“You can’t let your guard down,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “You have to fight the temptation to be full of yourself and just go out and compete because we’re winning games because we’re playing hard, playing together, doing the right things.”
The Trail Blazers nearly succumbed to complacency Sunday afternoon by giving up a 17-point fourth quarter lead and being pushed to overtime before finally coming away with a 118-110 victory against the Raptors in Toronto.
“These are the type of games that we need to win,” said Stotts. “It would have been easy to go the other way. Got a game tomorrow night and we let it slip away and they got the momentum. I just said, ‘If we’re going to be the team we need to be, we’ve got to win these games.’ They played well.”
The victory, Portland’s sixth-straight, moves the Trail Blazers to 8-2, which is their best start through ten games since going 9-1 to start the 1999-2000 season. Sunday afternoon’s win also ensures they will finish their first Eastern Conference road trip no worse than .500, though they already have their heights set higher than that.
“Winning the first two, not only does that give you confidence but that makes you want to get greedy,” said Damian Lillard “We felt like coming in, all four are winnable games and now that we came and stole two, we’ve got our confidence up. Why not get another one?”
Portland was once again unable to avoid an unnecessarily harrowing end to what could have been a comfortable victory. Toronto cut the lead to 102-100 with under a minute to play in regulation after Landry Fields collected a rebound of a missed free throw by DeMar DeRozan, who finished the possession with an easy dunk. Aldridge would miss a jumper on the other end, leading to a DeRozen drive to the rim for what looked like a game-tying bucket, but Mo Williams tied up DeRozen on the drive to force a jump ball.
Toronto controlled the jump ball and called a timeout with 4.3 seconds to play, setting up an isolation play for Rudy Gay. Gay’s drive with Nicolas Batum defending ended with a layup that found the mark as time expired, sending the contest into overtime.
“I know he wants to go right,” said Batum. “That’s on me. I was very, very mad at myself about that game.”
Gay, who finished with 30 points and 10 rebounds, scored five-straight points in the overtime period, whipping the Air Canada Centre crowd into a frenzy and putting the Raptors up 107-104 with 2:51 to play. On the ensuring possession it looked as if the Trail Blazers might commit a 24-second clock violation, but with time winding down, Damian Lillard pulled up from 28 feet and nailed a three-pointer to tie the game at 107-107. Portland would never trail from that point on.
“We have a lot of guys, that could have been anybody,” said Lillard of the shot. “I’m just happened to be in the situation to make a play. The three, we were down three, the shot clock was running down and I knew I needed to raise up. I am just happy it went in.”
Lillard and Batum would combine for 13 of Portland’s 16 points in overtime, with both players hitting timely three-pointers to help the Trail Blazers win their first overtime game of the season.
“I was really just trying to get guys going then I made my first shot and missed some shots,” said Lillard, who overcame a slow start to finish with 25 points, eight assists and five rebounds. “I knew that it would come along and once it got down the stretch I forgot about rest of the game. I was going to attack and try and make plays regardless. I was able to hit some shots and find some guys with some passes.”
Lillard wasn’t the only Trail Blazer who could say that Sunday afternoon. Aldridge also scored 25 points and added 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals. Batum finished with 24 points, six rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal. Mo Williams had yet another efficient outing with 13 points, seven assists and five rebounds and Wesley Matthews once again shot the lights out in the first half, scoring 16 of his 17 points before the intermission while going four of five from the three-point line.
“I think it keeps teams off balance, having so many guys that can get hot during any game,” said Aldridge. “I thought tonight they tried to key in on me early so Wes got going and they kind of loosen up. Then I got going. Second half, Nic got going, then Dame. It keeps teams off balance.”
Portland once again utilized the three-point shot to overcome a lack of interior scoring. Portland outscored Toronto 45-9 from the three-point line, combating a 62-28 points in the paint deficit, which was exacerbated by both Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland experiencing foul trouble.
“We are who we are,” said Stotts of the discrepancies. “I was disappointed to give up 62 points in the paint, especially 30 in the first half. From a defensive standpoint it concerns me because we have to get better at that, but we have to play our style of game. Thirty-two three’s in an overtime game, that’s about right.”
The Trail Blazers now travel back to the United States for a game against the Nets in Brooklyn on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:30 PM.
