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.
Of all the adjectives one could use to describe the 2015-16 Portland Trail Blazers, “resilient” might be the most applicable. Despite being the third-youngest team in the NBA this season, the Trail Blazers have been remarkably adept at bouncing back. Whether it was replacing four of five starters from the season before, enduring two losing streaks of at least five games or finishing the season by going 33-18 after starting the year 11-20 to make the postseason and finish fifth in the Western Conference, the Trail Blazers, under Terry Stotts’ steady hand, have shown a level of maturity with regard to the way they’ve dealt with disappointment that belies their relative youth and inexperience.
Which is good, because they’re going to need every last bit of fortitude they can muster to get over their fourth-quarter performance at Oracle Arena in their 110-99 loss to the Warriors in Game Two of the Western Conference semifinals. Despite leading by as much as 17 in the game and 11 in the fourth quarter, the Trail Blazers were outscored 34-12 in the final 12 minutes, resulting in an 11-point loss and a 2-0 series deficit.
“They’re not a young team, they’ve got a lot of guys that have been around, they’re very smart,” said Damian Lillard of the Warriors. “They see slippage and they go after it. If they see something that they can take advantage of, they take advantage of it. In that last five minutes (of Game Two), we just let our foot off the gas a little bit. I don’t know if it was fatigue mentally but we had some mental mistakes. One or two plays got them going, they got into it and the better they played offensively, they just got sharper defensively. That hurt us.”
While every loss stings, Portland’s loss in Game Two seemed to be more painful than most, for multiple reasons. First, the Warriors have lost at Oracle Arena just twice during the regular season, setting the NBA record for most consecutive home victories in the process, making the unfulfilled opportunity of beating the defending champs on their home court, and in a playoff game no less, a rather bitter pill to swallow, especially after leading for all but the last five minutes of the game. The Trail Blazers will have to beat the Warriors at least once at Oracle to move on to the Western Conference Finals, and one could argue that they won’t get a better chance to do so than they had Tuesday night.
“After that game, I was pretty hot about that one,” said Lillard. “Just because not only was it a great opportunity, but we had it. It was right there, all we had to do was four and a half, five minutes where we just got to be as sharp as possible. That was the challenge for us, just lock in even more, take it to a new level. Instead of that, we went a little bit downhill and they picked it up the way we needed to pick it up. We just wasn’t able to finish it. It sucked man. I was pretty hot about that one.”
And then there’s the matter of soon-to-be two-time MVP Stephen Curry, who has sat out the last two games with a sprained MCL in his right knee. While the Trail Blazers are in no way rooting for Curry to remain sidelined, the simple fact is they have a much better chance of beating the Warriors when the best player in the NBA is in street clothes. Golden State head coach Steve Kerr said the Curry would probably sit out Game Three as well, though it seems very unlikely he misses another game this series at Oracle, which, once again, makes the loss in Game Two that much more disappointing.
“I can’t speak on behalf of (the rest of the team), I don’t know how they feel personally, but it’s a game we should have won,” said CJ McCollum. “It’s unfortunate that we let it slip away. That’s what good teams do, they hang around and they finish off games at home. We’ve got to be better than that and I think we will be better. Got to move forward now and take advantage of Game Three.”
Luckily, the Trail Blazers have a bit of extra time to put Game Two behind them. While they have shown an ability to learn from their mistakes and move on this season, some players admitted that Game Two going down the way it did was lingering a bit. And in those situations, sometimes the best solution is playing another game as soon as possible, though that might not be the case this time around.
“Yesterday, I didn’t even want to see a basketball,” said Lillard. “I wasn’t even going to watch the playoff game yesterday until I heard Cleveland was hitting a bunch of threes, so I wanted to see for myself. But I didn’t even want to have nothing to do with basketball yesterday after that game.”
But after a day away from the game, Lillard and the rest of the Trail Blazers returned to their facility in Tualatin to prepare for Game Three at the Moda Center. If they’re able to make the improvements and adjustments necessary to get their first victory of the series Saturday night in Portland, they might truly be able to move on from what happened Tuesday night in Oakland.
“Ain’t nothing I can do about it now. In my mind, it’s over,” said McCollum. “It’s unfortunate that it had to happen but we can learn from it. We can’t sulk and moan and act like it’s the end of the world. We’re down 0-2 against a very good team. Now we’re at home, now we have a very good opportunity to take advantage of two home games and learn from mistakes in the first two games.”
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.