PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers moved to 45-24 on the season and 26-9 at home with a 116-103 victory versus the Washington Wizards Thursday night at the Moda Center.
Portland is now 21-4 against the Eastern Conference this season, the best mark of any Western Conference team. The win also broke Portland’s three-game losing streak to the Wizards dating back to the 2011-12 season.
The Trail Blazers used a 19-2 run spanning from the 1:37 mark in the second quarter to the 10:02 mark in the third quarter to take the lead, one they would not relinquish the rest of the game.
“The ball was moving,” said Wesley Matthews. “It was a lot of fun to be out there. That’s how we play. That’s how we get on a roll. That’s how we got to be one of the hottest teams, because the ball was flying and we caused a problem either in pick and roll or in isolation situations where two are looking at one and we kick the ball out and we move it and the ball finds energy. We were all moving tonight.”
The ball moved particularly well in the third, with Portland tallying 10 assists on 13 made shots in the quarter. That ball movement yielded great looks from three and the Trail Blazers responded by shooting 62 percent from the field while going 6 of 11 from beyond the arc in the third.
“Make shots – there really wasn’t much to it other than I thought the ball found our shooters and they shot it with confidence,” said Stotts of his team’s third quarter production. “It wasn’t necessarily anything that we ran. I just felt like shooters were shooting with confidence. The thing that I’m pleased about is that our spacing lineup is kind of getting a rhythm, whether Mo (Williams) is in the game or Mo is not in the game. It’s kind of working the way it should as far as opening up the court and opening up three point opportunities and we’re still able to defend and rebound with that group.”
While the Trail Blazers broke the game open in the third, they were only in that position thanks to coming out with much better energy early in the game. Portland’s first quarter was downright stellar compared to their performance Tuesday night against the Bucks. The Wizards, led by 13 points from All-Star point guard John Wall, had a 28-23 lead after the first 12 minutes of the game, but Portland turned the ball over just twice and shot 40 percent from the field, both which were vast improvements from the game before.
“I was really pleased with the way we played,” said Stotts. “The first quarter was a little slow, but offensively, we were really moving the ball. There was a nice rhythm to it.”
Portland got early production from Dorell Wright, who started in place of LaMarcus Aldridge (lower back contusion) for the fourth-consecutive game. After going 0 of 8 Tuesday against the Bucks, Wright hit 3 of 5 shots in the first for seven points while also pulling down five rebounds in the first. Wright would finish the game with 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting from the field, 3 of 6 shooting from three and seven rebounds.
“It was all mental,” said Wright of his improvement from his previous performance. “I’m a shooter. I’ve been doing it for a while now and I understand what I need to do as far as getting prepared for the next game. I just had a short memory and tried to make my shots today.”
With shots falling, all the Trail Blazers needed to do in the second half was lock down defensively to come away with the victory. They did just that, holding the Wizards to 32 percent shooting in the third while forcing four turnovers.
“We were more ready to start the second half,” said Nicolas Batum, who pulled down nine rebounds in the third. “More intensity and more energy to start the second half. We got stops, we started running and we got more rhythm. When we got in a rhythm, we started making shots. So we started on defense and then we got open shots. Damian got some good assists and Wes made shots. Very good second half tonight.”
Batum ended the night with 12 points, 14 rebounds and five assists in 34 minutes.
Portland was led by Matthews, who matched a season-high with 28 points on 8 of 16 shooting from the field and 4 of 9 shooting from three.
Lillard finished with a double-double of 23 points and 10 assists while turning the ball over just once in 35 minutes.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Lillard. “We did a great job of moving the ball. Guys were flying around on the defensive end, tipping balls, and that allowed us to get out in transition. I think we just made the right plays. If there was an open guy, we made that pass. Some guys even had wide open shots and passed it up with the defender running at him to get the next guy a better shot. When you have that, that’s when you have a special situation. That’s what makes our team special, like we were at the beginning of the season. It’s exciting to see that we’re getting back to that.”
With four three-pointers in Thursday’s game, Lillard broke his own franchise record for three-pointers made in a season. He now has 186 threes this year with 13 games remaining in the regular season.
