CHICAGO — There’s nothing like going home happy.
After starting a five-game road trip off 0-3, the Portland Trail Blazers finished strong Friday night with a 91-74 victory versus the Chicago Bulls in front 22,055 at the United Center.
“I’m really proud of the way we played tonight,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We stayed locked in and out defense was solid, we didn’t give up easy baskets to them … It’s good to get back-to-back wins here and after a good win last night.”
Chicago’s 74 points are the fewest Portland has allowed this season. The Bulls are now 0-11 this season when held under 80 points.
The Trail Blazers finish off their last multi-game road trip of the season with back-to-back victories after defeating the Hawks in Atlanta Thursday night. Portland sweeps the season series and has now won six-straight versus the Bulls and are 5-2 in their last seven games in Chicago.
Portland looked to be the fresher team despite playing their fourth game in five nights, which was even more impressive considering Chicago hadn’t played since Monday. The Bulls led for the first five and a half minutes of the first quarter, as neither team could find the mark early, but Portland would take their first lead after a Nicolas Batum three-pointer put Portland up 9-6 with 6:11 to play in the first quarter.
The Bulls would briefly take the lead again early in the second after starting the quarter on a 6-1 run, but it would be all Trail Blazers from there on out. Portland went on an 11-2 run between the 10:12 and 7:13 marks of the second thanks in part to three-pointers from Damian Lillard and Dorell Wright to take a 32-24 lead. Lillard, Wright and Mo Williams would combine to go 4 of 4 from three in the second quarter while the team shot 10 of 20 from the field to outscore Chicago 28-20 and take a 47-36 lead into the halftime intermission.
After gradually building a double-digit lead in the first half, Trail Blazers started the third on a 15-2 run. It was once again the three ball that did much of the damage, though this time it was Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews going 3 for 3 in the first three minutes of the half to help Portland take a 24-point lead, their largest of the game.
It would take a while, but the Bulls would respond with a run of their own, finishing the quarter by outscoring the Blazers 11-2 to cut the lead to 15 by the start of the fourth.
But rather than let the Bulls back into the game, Portland started the final quarter with another run, this one of the 9-1 variety, to push the lead back to 23 with 8:47 to play in regulation.
“We was able to jump out and take a pretty big lead,” said Lillard. “In the huddle once again we were saying. ‘Let’s keep them down. Keep our intensity up, keep our energy up.’ And they made a few shots and kind of dented the lead a little bit — I think they cut it to 14 or 15. We got it together, we tightened back up, we made things tough for them on the defense end, went down and executed and we made shots. Tonight we did a really good job of just playing a complete game.”
The teams would mostly trade scores from there on out, and with plenty of cushion, Portland would be able to put in the end of the bench with two minutes to play while coasting to a 17-point victory.
Six Trail Blazers scored in double digits Friday night led by Mo Williams, who played 25 minutes off the bench to finish with 18 points on 7 of 12 shooting.
“I thought Mo played terrific tonight,” said Stotts. “The way he played tonight was great because we needed his scoring and defense. It’s been well documented that usually when he scores for us, we win.”
Damian Lillard played 37 minutes and ended the game with 16 points on 6 of 14 shooting, four rebounds and four assists.
Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez each scored 13, with Lopez adding five blocks, nine rebounds and two steals.
“Our defense tonight was just an example of everyone being there for each other,” said Lopez. “When you know there is someone behind you, it gives you the confidence to be aggressive. That’s how I felt out there tonight. I’m impressed with how we played out there tonight. We want to continue that now.”
LaMarcus Aldridge, in his second game back after missing seven games with a lower back contusion, shot just 2 of 10 from the field for five points, although he did pull down 13 rebounds. But with the Bulls double-teaming the three-time All-Star, shots opened up on the perimeter for his teammates and hey responded by shooting 46 percent from three, easily their best percentage from distance during the road trip.
“They get more energy and they get more happy,” said Aldridge of his teammates when they’re getting clean looks thanks to double teams. “I think when teams double team me, I feel like guys pull over to the ball fast. I think guys are more locked in. When I have the ball, normally I’m going one-on-one and I’m always shooting it, but like tonight when they double team, I feel like my teammates were more engaged.”
With the win, Portland remains in fifth place in the Western Conference standings with eight games to play.
“Every game is critical now,” said Stotts. “The playoff positioning is not set. The last couple of games on the trip got away from this group. However, this team knows what it has to do. It’s easy to get caught up in emotions with the rollercoaster effect of wins and losses. You just can’t get too high or too low.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers return home to host the Memphis Grizzlies at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 PM.
