The Portland Trail Blazers overcame yet another double digit deficit on the road, this time against the Golden State Warriors, despite having two of their guards ejected after an altercation to come away with a 113-101 victory for their tenth consecutive win Saturday night at Oracle Arena.
“That was a pretty gutty win, I thought, on our part,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “There were a lot of great performances from our team. I could go down the list of all our players and point out something that they did to help us get the win. The altercation kind of changed the completion on the game. I like the way we responded, I liked the way we stood up for each other and I liked the way we competed in the second half.”
That altercation took place in the late in the third quarter when a game that had been high-intensity from the jump turned into an all-out throwdown with 3:42 to play in the third quarter. Golden State’s Andrew Bogut and Portland’s Joel Freeland began to tussle while fighting for positioning on a rebound and things escalated quickly from there.
“I was just playing how I play,” said Freeland. “I was just going for an offensive rebound, I held (Bogut’s) arm, he held my arm, he didn’t like it, he got angry. It’s as easy as that. He thew the elbow, cool. He’s angry about it? He’s angry about it. I’m just trying to do my job and trying to attack the boards every time, and that’s it.”
Mo Williams came in to separate the two players, but got shoved by Bogut for his trouble. Then LaMarcus Aldridge came in to rescue Williams and by then, a shoving match among both team’s broke out near Golden State’s bench.
“I don’t really know what happened, per se, but I just saw Joel and Bogut tangled up,” said Aldridge. “Then I saw Mo go in for Joel and then I went in for Mo and it was like, chain reaction of Wes went in for me, so on and so on.”
After an extended review period, the officials ejected Williams and Draymond Green. Wesley Matthews was awarded his second technical after being hit with a technical earlier in the game, resulting in ejection.
“Wes sacrificed himself for me because when I got the one shot where they said I traveled and David Lee ran me over, he got the tech for me,” said Aldridge. “Then after that the double tech got him kicked out so I wanted to win this one for him and for Mo because those guys had my back.”
Freeland, Aldridge and Bogut, who looked as though he threw an elbow at Freeland’s head to start the altercation, were awarded technicals but were not ejected. The NBA is likely to look over the tape of the altercation again, at which point it is possible that more fines and/or suspensions are handed out.
The Trail Blazers were down 79-71 when the alteration took place and responded by outscoring the Warriors 41-18 thereafter to get the a double digit victory at Oracle Arena, a place where Portland has always had issues winning.
“I thought it brought us together,” said Stotts. “I thought everybody was sticking up for everybody. The game was going back and forth and I don’t know if we necessarily had a lot going; I thought it really brought us together.”
“We were the bigger team, without question,” said Freeland. “In my opinion, they didn’t know how to respond to (the altercation). We’re the one’s who stepped up. We got together and we said’ ‘This is playing to our advantage. This is the way we want to play, so step up.’ And we did. We stepped up, they didn’t know how to react and it was great.”
Portland was led by Aldridge, who shook off a miserable start from the field to finish with 30 points, 21 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks while doing most of his damage after the third quarter incident, which Stotts said not only brought the team together, but gave them a much needed blow playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
“We rode LaMarcus the second half with Wes and Mo out,” said Stotts. “The one thing the altercation did do is buy us some rest time. That was a long break and allowed LA to play the rest of the half. He took it inside, got to the free throw line, made his free throws, offensive rebounds. He did it all and we rode him.”
Aldridge’s performance was impressive on many fronts, as he was the first player since David Robinson in 1992 to finish with at least 30 points, 21 rebounds, three steals and three blocks and the first player in franchise history to log at least 30 points and 20 rebounds three times. But it was particularly rewarding to see the two-time All-Star power forward go 16 of 19 from the free throw line, a facet of his game in which he has struggled with inconsistency at times, so much so that he’s recently changed is pregame routine to work on improving.
“I’m just trying to get better,” said Aldridge of his free throw shooting. “Every game I have definitely gotten back and trying to take more shots early. I normally do just five or ten free throws but now I’m doing like 20 or 25 free throws in my pregame, just trying to find my rhythm. I’m trying to be more confident at that and it is working for me.”
But make no mistake, the Trail Blazers got meaningful production from everyone who played Saturday night.
