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.”
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”