When USA Basketball announced the list a few weeks ago of 30 players who would be considered for the 12-man roster for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio De Janerio, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard was not included. Though he had been in the USA Basketball pipeline for years and was one of the final cuts for the team that won gold at the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball, Lillard was not up for a chance to play for Team USA in Rio, and at the time of the announcement, it didn’t sound like he really minded the omission.
“There’s no hard feelings toward (USA Basketball), but any time I go into a situation, I want to have a real opportunity,” said Lillard on January 18. “If I’m going to invest myself in something I want to have a real opportunity at it and the last time that I did that I felt like the decision was already made before the decision was made. Whether I played good or bad I didn’t feel like it mattered.”
Since then, Lillard has evidently been convinced that he WOULD have a chance at the 12-man roster this time, as it was announced today by USA Basketball that Lillard would in fact be one of the players considered for the 2016 Olympic team, which already qualified for the 2016 Games due thanks to winning the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
“I recently received a call from Damian, and during our conversation he expressed his desire to be considered for the U.S. Olympic Team and to remain involved with the USA National Team in the future as well,” said Jerry Colangelo, managing director of the USA Men’s National Team, via press release. “Both Mike (Krzyzewski) and I feel like Damian is playing at a very high level and that he should be added to our list of Olympic finalists. Damian has been a member of the USA National Team since 2014, and he participated in National Team training camps in 2013 and 2014, so he does have equity in USA Basketball, which is always important to me.”
Now Lillard will have a chance to join his teammate Al-Farouq Aminu, who already punched his ticket to the 2016 Summer Olympics after helping Nigeria by winning AfroBasket 2015, in Rio. Lillard is still a long shot to make the team considering the fierce competition of whittling 30 All-Star caliber players down to just 12, but an outside chance is better than no chance at all.
The Trail Blazers host the Houston Rockets tonight at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on KGW, ESPN and 620 AM) in their last game before the All-Star break. If the Trail Blazers manage to beat the Rockets for the second time in the last five days, they’ll enter the break with a 27-27 record and will be no worse than eighth in the Western Conference standings. It would also give the Trail Blazers more wins with 28 games to play than the bookmakers in Las Vegas pegged them to get all season. There’s still a long ways to go and the schedule in March gets much more difficult — their first game back from the break is against the Golden State Warriors — but it never hurts to go into the stretch run with a little momentum.
It also takes some of the sting out of Portland having only one player, starting shooting guard CJ McCollum, invited to participate in All-Star Weekend, and even his inclusion is limited to competing in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. But with 17 of their remaining 28 games coming against teams above .500, Portland will need their roster to be as rested as possible if they’re serious about making the 2016 postseason, and that especially goes for McCollum and Damian Lillard. As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann points out in the video above, Terry Stotts has had either Lillard, McCollum or both on the floor for almost the entirely of Portland’s 2015-16 season (not counting the games in which neither was unable to play due to injury). Stotts has been using this rotational tactic all season, and it’s one of the main reasons the Trail Blazers have outperformed expectations so far this season.
MEMPHIS — The Portland Trail Blazers haven’t had much luck in Memphis over the last few years, be it in the regular season or playoffs. But their fortunes in the River City changed Monday night, as the Trail Blazers overcame a five-point deficit in the final 90 seconds of regulation, were the beneficiaries of basketball’s version of an own goal to force overtime and then proceeded to allow just four points in the extra period on the way to defeating the Grizzlies 112-106 in front of 15,892 at FedExForum.
“I was really pleased with our perseverance in that game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We just kept after it. We did a lot of good things, enough to win the game, but a lot of good contributions by a lot of guys and showed a lot of heart to win that game on the road.”
Portland is now 26-27 overall, which is a half game back from the Utah Jazz for eighth place in the Western Conference, and 11-16 on the road this season. The win is Portland’s first in Memphis since January 4, 2013, snapping a streak of eight-straight losses, including playoffs, and their 15th overtime victory since the start or the 2012-13 season. The Trail Blazers have won 11 of their last 14 games, with four of those occurring on the road.
Monday night’s game seemed destined to go to overtime, as evidenced by three of the four quarters ending with a buzzer-beating field goal. Between 17 lead changes, none of which were by more than six points, and 18 ties and it only seemed fair that Monday’s contest would last longer than the traditional 48 minutes.
Though the end of regulation probably didn’t feel all that fair to the Grizzlies or their supporters. Tony Allen’s free throw with 7.6 seconds to play in the fourth quarter gave Memphis a 102-100, a lead that survived a Damian Lillard three-point attempt with roughly 2.0 seconds to play and a would-be CJ McCollum putback. Both Allen Crabbe and Gerald Henderson would make contact with the loose ball as it bounced off the rim, but replays would show that it was actually Grizzlies forward Jeff Green who touched the ball last before it passed through the net as time expired. It wasn’t entirely clear what the call on the floor was initially, but in the end, Crabbe was credited with the basket, even though Henderson seemed to be the last Blazer to touch the ball, and the game went to overtime.