There was Matthews, who shot eight of nine from the field and five of six from three to finish with 23 points in just 26 minutes. He scored 13 points in the first quarter, continuing a trend of dead-eye shooting early in games that has carried the Trail Blazers though rough starts more than once during the current ten-game streak.
“Whatever he’s doing, he better keep doing it because he’s been great,” said Aldridge of Matthews. “He’s got us off to get starts the last, I don’t know, seven or eight games. He’s been dialed in, making threes, making shots, getting to the basket. He’s been on another level. That’s been great for us lately.”
Robin Lopez scored just eight points and pulled down nine rebounds, but blocked five shots and played superb post defense in the deciding fourth quarter. Damian Lillard shook off a rough night shooting in front of family and friends in his hometown to finish with 20 points and nine assists. Nicolas Batum rounded out the starting lineup with 14 points, four assists and three rebounds while checking Golden State’s Stephen Curry for much of the second half.
As for the play of the bench, Freeland finished with six points, four rebounds and a block in 13 minutes. Four of his six points came in a crucial stretch in the fourth when he hit back-to-back 12-footers to give the the Trail Blazers a 96-92 lead with seven minutes to play.
“I think I hit three jumpers today and I felt comfortable,” said Freeland, who finished with six points, four rebounds and a block in 13 minutes. “They were rhythm shots, shots that came in the rhythm of the game. It just felt like I was doing the things I need to do and them jumpers just helped me out. Offensively, like I said before, I’m not big on the offensive end, but on the defensive end I’ve been doing big things.”
And perhaps the most unlikely hero was veteran guard Earl Watson, who played just four minutes, 38 seconds but was critical in playing defense and running Portland’s offense with Williams, who usually picks up all of the minutes at backup point guard, watching from the locker room.
“Earl hasn’t played a minute all season and he came in and, I don’t know what his line was, but you know he had an impact on the game,” said Stotts. “He got the ball to LA, he ran the show, he got into the guys defensively and we made a nice little run when he was in there. Earl is a consummate pro. He stayed ready, he stayed in shape and he’s into the game mentally and he showed it tonight.”
With the win, the Trail Blazers enter rarefied air, at least as it pertains to franchise win streaks. The ten game run is the sixth-longest winning streak in franchise history in a single season and their seven consecutive road victories is the second-longest single season streak as well. The winning streak does not yet rival the 13-game run the Trail Blazers went on early in the 2007-08 season. According to Aldridge, one of two players still on the current roster who was a part of that previous streak, the current team might be winning games like the 2007-08 team, but they’ve got a completely different persona.
“I don’t want to disrespect that team, because that was a very, very special team, but this team has a different feeling,” said Aldridge. “I wouldn’t say easier, but we just blend better. Like, this team is so selfless, like everybody makes the extra pass, guys know where the ball should be in the fourth quarter, guys play their roles, they don’t try to do more than they should. This team just feel different. It feels good right now.”
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.
Less than 12 hours after being eliminated from the postseason, the Trail Blazers returned to their practice facility in Tualatin to meet with the coaches to discuss offseason plans, clean out their lockers and take questions from the media one last time before starting their vacations.
Here’s the audio and a few quotes from Terry Stotts and the players from today’s exit interviews…
On the 2015-16 season…
“Like I said last night, this has been a special season. This group of players, what they were able to do individually and collectively, our chemistry was really good. We had good guys, they got along, players and coaches. It means a lot and it goes both ways. It was a joy. I think players enjoyed coming to work every day and I know the coaches and staff did, too.”
On whether this was his most rewarding season as a head coach…
“No question. This was an extremely rewarding season because it kind of played out the way we wanted it to. And we’re not talking about the record or the playoffs, everything was about growth, improvement, getting better throughout the season and being better at the end of the season. I think we did that individually and collectively and from a coaching standpoint, that’s as pure as it gets. That’s what coaching is about. You don’t get to experience that very much at the NBA level.”
On whether he expects anyone on his staff to be interviewed for various open head coaching positions…
“I hope so. I can’t say enough about how good my staff is. I think Jay Triano and Nate Tibbetts and David Vanterpool are all ready to be considering for head coaching jobs. I think they’re all prepared to do a great job as a head coach depending on whatever a team is looking for. I hope they get consideration because they’re all very deserving.
