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 playoff run now over, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard now has some free time on his hands to pursue his off-court interests. He’s already hit up Oak’s Park for some late-night rollerskating, attended a Portland Thorns game at Providence Park and welcomed his old buddy Tim Frazier back to town. And today, we know he’s back in the studio making music.
In a re-launch of the “Music Monday” feature that he started last offseason on his Soundcloud page, Lillard, or to be most specific, “Dame DOLLA,” has posted a new track entitled “Talk To Em” featuring V.I.P and Bozzle (who I think are Lillard’s cousins)…
One of Dame’s verses…
They glorifying goofballs, I’m salty as Utah
When you real they uncomfortable, plotting for you to fall
Man I’m changing up the game, forget about the politics
I stick my neck out for my loved ones, I’m like an ostrich
A lot of love around me you haters keep doing opposite
I’m really incompetent to taking many compliments
That sounds about right. Previous “Music Monday” releases from last year include “Soldier In The Game,” “Full Stomach,” “Why?” “Free Bands” and “The Villains.” Then there’s non-Music Monday releases such as “I Wish I Could Tell You,” “Heatwave,” and “They Sleep,” which, like “Talk To Em” was produced by Jahlil Beats, who also produced, among other things, the Rick Ross/Meek Mill hit “Ima Boss” and that Bobby Shmurda song whose name I can’t put on this blog. And of course, there’s “Bigger Than Us,” the video for which currently has roughly 750,000 views on YouTube.
A happy Friday the 13th to all of you loyal podcast listeners. Before everyone goes their separate ways now that the offseason is here, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net and TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio one last time to record a season-ending edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we attempt recap the series versus the Warriors, which ended in five games with a 125-121 loss at Oracle Arena Wednesday night, and the season in general, discuss the lasting effects of the playoff run and the respect that they earned from around the league due to their performance and look forward to some of the questions the Blazers will have to answer in the offseason, particularly in regard to free agency. And as always, we finish up by answering your Twitter-submitted questions on topics such as the culture the Trail Blazers have developed, (more) free agency, exit interviews and favorite moments from the just-completed season. It’s been a fun one.
Less than 12 hours after being eliminated from the postseason, the Trail Blazers returned to their practice facility in Tualatin to meet with the coaches to discuss offseason plans, clean out their lockers and take questions from the media one last time before starting their vacations.
Here’s the audio and a few quotes from Terry Stotts and the players from today’s exit interviews…
On the 2015-16 season…
“Like I said last night, this has been a special season. This group of players, what they were able to do individually and collectively, our chemistry was really good. We had good guys, they got along, players and coaches. It means a lot and it goes both ways. It was a joy. I think players enjoyed coming to work every day and I know the coaches and staff did, too.”
On whether this was his most rewarding season as a head coach…
“No question. This was an extremely rewarding season because it kind of played out the way we wanted it to. And we’re not talking about the record or the playoffs, everything was about growth, improvement, getting better throughout the season and being better at the end of the season. I think we did that individually and collectively and from a coaching standpoint, that’s as pure as it gets. That’s what coaching is about. You don’t get to experience that very much at the NBA level.”
On whether he expects anyone on his staff to be interviewed for various open head coaching positions…
“I hope so. I can’t say enough about how good my staff is. I think Jay Triano and Nate Tibbetts and David Vanterpool are all ready to be considering for head coaching jobs. I think they’re all prepared to do a great job as a head coach depending on whatever a team is looking for. I hope they get consideration because they’re all very deserving.
On many of his teammates deciding to stay in Portland during the offseason…
“That means a lot because I stay here every summer. I’m used to coming in here like ‘I wonder when everybody else coming back to town,’ you know what I mean? The trainers are here, the coaches are here and it’s an empty gym. And even after the game last night, on the plane, I started getting worried already. I was sitting on the plane like ‘Man, we had some success this year, it was unexpected it was no pressure. Next year people gonna expect a little bit more’ and I started to get worried about too many pats on the back. ‘They weren’t supposed to do this but they did that.’ I started getting worried, but we don’t have those kind of guys. We’ve got hungry guys, we’ve got humble guys that work hard. We had a taste this season as a young group of how well we could do and what it takes. We lost to a really experienced, championship team. That makes me happy to hear that so many guys are going to be here working out in the summer because that lets me know that they see how close we are and they see how important it’s going to be going forward.”
On free agency and having a say in the process…
“I’m pretty sure they’ll communicate what the plans are with me, but like I’ve said in the past, my job is to be a good teammate, to make sure I put in my time and become a better player and that’s what I’ll do. They ask me my opinion on something, I’ll give them my honest opinion, but I love all the guys that we have on our roster now. I think going forward, if we continue to grow together, we’ll be a good team. Obviously it’s a business and rosters change, players make decisions for themselves, so when that time comes, we’ll see what happens. But when they come to me ask for my opinion or what I think about something, I’ll tell them what I think.”
On what he’s looking for as a restricted free agent…
“Any pay raise is going to be significantly higher than what I’m making now. But like I said earlier, it’s just situation really for me. It doesn’t make sense to make a lot of money and go to a team that, if you don’t fit that system, then get paid a lot of money to be frustrated? That doesn’t make sense to me. The culture here, it’s great. I know this organization well, I know the system, know the coaches, players. It’s just real comfortable here. I wouldn’t mind being here, I really wouldn’t. It’s really just coming down to situation and how I can continue to improve as a basketball player.”
On head coach Terry Stotts…
“Definitely think he should get an extension. I feel like everybody here knows that he should get an extension. He’s done a great job with this team. It’s really hard to put into words what he did with this group because nobody expected us to do what we did. Even from Day One, even through the games where we were 11-20, seven-game losing streak, he never folded and he always told us it’s all about trusting the process and we stuck with that throughout this whole year.”
On spending time in Portland this offseason…
“I think, for one, it doesn’t rain a lot in the summer, so that helps. Just being around the facility, 24 hour access, you’re able to get a lot of things done without a distraction. You go home, you go to certain cities, you either got to pay to get in the gym or you’ve got to worry about people interrupting you while you workout. I go back to my high school but sometimes I’ve got to just like lock the door so I can just workout and not have to worry about certain interruptions because you can’t get through a full workout when people are coming in, talk to you. It’s meant to be a compliment to you, it’s hard. So I think it helps that here, you just come in, the doors are locked, you’ve got your finger scan, you workout when you want, the weather is nice. You’re paying rent here anyway, so it makes sense.”
On the camaraderie of the roster and the changes that might be in store…
“I think we had a really unique group. They did a great job of putting together like minds, young guys who are easy to talk to. Nobody is really arrogant or overly cocky. We’ve got some ignorant guys on the team that you guys guys know who’s outlandish with his statements. I won’t put him out there, he knows who he is. Besides that, we all got along well, everybody spoke their minds, nobody was afraid to say certain things. If somebody played bad, if somebody wasn’t doing things the right way, you could address it and nobody would frown or look at you the wrong way. So I like the way our team is put together, I like the work ethic everybody had. This is one of the rare teams where you could hang out with players off the court. Everybody’s got their friends, but I could hang out with any one of the 15 guys off the court and be perfectly comfortable, eat dinner, et cetera… We’ve got a really good unit and a lot of guys made themselves some money this year, a lot of guy’s prices went up. Hopefully we can rekindle the flame, but if not, we had a good run, we had a good year together collectively and wish everybody the best of luck in the free agency process.
On how he’s approaching restricted free agency…
“To be honest with you, I haven’t had a real concrete conversation with my agent about this. I wanted it to be, right now, about my rehab and about supporting the guys, being there however I could, I guess more from an emotional standpoint, for the team. I certainly wish I could have been out there. With that being said, I’m sure we’ll talk within the next couple of days about how we’re going to really approach this, the timing of things, I suppose what teams are interested, what teams would maybe like to meet in person. I don’t have a concrete plan at this point. Restricted free agency, it gets a little hairy, it takes time, teams maybe don’t want to tie their money up. I honestly don’t know all the ins and outs of it. Like I said before the season when I didn’t accept an extension, I’m confident in where I’m at. It’s my agent’s job to present whatever he has on his mind and what’s on my plate from that side of things. My job right now is simply to rehab my shoulder, continue to work on my leg strength, which is a huge focus of mine for this summer, and just figure out different way in the weight room or out here, even simple things as ball handling, just trying to improve as a player and as a man.”
On why he’s going to spend much of the offseason in Portland…
“I’m coming back to Portland just because went through all that rain, got to enjoy some of the sun. I like it here. I’m renting a spot, so I’m just going to stay here. I like Todd (Forcier) and BK (Ben Kenyon) and those guys, so definitely going to put a lot of work in in the weight room. It’s always good vibes here so I don’t think guys want to get away. Some teams, you want to get away just because you don’t like certain people. It’s not like that here. I enjoyed being here so that’s why I’m going to stick around and do most of my training out here.”
On the realities of keeping a roster with multiple free agents together…
“It’s going to be tricky with all the salary cap stuff going on. I think a lot of the guys who are free agents definitely raised their value. I think everyone did. You never know. I hope all those guys get paid well, I think they will. They deserve it. You just never know with free agency, who they go after and things like that, but I hope everybody comes back, but that’s not really realistic. It doesn’t really work like that in the league. I just tried to enjoy that time yesterday because I’ve been around a little bit and I know how the business side of things work.”
On his mindset going into the offseason…
“This summer is big for me, become more of a scoring threat. I think there’s a lot to be added. I look forward, if the opportunity is there, to come back to have some stability from a staff perspective. I would look forward to coming back to a similar situation from one season to the next. I’ve played for three coaches in three years, so I think that would be something I’d look forward to as well… Once you’ve been traded, you never know.”
On being a restricted free agent…
“Free agency is something I haven’t really thought about. I’ve tried not to think about it during the season and we just finished yesterday, so it hasn’t really been on my mind yet. It’s something that we’ll have to think about soon.”
On his first season in Portland…
I loved it. It was by far the most fun season I’ve had. These guys here are great, the organization is great. I really, really enjoyed it and looking forward to seeing what happens this summer.”
On his first season in Portland…
“It’s the most fun year I think I’ve had as a pro. We had a great group of guys, high character guys, silly guys and it was a fun year. That’s without even being on the court. On the court, we had a special group. We came together halfway through, really made it a special year all the way until last night when we’re playing against the champions, gave them all we had. Played a tough series, obviously it didn’t end the way that we wanted it to, but it’s a year we’re all proud of.”
His thoughts on entering free agency and what he’s looking for…
This is my second time doing it and it’ll be a little different than the first time. I think getting a taste of what this year and this postseason was like and how much fun, how competitive it is, I think, number one, being on a team that’s a winning team. It’s obviously tough to get on one of the elite elite teams, but that could be a possibility. That could easily be a possibility here. Being on a team that is about winning and that’s a good fit for me.
On his first season with the Trail Blazers…
“It was an amazing journey of growth. We grew a lot throughout the season, personally and as a team. It was just fun to be a part of it.”
How he looks back on the season in terms of enjoyment…
The season was great. Any time you have guys that are the same age, it just makes it a lot easier to get along. It’s easy to have relatable points, different things like that. A lot of us are going through similar things in our careers so you get to relate on that note. When it came to comfortably in that sense, it was just unbelievable. And then I think that’s why the chemistry was there as well. Even our vets and the older guys like Chris Kaman, they were a joy to be around as well. From top to bottom, everybody was kind of in that same wavelength of what they were trying to do. It just made it easy to get along.