The Portland Trail Blazers moved to .500 for the preseason season with a 99-92 win against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City. It is the second time the Trail Blazers have defeated the Jazz in as many games.
Portland trailed by as many as 12 midway through the third quarter, but the Trail Blazers, spurred by the rugged post defense of Robin Lopez and the long range shooting of Mo Williams, finished the final 5:50 of the third quarter on a 21-8 run to take a one-point lead into the fourth quarter. Portland would not trail again.
“I was pleased that we stuck with our defense,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Obviously, I thought Robin Lopez had a terrific impact on the second half. I don’t know what his numbers were in the second half but you felt his presence out there. He got a lot of run, rebounds, block shots, finishing around the basket. Offense is slow to catch up but our defense kept us in the game to have a chance to win it.”
Damian Lillard, who received a nice round of applause during pregame introductions from the Weber State fans in the arena, lead the Trail Blazers with 22 points on 7-of-20 shooting to go along with four assists, three steals and two rebounds.. He was also a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line, which was especially helpful on a rough shooting night from the field.
“That’s something that I need to do a better job of, getting to the free throw line,” said Lillard. “Shots weren’t falling. I made some shots but, for the most part, I missed a lot of shots, so it was important for me to get to the free throw line and make those free throws.”
Lillard’s perfection from the line was a godsend considering his teammates were a combined 9-of-21 from the charity stripe.
LaMarcus Aldridge (16 points, four rebounds, two assists), Wesley Matthews (11 points, eight rebounds, five assists), Will Barton (10 points, five rebounds) all finished in double figures as did Mo Williams (17 points, three rebounds, three assists), who was playing against the Jazz for the first time since leaving the team to sign as a free agent in Portland in the offseason.
“Mo did what we wanted him to do and that’s one of the reasons we got him,” said Stotts. “He’s a secondary ball handler, a creator, he can make shots, he can make plays for everybody else, he’s got speed. The layup he made at the beginning of the fourth quarter was … not a lot of guys can make that play. He just turns on the jets and gets to the rim. He has composure, he knows the game and I think he and Damian play well together out there.”
Lopez had his first double-double of the preseason with a 13-point, 13-rebound effort and drew praise from everyone in Portland’s locker room for his post defense.
“It was a paint presence on defense that we haven’t have since I’ve been here,” said Lillard of Lopez’s performance. “He did a great job of altering shots just being there. I think him just being there, even when he committed fouls, they knew he was there and they weren’t going to just get layups and easy shots in the paint.”
Wednesday’s victory was the first appearance as a Trail Blazers for Dorell Wright, who started in place of Nicolas Batum (concussion) and finished with three points, four steals and two assists in 14 minutes.
“Shoot, I’ve been working on my game and trying to get better this whole summertime, so finally to be out there for the first time during the season is great,” said Wright, who has been nursing a dislocated right middle finger for much of training camp. “I felt comfortable, I was a little better with my wind than I expected, especially starting the first game being here in Utah with this thin air. So I think I did a good job as far as being on top of the schemes and knowing the plays and being in the right spots.”
Jazz center Enes Kanter scored 16 points in the first quarter and finished the game with 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Gordon Hayward scored 10 of his 20 points at the free throw line to go with six assists, three rebounds, a block and a steal in 34 minutes. Derek Favors (10 points, 17 rebounds) was the only other Jazz player in double figures.
Next up, the Trail Blazers travel to Los Angeles where they’ll be hosted by the Clippers Friday night at the STAPLES Center. Tipoff is schedule for 7:30 PM on NBA TV and 620 AM.
And we’re back. After the Trail Blazers defeated a shorthanded Clippers team 109-98 in Game Five at Staples Center to take a 3-2 lead in the first round series, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studios once again to deliver another playoff edition of the Rip City Report podcast. Please consider listening…
On this episode, Joe and I discuss the Trail Blazers being on the verge of winning just their second playoff series in the last 16 years, what we’re expecting to see during Game Six Friday in Portland, make our picks for the Trail Blazers’ MVP and most surprising during the first five games, how the injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin change the narrative surrounding the series and answer some of your Twitter-submitted questions regarding Chris Kaman’s birthday, non-Moda Center places to watch Game Six, player playoff bonuses and give a few binge watching suggestions, not that you’d ever need to watch TV again with all these fine podcasts we’re providing for you.