On many of his teammates deciding to stay in Portland during the offseason…
“That means a lot because I stay here every summer. I’m used to coming in here like ‘I wonder when everybody else coming back to town,’ you know what I mean? The trainers are here, the coaches are here and it’s an empty gym. And even after the game last night, on the plane, I started getting worried already. I was sitting on the plane like ‘Man, we had some success this year, it was unexpected it was no pressure. Next year people gonna expect a little bit more’ and I started to get worried about too many pats on the back. ‘They weren’t supposed to do this but they did that.’ I started getting worried, but we don’t have those kind of guys. We’ve got hungry guys, we’ve got humble guys that work hard. We had a taste this season as a young group of how well we could do and what it takes. We lost to a really experienced, championship team. That makes me happy to hear that so many guys are going to be here working out in the summer because that lets me know that they see how close we are and they see how important it’s going to be going forward.”
On free agency and having a say in the process…
“I’m pretty sure they’ll communicate what the plans are with me, but like I’ve said in the past, my job is to be a good teammate, to make sure I put in my time and become a better player and that’s what I’ll do. They ask me my opinion on something, I’ll give them my honest opinion, but I love all the guys that we have on our roster now. I think going forward, if we continue to grow together, we’ll be a good team. Obviously it’s a business and rosters change, players make decisions for themselves, so when that time comes, we’ll see what happens. But when they come to me ask for my opinion or what I think about something, I’ll tell them what I think.”
On what he’s looking for as a restricted free agent…
“Any pay raise is going to be significantly higher than what I’m making now. But like I said earlier, it’s just situation really for me. It doesn’t make sense to make a lot of money and go to a team that, if you don’t fit that system, then get paid a lot of money to be frustrated? That doesn’t make sense to me. The culture here, it’s great. I know this organization well, I know the system, know the coaches, players. It’s just real comfortable here. I wouldn’t mind being here, I really wouldn’t. It’s really just coming down to situation and how I can continue to improve as a basketball player.”
On head coach Terry Stotts…
“Definitely think he should get an extension. I feel like everybody here knows that he should get an extension. He’s done a great job with this team. It’s really hard to put into words what he did with this group because nobody expected us to do what we did. Even from Day One, even through the games where we were 11-20, seven-game losing streak, he never folded and he always told us it’s all about trusting the process and we stuck with that throughout this whole year.”
On spending time in Portland this offseason…
“I think, for one, it doesn’t rain a lot in the summer, so that helps. Just being around the facility, 24 hour access, you’re able to get a lot of things done without a distraction. You go home, you go to certain cities, you either got to pay to get in the gym or you’ve got to worry about people interrupting you while you workout. I go back to my high school but sometimes I’ve got to just like lock the door so I can just workout and not have to worry about certain interruptions because you can’t get through a full workout when people are coming in, talk to you. It’s meant to be a compliment to you, it’s hard. So I think it helps that here, you just come in, the doors are locked, you’ve got your finger scan, you workout when you want, the weather is nice. You’re paying rent here anyway, so it makes sense.”
On the camaraderie of the roster and the changes that might be in store…
“I think we had a really unique group. They did a great job of putting together like minds, young guys who are easy to talk to. Nobody is really arrogant or overly cocky. We’ve got some ignorant guys on the team that you guys guys know who’s outlandish with his statements. I won’t put him out there, he knows who he is. Besides that, we all got along well, everybody spoke their minds, nobody was afraid to say certain things. If somebody played bad, if somebody wasn’t doing things the right way, you could address it and nobody would frown or look at you the wrong way. So I like the way our team is put together, I like the work ethic everybody had. This is one of the rare teams where you could hang out with players off the court. Everybody’s got their friends, but I could hang out with any one of the 15 guys off the court and be perfectly comfortable, eat dinner, et cetera… We’ve got a really good unit and a lot of guys made themselves some money this year, a lot of guy’s prices went up. Hopefully we can rekindle the flame, but if not, we had a good run, we had a good year together collectively and wish everybody the best of luck in the free agency process.
