“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.”
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.”