Next up, the Trail Blazers hit the road for their second five-game road trip of March with a game against the Bobcats in Charlotte on Saturday.
“We didn’t fare as well as we wanted to on the last road trip, to put it nicely, politely,” said Matthews. “So we know what we’ve got to do. We’ve got a tough stretch, teams that we’ve taken care of before. We’ve got to do it. We’ve got to show up to play and we’ve got to play with urgency like every game is our last.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 4 PM.
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.”
LOS ANGELES — It took a while, but the Trail Blazers we’ve seen in the last two games in Portland finally showed up in Los Angeles Tuesday night, and not a minute too soon.
After failing to exert their will on an undermanned opponent playing without both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Trail Blazers outscored the Clippers by 10 in the fourth quarter to come away with a 109-98 victory in Game Five at the Staples Center. The Trail Blazers now lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 with a chance to clinch a spot in the Western Conference semifinals with a win in Game Six back in Portland.
“We knew we would have to win here eventually to win the series and we got it done tonight,” said Maurice Harkless. “Hopefully we can keep this momentum going and get a win on Friday back home.”
Portland has won the last three games versus the Clippers, with Wednesday night’s victory being their first road playoff win since 2014.
As has been the case throughout the series, neither team was capable of finding easy offense early in the game. Neither team managed to shoot better than 35 percent from the field and both turned the ball over four times. The Trail Blazers were able to get to the line for 10 free throws in the first quarter, but made just five of those, starting a trend of poor foul line shooting that would continue for most of the game.
Both teams would improve in the second, though the Clippers would get the upper hand by scoring 20 points in the paint on the way to shooting 54 percent from the field in the quarter. Harkless and Gerald Henderson would combine to score 15 points in the quarter to keep Portland in the game, but even their best efforts couldn’t stop the Clippers from taking a 50-45 lead into the intermission.
“We had to play harder,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “First half, especially the second quarter, the Clippers played harder than we did. They got baskets in transition, they got offensive rebounds, they got kick-outs, extra possessions and they played harder than we did in the second quarter.”
Portland’s fortunes changed in the second half. They shot 48 percent from the field, thanks in large part to CJ McCollum going 4-of-5 from the field for 10 points in the quarter, and played with more connected on the defensive end, as evidenced by holding the Clippers scoreless for nearly the first six minutes of the first half. The combination helped Portland grind down what looking like an increasingly fatigued L.A. team to tie the game at 71-71 going into the fourth.
Then it was Damian Lillard’s time to shine. After shooting 1-of-10 from the field in the first three quarters, the point guard in his fourth season out of Weber State hit his first shot, a three-pointer, to start the fourth quarter and proceeded to go 6-of-10 from the field and 4-of-6 from three for 16 fourth-quarter points.
“All my teammates throughout the game, they just kept saying, ‘Keep shooting, stay with it, stay aggressive, keep your mind right,'” said Lillard. “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.”
With Lillard’s help, the Trail Blazers were able put together a 15-3 run early in the fourth to take a 13-point lead with 7:48 to play in regulation. A few minutes later, an 11-2 run would push Portland’s lead to 17, their largest of the night, before coasting to the 10-point victory.
The Trail Blazers were led by McCollum, who went 9-of-18 from the field to finish with 27 points, four assists and four rebounds in 39 minutes. Harkless went 7-of-14 from the field to finish with a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds.
“I knew I had to be aggressive,” said Harkless. “It was tough for guys to get going in the beginning and I saw opportunities to attack and was open a few times, so I took advantage.”
Mason Plumlee, arguably Portland’s most valuable player thus far in the playoffs, also put up a double-double of 10 points and 15 rebounds to go with four assists. Lillard finished with 22 points, five assists and three steals in 39 minutes.
The Clippers had six players score in double figures led by 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting for JJ Redick. DeAndre Jordan finished with 16 points and 17 rebounds in 31 minutes.
The series now once again shifts back to Portland for Game Six at the Moda Center. A win would give the Trail Blazers the series and a second round date with the Golden State Warriors, while a loss would force a Game Seven back at Staples Center.
“We want to close the series out,” said McCollum. “We’ve got a unique opportunity here to play an elimination game at home, and we want to make sure we take full advantage of it.”