Blazers Best Bucks To Win Eighth-Straight, Sweep Four-Game Road Trip

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 years ago


MILWAUKEE — It seems as though some are waiting for the other sneaker to drop when it comes to the better-than-expected start of the 2013-14 Portland Trail Blazers. And perhaps it eventually will. But it would not be Wednesday night, as the Trail Blazers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 91-82 to extend their win streak to eight games.

“We don’t have to win every game,” said Damian Lillard, who finished with 19 points, six rebounds and three assists in 38 minutes. “Probably the second we lose a game they’ll say ‘They’re not like what everybody thought they was.’ But we’re not trying to live up to what other people say we are or what they think we are right now. We’re playing well, we’re finding a way to win games. It’s going to come a time when we might lose a game, we’ve just got to focus on the next one after that. It’s still early and we understand that but we focus on every game. We’re going to continue to do what we’ve got to do to win games.”

With the victory in front of a sparse crowd at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the Trail Blazers swept a road trip of at least four games for the first time since January of 2003.

“To finish a road trip undefeated and to do it with the defense and energy that we had the second half is great,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “There is no question that it was a solid win. I believe it’s the fifth game where we’ve won a game shooting under 44 percent and I think that is something we take pride in as well.”

Portland is now 10-2 on the season and have won six road games, something they didn’t accomplish last season until Jan. 4, 2013.

Despite entering the game with a 2-7 record and playing without starters Brandon Knight and Larry Sanders, the Bucks were able to hang with the Trail Blazers for most of the night. At times it felt as though the contest had the makings of a trap game for Portland, though they were mindful from the opening tip that they’d need to bring enthusiasm, if nothing else, to avoid losing their first game since Nov. 5.

“In the huddle before the game in warmups, you could just hear everybody say we’ve got to bring our own energy,” said Lillard. “There wasn’t a lot of people here, that has nothing to do with what we do on the floor. So I was just happy to see we were able to go out there and get it done.””Every team in this league can win and we respect everybody — I know it’s cliche,” said Stotts. “It’s important that you come into the game and after a game like Brooklyn where you’re playing against Hall of Famers in New York City and all that, I liked our mindset, coming in and taking care of business in this game.”

Portland led by as many as 11, but the victory never seemed sure until Damian Lillard scored five straight points with just under three minutes to play to put the Trail Blazers up 89-78. Portland would miss their next four shots and Nicolas Batum would miss three-straight free throws, but the Bucks were unable to capitalize on Portland’s mistakes late, resulting in the Trail Blazers escaping with a nine-point victory.

“I think we’re better at finding ways to win games,” said Lillard. “At the start it was like we were shooting the ball really well and our confidence was high because of that. On this road trip we’ve had spurts where we shot the ball well and some games where we didn’t. Regardless of how we were shooting the ball, we was able to find ways to win the game and that says a lot.”

The “way” the Portland was able to avoid an upset was on defense, particularly in the second half. The Trail Blazers held the Bucks to just 13 points in the third quarter and forced six turnovers, which allowed Portland to shoot just 32 percent in the quarter and yet still add four points to their lead.

“I think we realized in the first quarter we were doing a lot of things right,” said Robin Lopez, who had eight points and eight rebounds on the night. “They were beating us to the loose balls and that was really giving the second-chance opportunities and I think that’s what was keeping the game close. We realized (that) at halftime. So we came out in the second, decided we had to be the aggressors on defense. We had to get on the floor, do whatever it took to secure the ball, because we were playing okay defense in the first half, just not securing the possession.”

LaMarcus Aldridge led all scorers with 21 points on 10 of 22 shooting to go along with seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. Nicolas Batum added eight points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

Wesley Matthews, playing in front of a number of family and friends in attendance, did much of his damage by scoring all 15 of his points in the first half. He would also tally three rebounds and three assists to help the Trail Blazers get their first win in Milwaukee since 2011.

“We’ve played good teams, we’ve played quality teams. That team was tough,” said Matthews. “This is a tough place to play, it’s a different atmosphere. I don’t care about the big name stuff. They get paid just like we do.”

The Trail Blazers now return home to the Moda Center to host the Bulls Friday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.

“It’s very satisfying, no question,” said Stotts. “You go out on a road trip and you sweep a road trip, that doesn’t happen very often. We’re proud of that. We’ll enjoy the flight home, take tomorrow off and we’ve got our eyes set on Chicago.”

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Henderson Says He’s ‘Got To Be Smarter’ After Game One Ejection

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
4 hours ago

Even at full strength, the Trail Blazers were having a hard time keeping up with the Golden State Warriors in the first game of their second round, best-of-seven playoff series. But that task got significantly harder after reserve guard Gerald Henderson, who is averaging 7.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists in the 2016 postseason, was ejected after a series of altercations with Warriors center Anderson Varejao that occurred late in the third quarter of Portland’s 118-106 loss Sunday night at Oracle Arena.

