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.”
When the Western Conference first round series between the Trail Blazers and Clippers started, many assumed it would be a quick affair, with the Clippers eventually moving on to face the Golden State Warriors in the second round. And after Warriors point guard Stephen Curry suffered a knee injury that will keep the reigning MVP sidelined for the start of the second round, much of the conversation revolved around how that would improve the Clippers’ chances of beating the defending champs in the Western Conference semifinals. The fact that the Clippers still had to beat the Trail Blazers two more times didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
A few days later, that narrative has flipped. Leading the series 3-2 with a chance to clinch in Game Six tonight at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on KGW, ESPN and 620 AM), the Trail Blazers are now Golden State’s presumptive opponent, as injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have all but ended the Clippers’ playoff run.
But just as the Clippers still had to win four games to advance, so too do the Trail Blazers, which is a good reminder that there are no such thing as inevitability when it comes to sports. “That’s why the play the game,” might be trite, but it’s still as true as it ever was, something the Trail Blazers know as well as any team still alive in the postseason.
“We just go out there and play, we don’t really pay attention to what’s being said,” said CJ McCollum. “You can’t read into that too much. First we were supposed to get swept, first we were just happy to win a game, so you just go play. You don’t really worry about the other stuff, you just control what you can control, keep your mindset the same, understand that nothing is inevitable. You’ve got to go out there and play.”
Though the Trail Blazers were able to beat the Clippers 108-98 at Staples Center in Game Five sans Paul and Blake, a team led by JJ Redick, DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers still managed to take a five-point lead into the half and had the game tied at 71-71 going into the fourth quarter, so it’s not as if any team, including Portland, can just roll the ball out in a playoff game and expect to emerge with the victory. After all, if that were the case, the Clippers would already be in Oakland preparing for the Western Conference semifinals.
“We understand that they’re a good team,” said McCollum “Regardless of what’s happened, regardless of what injuries they’ve gone through, they’re still a good team and we’ve still got to go play the game.”
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.