On how he’s approaching restricted free agency…
“To be honest with you, I haven’t had a real concrete conversation with my agent about this. I wanted it to be, right now, about my rehab and about supporting the guys, being there however I could, I guess more from an emotional standpoint, for the team. I certainly wish I could have been out there. With that being said, I’m sure we’ll talk within the next couple of days about how we’re going to really approach this, the timing of things, I suppose what teams are interested, what teams would maybe like to meet in person. I don’t have a concrete plan at this point. Restricted free agency, it gets a little hairy, it takes time, teams maybe don’t want to tie their money up. I honestly don’t know all the ins and outs of it. Like I said before the season when I didn’t accept an extension, I’m confident in where I’m at. It’s my agent’s job to present whatever he has on his mind and what’s on my plate from that side of things. My job right now is simply to rehab my shoulder, continue to work on my leg strength, which is a huge focus of mine for this summer, and just figure out different way in the weight room or out here, even simple things as ball handling, just trying to improve as a player and as a man.”
On why he’s going to spend much of the offseason in Portland…
“I’m coming back to Portland just because went through all that rain, got to enjoy some of the sun. I like it here. I’m renting a spot, so I’m just going to stay here. I like Todd (Forcier) and BK (Ben Kenyon) and those guys, so definitely going to put a lot of work in in the weight room. It’s always good vibes here so I don’t think guys want to get away. Some teams, you want to get away just because you don’t like certain people. It’s not like that here. I enjoyed being here so that’s why I’m going to stick around and do most of my training out here.”
On the realities of keeping a roster with multiple free agents together…
“It’s going to be tricky with all the salary cap stuff going on. I think a lot of the guys who are free agents definitely raised their value. I think everyone did. You never know. I hope all those guys get paid well, I think they will. They deserve it. You just never know with free agency, who they go after and things like that, but I hope everybody comes back, but that’s not really realistic. It doesn’t really work like that in the league. I just tried to enjoy that time yesterday because I’ve been around a little bit and I know how the business side of things work.”
On his mindset going into the offseason…
“This summer is big for me, become more of a scoring threat. I think there’s a lot to be added. I look forward, if the opportunity is there, to come back to have some stability from a staff perspective. I would look forward to coming back to a similar situation from one season to the next. I’ve played for three coaches in three years, so I think that would be something I’d look forward to as well… Once you’ve been traded, you never know.”
On being a restricted free agent…
“Free agency is something I haven’t really thought about. I’ve tried not to think about it during the season and we just finished yesterday, so it hasn’t really been on my mind yet. It’s something that we’ll have to think about soon.”
On his first season in Portland…
I loved it. It was by far the most fun season I’ve had. These guys here are great, the organization is great. I really, really enjoyed it and looking forward to seeing what happens this summer.”
On his first season in Portland…
“It’s the most fun year I think I’ve had as a pro. We had a great group of guys, high character guys, silly guys and it was a fun year. That’s without even being on the court. On the court, we had a special group. We came together halfway through, really made it a special year all the way until last night when we’re playing against the champions, gave them all we had. Played a tough series, obviously it didn’t end the way that we wanted it to, but it’s a year we’re all proud of.”
His thoughts on entering free agency and what he’s looking for…
This is my second time doing it and it’ll be a little different than the first time. I think getting a taste of what this year and this postseason was like and how much fun, how competitive it is, I think, number one, being on a team that’s a winning team. It’s obviously tough to get on one of the elite elite teams, but that could be a possibility. That could easily be a possibility here. Being on a team that is about winning and that’s a good fit for me.
On his first season with the Trail Blazers…
“It was an amazing journey of growth. We grew a lot throughout the season, personally and as a team. It was just fun to be a part of it.”
How he looks back on the season in terms of enjoyment…
The season was great. Any time you have guys that are the same age, it just makes it a lot easier to get along. It’s easy to have relatable points, different things like that. A lot of us are going through similar things in our careers so you get to relate on that note. When it came to comfortably in that sense, it was just unbelievable. And then I think that’s why the chemistry was there as well. Even our vets and the older guys like Chris Kaman, they were a joy to be around as well. From top to bottom, everybody was kind of in that same wavelength of what they were trying to do. It just made it easy to get along.