PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers finished the 2013-14 regular season with a 110-104 victory versus the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night at the Moda Center. The win was Portland’s 54th of the season, which is tied for the sixth-best regular season record in franchise history. Their 21-game improvement over last season is a franchise record.
“I was glad to get a win to set that record,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “To establish a 21-game turnaround is really something to be proud of. I told the team that we’ve had a regular season that we should all be very proud of.”
With playoff seedings locked in, neither team had anything but pride to play for Wednesday night. With the Clippers assured the three seed and the Blazers guaranteed the fifth seed, both teams fielded lineups and players that were little used this season.
The Clippers left J.J. Redick and Blake Griffin back in Los Angeles for various reasons, and while he traveled with the team to Portland, Chris Paul sat out as well. DeAndre Jordan started the game at center but was subbed out less than two minutes in the game, presumably to rest and remain injury-free for L.A.’s first round series against the Warriors.
As for the Trail Blazers, they gave the night off to starting power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and backup guard Mo Williams, both of whom were inactive for Wednesday night’s contest.
Portland’s other four starters — Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez — all started their 82nd game of the season. It is the first time in team history that four players started all 82 games and are the first time since the 2010-11 Lakers to accomplish the feat.
“It’s luck. Honestly, it really is,” said Matthews, who has missed just 13 games in his entire NBA career. “With the way the game is now, to be able to play all 82 games and play through injuries and not be injured, it’s a blessing and a lot of luck. To be able to do it with four of your five starters is a big deal. We’re excited about that.”
After playing the entire first quarter, Lillard, Matthews and Batum sat for the remainder of the game. Lopez, however, started the second half and played just long enough to collect his 326th offensive rebound this season, which breaks the franchise record previously held by both Kermit Washington and Chris Dudley.
With Lopez on the bench, Stotts was able to give extended minutes to backup power forward/center Joel Freeland, who played for the first time Wednesday night since spraining the MCL in his right knee more than two months ago. Playing in five minute spurts as a precaution, Freeland ended the night with six points and seven rebounds in almost 18 minutes.
“I actually wasn’t as tired as I thought I was going to be,” said Freeland. “I played 17 minutes and I felt great. The knee was fine, didn’t really have any pain at all when I was playing. The thing I was more worried about was my wind. I really thought I was going to get tired quick and I didn’t. I sustained and I felt good. I was really surprised.”
The second-year player from England is averaging 3.3 points and 3.9 rebounds in nearly 14 minutes per game this season, which doesn’t sound like much. But he was one of Portland’s most consistent performers off the bench this season and gives the Trail Blazers another big body and six more fouls going into the postseason.
“I thought he competed well,” said Stotts. “He didn’t look like he was favoring his leg. I couldn’t tell if he was fatigued or not on some of his shots, but I thought the game probably for him was invaluable to get him out there and play him the last three minutes of the game in a game we’re trying to win. I was pleased with how he played.”
With most of the regular rotation out of the game or in street clothes, many of the Trail Blazers’ younger players were allowed to play significantly more minutes than their season averages.
“I was really pleased with the way everybody played,” said Stotts. “They starters came out and did a terrific job in the first quarter, set the tone. Offensively, the first half was fun to watch — 21 assists and the ball was moving and guys were making shots. It was fun basketball. I was proud of the young guys in the second half, the fact that they struggled through a third quarter where the offense didn’t quite click and it was a close game.”
Will Barton was the biggest beneficiary of extended minutes, finishing the game with a career-high 23 points, 10 rebounds, two assist and a steal in 35 minutes.
“Any time I get to play, it feels great man,” said Barton. “Being out there with my teammates and the other guys who don’t get to play much like Victor (Claver), Joel (Freeland) with his comeback, C.J. (McCollum), AC (Allen Crabbe), Meyers (Leonard), all of us work hard every day to get better and just be prepared just because we never know when our number is going to get called. So to be out there with those guys and to get a win, it was great.”
With the regular season now in the books, the Trail Blazers now have four days to prepare for Game 1 of their first-round matchup with the Houston Rockets. Portland lost the season series 1-3 to Houston this season, but enter the postseason having won five in a row and nine of their last 10.
“I was proud of the way our team responded after the Orlando game,” said Stotts. “That was the low point as far as trying to get things back on track. Since that point, winning nine out of 10 and beating some playoff teams got us back on track. In this league, you’re going to have some rough patches and it’s how you get through them (that matters). I was proud of the way that we fought through the rough times. Part of those rough times were in February when we lost a lot of close games in a row and we fought throught that as well. I thought that showed our mettle and you need that going into the playoffs.”
That you do. Tipoff for Game 1 in Houston is schedule for Sunday at 6:30 PM on KGW, TNT and 620 AM.
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.