“I tried to make a play on the ball and it went in so they gave me the two points so I’m going to take credit for the tip-in,” said Crabbe. “I feel like I had a piece of the ball. I don’t want to lie, I saw the ball come out and I was down there. We can all just go back to the footage really and check it out. Like I said, they gave me the two points so I tipped it in.”
After going 4-of-12 from the field in the first three quarters, McCollum scored the first six points of the overtime to give the Trail Blazers a 108-102 lead with under two minutes to play.
“CJ McCollum was struggling, but over time late in the fourth into overtime, it was good to see him,” said Stotts. We needed every one of (his points). But he got on track, he got his rhythm on his jump shot and for him to fight through some of the frustration he was having throughout the game and coming out strong late was really a good sign.”
As was Portland’s play on the defensive end in the overtime. The Trail Blazers held the Grizzlies to 2-of-13 shooting, blocked two shots and forced two turnovers in the overtime period, with the play of the game coming with 10 seconds to play and the Blazers clinging to a 108-106 lead. McCollum had a jumper blocked by Green, which Zach Randolph securing the rebound before finding a streaking Allen for what looked like an easy game-tying layin. But the Blazers gave chase rather than giving up on the play, prompting Allen to flub the layup.
“I thought we played with a lot of grit and defensively we have really picked it up, getting key stops,” said Stotts. “I thought the play of the game was the runback by Damian Lillard and Allen Crabbe and Ed Davis and Gerald Henderson on the layup, that could have gone either way. That was a big time hustle play and it was a winning play, and I think we really locked in on doing those type of things.”
Green’s putback attempt would also miss the mark, Davis would grab the rebound and all that would be left is for the Blazers to make their free throws, which they did, on the way to the four-point victory. In a season that has seen the Trail Blazers blow leads for losses on numerous occasions, winning a close game after trailing in the fourth quarter seemed to be a demonstrable sign of growth for a team that feels they’ve left a few wins on the table.
“We know how to close games out now,” said Crabbe, who finished with 13 points, four rebounds and three steals after missing Saturday’s game in Houston with a bout of gastritis. “We know what it takes now. Everybody is digging down defensively to get the stops we need. I think everybody’s game has taken that next step. As the season goes along, I just feel like we know how many wins we can get at home, winning in these situations and we need to make sure we get these wins. I think everybody is just on the same page and we’re just playing hard.”
The Blazers were led by Lillard, who score 20 points in the first half and went on to finish 9-of-22 from the field, 5-of-13 from three and 10-of-12 from the free throw line for 33 points in 43 minutes. It is the 12th time this season that the 6-3 point guard out of Weber State has scored at least 30 points.
“(Lillard) was really good all game obviously, but Memphis did a good job defensively in the second half,” said Stotts. “They went small pick-and-rolls, they did a good job defending the pick-and-rolls… But Damian certainly had it rolling in the first half.”
Lillard also added five assists, four rebounds, a steal and a block.
“I think our team was excited because our last time in Houston, we let the game slip at the end,” said Lillard. “Our last time (in Memphis) we lost the game with 0.6 seconds left. We’ve been playing a lot better since then. We handled our business in Houston, we came out tonight, we grinded it out, we had a lot of things not go our way, but we stayed the course, we stayed together, we trusted each other on the defensive end of the floor — I think that’s what it came down to.”
McC0llum late-game flurry helped the starting shooting guard shake off a tough start to finish with 21 points and six assists in 38 minutes. Gerald Henderson continued a streak of strong play to finish with 16 points and three rebounds in 35 minutes. Henderson, Crabbe, Davis and Maurice Harkless combined to score 47 points on 63 percent shooting off the bench in Monday’s victory.
Meyers Leonard started in place of Noah Vonleh, who missed his second-straight start with a sprained left ankle, and finished with three points in 13 minutes. Stotts opted to use a small lineup for most of the game after Grizzlies center Marc Gasol left the game in the first quarter with a right foot injury.
The Grizzlies were led by 27 points from Mike Conley, with Zach Randolph right behind him with 26 points on 12-of-19 shooting. Both Green and Mario Chalmers scored 12 points off the bench.
Next up, the Trail Blazers return home to host the Houston Rockets, a team they beat to start the now-completed two-game road trip on Saturday, with a chance to get back to .500 before the All-Star break. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm.