, an offer sheet from another team wasn’t needed for both sides to ultimately come to an agreement.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, Leonard and the Trail Blazers have agreed on a new four-year deal worth $41 million…
Leonard, a restricted free agent, has built his value as a stretch four with an ability to spread the floor and deliver a presence on the defensive boards.
Leonard is part of a core expected to compete for 50 victories in the Western Conference this season.
Leonard, 24, missed the final 20 regular-season games with a left shoulder surgery in 2015-16, but has shown steady improvement in the past two years after being selected at No. 11 overall in the 2012 NBA draft.
The reported four-year deal is roughly the same as the offer the Trail Blazers reportedly extended to Leonard prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. At the time, it was reasonable to assume Leonard might receive a larger offer from another team, as his combination of size, athleticism and shooting are highly sought after in today’s NBA. But missing the final 20 games of the regular season and the entirety of the playoffs after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder, not to mention the widely-held assumption that the Blazers would match any reasonable offer for Leonard, likely cooled interest from other teams. And though he didn’t say it explicitly, it always seemed as though Leonard’s preference was to continue his career in Portland after being selected by the Trail Blazers with the 11th overall pick of the 2012 Draft.
“I was drafted here, I’ve been with Terry (Stotts) the entire time, Neil (Olshey) obviously drafted me, being here with now our franchise player Damian (Lillard),” said Leonard back in March. “So the future is bright here and I truly hope that I can be a big part of it.”
Leonard returns to a big man rotation that features Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh and Festus Ezeli, who signed with Portland as a free agent on Friday.
While Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey said the team is done chasing new free agents for the year, whether restricted free agents Maurice Harkless and Allen Crabbe, who received an offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets worth reportedly $75 million over four years on Thursday, return to Portland next season is still to be determined. The team has until 9 pm Sunday night to decide whether or not to match the offer made to Crabbe.