The first incident took place at the 3:29 mark of the third. Henderson and Varejao collided during the run of play, sending Varejao tumbling to the floor. As he was falling, he seemed to extend his leg out in an effort to trip Henderson, which ultimately proved successful. Henderson immediately got off the floor and into Varejao’s face, prompting the officials to call assess technicals to both players.

“I bumped him — not on purpose — he tripped me on purpose,” said Henderson. “I fell hard, I didn’t like it, so came together, that’s what happens.”

But that wouldn’t be the end of the tete-a-tete between Henderson and Varejao. Though Varejao was on the bench, that didn’t stop him and Henderson from continuing their less than cordial discussion, which the officials apparently noticed, as both players were once again awarded technicals, resulting in double ejections.

“The ref threw me out from across the way. I guess he could here what I was saying from across the court,” said Henderson. “We were talking since the first technicals happened, but there’s a lot of talking going on out there. For both of us to get kicked out of the game, it was surprising.”

Despite the tense moments, Henderson said postgame that there was no lingering animosity while noting that he was more mad at himself than at Varejao.

“I been put it behind me,” said Henderson, who finished with five points and three assists in just under 17 minutes. “We lost the game, that’s the only thing that matters. I was pissed I got thrown out, we still had a chance to win the game. I got ejected, I’ve got to be smarter, regardless of if I thought I should have got kicked out or not.”

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Trail Blazers Stumble Early In Game One Loss To Warriors

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
5 hours ago

OAKLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers had roughly 36 hours to prepare for Game One of their Western Conference Semifinals matchup versus the Golden State Warriors after eliminating the Clippers in Game Six at the Moda Center on Friday night. There was only so much film they could watch, only so many Warriors-specific plays they could learn before a 12:30 pm tipoff Sunday afternoon in Oakland.

That was a reality reflected in Portland’s performance to start the game, as they made just five field goals and trailed by as many as 20 in the first quarter before going on to lose 118-106 to the top-seeded Warriors in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 at Oracle Arena.

“Certainly wasn’t the start we wanted,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “It was disappointing to get off to such a poor start. Our offense, we had trouble scoring. Their defense got into us. It was just — we struggled at both ends, and probably more so on the offensive end, which fed into their defense. They had second chance point, they had fast-break points. It was a little bit of everything.”

The Warriors now lead the series 1-0 with Game Two scheduled for Tuesday.

“To start the game, we played like a team playing it’s second game in 30 hours,” said CJ McCollum. “We can’t start like that, especially here.”

The good news is the Trail Blazers improved as the game went on. Portland shot 52 percent from the field an 67 percent from three in the second quarter, utilizing small lineups that featured Maurice Harkless at “center” to eventually outscore Golden State 34-28 in the quarter. The Trail Blazers managed to cut the Warriors’ lead to single digits on numerous occasions before the half but were never able to keep the deficit in check for more than a possession or two, allowing the home team to take a 14-point lead into the intermission.

The Warriors, playing without reigning MVP Stephen Curry, who is sidelined with a sprained right MCL, would reestablish their dominance in the third quarter, holding Portland to 9-of-27 shooting from the field and a particularly stingy 1-of-8 from three. Between their defense and shooting 50 percent from both the field and three in the quarter, Golden State took a 26-point lead, their largest of the night, before heading into the fourth up 93-73.

Portland was able to give the final score an air of respectability by outscoring Golden State 33-25 in the fourth, but never realistically threatened the defending champs before the final buzzer. And while there was little to like about their Game One performance, the Trail Blazers can take some comfort in knowing they were able to bounce back from a rough start in the first round to win their series versus the Clippers.

“We got beat pretty soundly in Game One against the Clippers and we made some adjustments, we played a little bit better and got better as the series went along, and we need to do the same thing,” said Stotts. “So we’ll watch the video, see what we can come up with for Game Two. But there’s no question that we have to play better and learn from Game One like we did with the Clippers.”

The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who finished with 30 points, five assists and four steals in 41 minutes. CJ McCollum added 12 points, three rebounds and three assists in 40 minutes. Portland’s starting backcourt combined to shoot 13-of-43 from the field, with many of those makes coming when the game was already out of reach.

“We’ve just got to be better,” said Lillard, who said he’s been battling a chest cold the last few days (and sounded like it when answer questions postgame). “I got some looks that I need to make, CJ did as well. We just got to be better offensively if we want to have a chance against this team.”

Al-Farouq Aminu shot 6-of-13 from the field and 3-of-8 from three for 15 points in 25 minutes. Harkless added 10 points and three rebounds, with Mason Plumlee grabbing a game-high 13 boards.