There’s no better time to ponder the future of an NBA team than the period of the offseason before the draft and free agency. There are nothing but possibilities. Every free agent is a potential target who could change the direction of a franchise, every draft pick a presumptive superstar in the making who could eventually lead your team to glory.
Of course, the Trail Blazers don’t have a draft pick this year and attracting big-name free agents to Portland has always been a challenge, but when you’re the third-youngest team in the NBA, the future isn’t primarily defined by potential additions. And that’s especially true for a team coming off a 44-win season and their second playoff series victory in the last 16 years. While signing a all-star caliber free agent or obtaining a pick in the 2016 Draft would certainly help going forward, Portland’s fortunes are dependent on variables such as Allen Crabbe stepping into a bigger role, Al-Farouq Aminu building on a career season, CJ McCollum making the jump from very good to great and Damian Lillard becoming to bona fide Top 10 player in the league.
So while it never hurts to be optimistic about the opportunity for adding new talent, the Trail Blazers already have a strong footing going forward after rebuilding their roster just under a year ago during the 2015 offseason. That’s probably the main reason Portland jumped 10 spots to No. 8 in ESPN’s most recent Future Power Rankings. Here’s what ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton had to say about the ranking…
While we were relatively optimistic about the Trail Blazers in September, they’ve still tied for the largest jump since then. Portland moved back into the top 10 after not only defying expectations by making the playoffs but winning a series (albeit aided by the Clippers’ injuries) and competing with the Warriors in the second round.
Now, the Blazers have the opportunity to clear max space while retaining their young core, led by the dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. That’s possible because GM Neil Olshey locked up young free agents Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis to contracts that look like enormous bargains.
To threaten the West’s upper crust, Portland still must hold off younger teams rising out of the lottery. But a strong management team of Olshey and newly extended coach of the year runner-up Terry Stotts gives reason to believe in the Blazers.
Portland’s best rankings come in management (5th) and players (9th) while their worst score comes in money (19th), which is somewhat ironic considering one of the wealthiest people in the world owns the team, though this ranking is surely more reflective of their salary cap situation than an unwillingness to spend.
The Northwest Division does well in the future rankings, with the Utah Jazz just ahead of the Trail Blazers at No. 7 and the Minnesota Timberwolves just behind at No. 9.
With Portland’s playoff run now over, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard now has some free time on his hands to pursue his off-court interests. He’s already hit up Oak’s Park for some late-night rollerskating, attended a Portland Thorns game at Providence Park and welcomed his old buddy Tim Frazier back to town. And today, we know he’s back in the studio making music.
In a re-launch of the “Music Monday” feature that he started last offseason on his Soundcloud page, Lillard, or to be most specific, “Dame DOLLA,” has posted a new track entitled “Talk To Em” featuring V.I.P and Bozzle (who I think are Lillard’s cousins)…
One of Dame’s verses…
They glorifying goofballs, I’m salty as Utah
When you real they uncomfortable, plotting for you to fall
Man I’m changing up the game, forget about the politics
I stick my neck out for my loved ones, I’m like an ostrich
A lot of love around me you haters keep doing opposite
I’m really incompetent to taking many compliments
That sounds about right. Previous “Music Monday” releases from last year include “Soldier In The Game,” “Full Stomach,” “Why?” “Free Bands” and “The Villains.” Then there’s non-Music Monday releases such as “I Wish I Could Tell You,” “Heatwave,” and “They Sleep,” which, like “Talk To Em” was produced by Jahlil Beats, who also produced, among other things, the Rick Ross/Meek Mill hit “Ima Boss” and that Bobby Shmurda song whose name I can’t put on this blog. And of course, there’s “Bigger Than Us,” the video for which currently has roughly 750,000 views on YouTube.
A happy Friday the 13th to all of you loyal podcast listeners. Before everyone goes their separate ways now that the offseason is here, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net and TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio one last time to record a season-ending edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we attempt recap the series versus the Warriors, which ended in five games with a 125-121 loss at Oracle Arena Wednesday night, and the season in general, discuss the lasting effects of the playoff run and the respect that they earned from around the league due to their performance and look forward to some of the questions the Blazers will have to answer in the offseason, particularly in regard to free agency. And as always, we finish up by answering your Twitter-submitted questions on topics such as the culture the Trail Blazers have developed, (more) free agency, exit interviews and favorite moments from the just-completed season. It’s been a fun one.