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.
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”