Allen Crabbe continued his strong play as of late, going 6-of-9 from the field for 15 points and five rebounds in 33 minutes. Ed Davis went 5-of-6 from the field to finish with 11 points and seven rebounds before fouling out in 18 minutes.

Gerald Henderson finished with five points and three rebounds in 16 minutes before being ejected after getting receiving two technicals for arguing with Warriors center Anderson Varejao, who was also ejected.

The Warriors were led by Klay Thompson, who shot 50 percent from both the field and three to finish with a game-high 37 points to go along with five rebounds in 37 minutes.

“We’ve got to do a better job, starting with me if I’m guarding (Thompson),” said McCollum. “Got to make sure I’m pacing better and making him curl. Hard hedges got to be there, especially if it’s Bogut or somebody setting setting that screen where he’s not really a good shooter. We’ve got to make sure we make them pay for that.”

Draymond Green put up a triple-double of 23 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in 37 minutes. Shaun Livingston added 12 points and with both Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut finishing with 10 points.

Next up, the Trail Blazers will try to regroup before heading back to Oracle for Game Two on Tuesday.

“I got some looks that I usually would have made that I didn’t knock down,” said Lillard. “So next game, I look forward to the challenge again. At this point in the season, all that matters is winning. You either win or you lose; you advance or you go home. At this point, we’re just trying to fix things and make sure that our season keeps going.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm.

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Game One Of The Western Conference Semis Brings Lillard Back To Where It All Started

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
23 hours ago

When the Trail Blazers take the court for Game One of their Western Conference semifinals versus the Warriors on Sunday, they’ll be doing so in one of the most hostile environments in the NBA. Golden State has been all but unbeatable at Oracle Arena in recent years, so much so that they set the NBA record for most consecutive home victories before dropping two games on their home court in the last two weeks of the regular season.

But while the vast majority of those in attendance for the Game One Sunday matinee will be rooting hard for the Warriors, there will be a small contingent of fans at Oracle doing whatever they can to will the Trail Blazers to victory. Some will be transplants from Oregon, others will make the sojourn to the bay area, likely paying exorbitant prices for tickets, in order to see their team play in the second round for just the second time in 16 years.

And there will be at least one more group making the short trip from the Brookfield neighborhood in Oakland to Oracle to see Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard face off against the team he grew up cheering for as a boy growing up in the east bay. Sunday afternoon’s game will be the first time the Trail Blazers and Warriors have ever met in the postseason, which also means it’s the first time Lillard will have a chance to play in front of his family and friends in a playoff game  at Oracle.

“First of all, the opportunity to play against the best team in the league, that’s the thing I’m most excited about, having another challenge where people are going to say we don’t have a chance,” said Lillard, who graduated from Oakland High School, which sits roughly five miles from Oracle Arena, before playing his college ball at Weber State. “That’s the most fun part of it for me. And second, being able to play in front of my family and friends. Since college they haven’t been able to see me play a lot and to be able to come home and play on the highest stage against the best team in the league, there’s no greater feeling and I’m really excited about it.”

Which comes as no surprise to anyone who knows the 6-3 point guard. Lillard is incredibly proud of his hometown and takes every opportunity he can to remind people about the city that helped shape him into the man he is today. Be it the the tattoo of the Oakland Tree across his chest or insisting on having his neighborhood on the soles of his signature adidas sneaker, Lillard is all about repping where he’s from.

“Growing up in Oakland, it just made me tough,” Lillard told ESPN analyst Doris Burke. “You see a lot of things, you’re around a lot of things. You’ve got to be able to handle it. You’ve got to take it in stride. Everybody’s going through it, so you can’t feel sorry for yourself. If something bad happens you can’t be the guy that sticking out, uncomfortable. You’re raised there, it prepares you to survive anywhere. You can handle any moment.”

Which is good news if you’re a fan of Lillard and the Trail Blazers. While an NBA playoff game doesn’t pose anywhere close to the kind of life or death challenges that sometimes come along with growing up in a place like Oakland, the difficulties of trying to win a game against the defending champions on their home court, even without the services of reigning MVP Stephen Curry, who is sidelined with a minor knee injury, will be numerous. Winning a road game in the playoffs, as Portland will have to do sooner or later if they want to win the series, is always going to be hard, but doing so against one of the best teams in NBA history will be a vicissitude in excess of anything the Trail Blazers have experienced this season. Given that, it’s somewhat ironic that the toughness instilled in Lillard by way of growing up in Oakland could ultimately be what helps the Trail Blazers pull off the near-impossible task of besting the Warriors at home.

That would be just fine for those who might duck out of church a bit early Sunday morning in order to get to Oracle to cheer for their son, brother, grandson, cousin, uncle or friend from around the way as he attempts to take down their hometown team.

“Everybody is excited about what they’re doing, but everybody that I grew up with and people in my family, they Damian Lillard fans first, Warriors fans second,” said Lillard. “That’s just what it is.”

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