After struggling in the first few games of their first round playoff series, the play of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in Games Three, Four and Five has been one of the main reasons the Trail Blazers hold a 3-2 advantage versus the Clippers. Mason Plumlee has arguably been Portland’s most valuable player, and both Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless have delivered game-changing performances at times during the series, but the attention Lillard and McCollum draw from the Clippers’ defense has allowed for their teammates to have a chance to shine in the postseason. And despite L.A.’s defensive gameplan focusing almost exclusively on stopping Portland’s starting backcourt, Lillard and McCollum are combining to average just over 40 points a game during the 2016 playoffs.
Given that, and the fact that they even made the playoffs, let alone are a game away from winning Portland’s second playoff series in the last 15 years, TNT analyst Charles Barkley declared on last night’s edition of “Inside The NBA” that Portland’s backcourt is second only to Golden State’s, the team the Trail Blazers would face should they advance to the next round.
Damian Lillard was having one of his worst shooting nights of the season through the first three 36 minutes of Portland’s 108-98 victory versus the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Five of their first round playoff series Wednesday night at Staples Center. Though he no longer had to deal with being defended by guard Chris Paul, who is out of the series after breaking a bone in his right hand during Game Four, the Clippers continued their series-long tactic of throwing constant double teams and traps at Lillard, pestering the 6-3 point guard to go just 1-of-10 from the field through the first three quarters.
“It wasn’t even so much missing the shots that was bothering me, it was just I couldn’t get any attempts because they were so aggressive,” said Lillard. “They played a smaller lineup more often than they did the first couple games, but everything that I did, they were just as aggressive. It was obvious that they wanted me to get rid of the ball just like it was in the first four games.”
And for most of the night, the strategy worked. Despite being being without Paul and Blake Griffin, who is also out for the series with a left quad injury, the Clippers took a five-point lead into the intermission. Even when CJ McCollum got his shot going in the third quarter, scoring 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, Los Angeles was still able to go into the fourth quarter tied at 71-71.
But even though Lillard was struggling, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts decided to leave his point guard in the game to start the fourth quarter. Stotts said after the game that he changed up that rotation in order to get McCollum some extra rest, though it ultimately had another benefit.
“I usually play the third and then I sit the first couple minutes of the fourth,” said Lillard. “But I hadn’t gotten it going, and Coach Stotts knew that it was a game that we needed to win. It was a huge game for us. I think he left me out there just so I could get it going.”
Which he did. Lillard made his first attempt of the fourth quarter, a 26-foot pullup three-pointer, after just 15 seconds had elapsed in the fourth. Less than two minutes later, he made another pullup three. He stripped Clippers guard Pablo Prigioni on the ensuing possession and then converted the turnover into a fastbreak dunk, which gave Lillard eight points roughly two minutes.
“I’ve always been able to put the first three quarters behind me and come up big when my team has needed it,” said Lillard. “All my teammates throughout the game, they just kept saying, keep shooting, stay with it, stay aggressive, keep your mind right. I would have been doing that all along, but it felt good to have that encouragement and that support, especially with them trapping so high out. I had to trust the right play, hitting the guy in the middle and allowing him to make the next play to the weak side. I just had to be patient.”
But Lillard wasn’t done just yet. He left the game with just over nine minutes to play in order to get the rest that he’d usually get at the start of the quarter before returning at the 6:25 mark to presumably play the remainder of regulation.
And from there, it was Lillard Time.
He’s go on to make a 16-foot jumper and two three-pointers over the course of a two-minute span that saw the Trail Blazers extend their lead from 10 to 17 while effectively putting the game out of reach with 3:38 to play. By time Lillard subbed out with just under a minute to play, he had put up 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from three in eight and a half fourth-quarter minutes, helping Portland take a 3-2 series lead with what could be a deciding Game Six scheduled for Friday at the Moda Center.
Some players might have chosen, either subconsciously or otherwise, to defer exclusively to his teammates or find reasons not to shoot after struggling through the first three quarters like Lillard did. But that’s not how he got to where he’s at, and it certainly wouldn’t get the Trail Blazers to where they want to go. Regardless of how the game starts, Lillard is always out to finish thanks to a firm belief that the next shot, and the one after that, and the one after that, is going to find the bottom of the net.
“Regardless of how I play in the first three quarters, always in my mind I tell myself, ‘You going to come up big,’” said Lillard. “Even if it comes down to one possession, if I’ve got one point and there’s one possession left in the game, I always tell myself, ‘You’re going to come up big.’ So I was counting on that. That was it. It’s just the mindset, confidence.”