The Portland Trail Blazers fell to 36-16 on the season Tuesday night with a 98-95 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Moda Center. It was the fourth and final regular season meeting between the two teams, with the clubs splitting the series 2-2.
“It was a good game, both teams – kind of reminiscent of the Indiana game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We did a lot of good things, stayed in the game, felt like we had a chance to win the game – to be honest, we didn’t shoot the ball very well in the second half. We had a lot of good looks, shots that we normally make, shots that I thought we at least shoot a better percentage. But I liked the way we battled. I liked the way we competed.”
The Trail Blazers had an opportunity to take the lead with two seconds to play after both teams traded a series of turnovers and missed shots. But LaMarcus Aldridge’s 20-foot jumper bounced off the rim and the Thunder corralled the rebound in the waning seconds of the game to all but seal the victory on Portland’s home court.
“We ran a pick and roll,” said Stotts of Portland’s penultimate offensive possession. “If they committed two to Damian, I thought LA would be open. We had shooters on the court and whether LA shoots a jump shot or drives or passes, I can certainly live with the shot. He’s made a living making that shot.”
Portland had a look at a desperation three with 0.6 second to play which would have sent the game to overtime, but Damian Lillard’s attempt missed the mark as time expired.
“We got good looks,” said Lillard, “we didn’t make shots. They knocked down some threes and got in the paint a few times. We just didn’t make shots that we usually make.”
The Trail Blazers got off to a hot start in their first action since finishing up a four-game road trip with a win in Minneapolis Saturday night. Portland took a 13-point lead with 4:03 to play in the first quarter after Thunder coach Scott Brooks was assessed a technical foul for arguing with the officials. Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant would be called for a technical less than 30 seconds later, with Lillard once again hitting the corresponding free throw to put the Trail Blazers up 20-8.
But it wouldn’t be all good news early for Portland, as backup center Joel Freeland left the game in the first quarter with a right knee injury. Freeland is expected to have an MRI and his status for Wednesday night’s game against the Clippers in unknown.
With Freeland out, Oklahoma City would finish the quarter on an 11-5 to pull to within 25-19, with 12 of those points coming courtesy of Durant, going into the second quarter.
Rookie C.J. McCollum would have arguably the best stint of his young career in the second quarter. The 6-4 rookie out of Lehigh, who has seen his minutes and role increase with Mo Williams (personal reason) unavailable, scored 10 points in the quarter on three of three shooting from the field and two of two shooting from three. He would be the first Trail Blazers with consecutive games of 15 points, three three-pointers and three assists off the bench since Greg Anthony in 1999.
“I thought I shot the ball pretty well in the first half, made some good plays,” said McCollum, who finished with 15 points and three assists in 27 minutes. “Obviously some things I need to work on as a rookie. Got to cut down on the turnovers, but that’s going to happen when you’re trying to be aggressive and make plays. But I’ve got to do a better job taking care of the ball.”
McCollum’s shooting would help Portland take a 55-45 lead into the intermission, even with Oklahoma City’s Jeremy Lamb scoring also scoring ten in the quarter.
The Thunder would rally in the third, shooting 63 percent from the field and 43 percent from three in the quarter. Both Durant and Reggie Jackson would score 13 points in the third to help Oklahoma City outscore Portland 35-25 in the quarter to tie the game at 80-80 going into the fourth quarter.
“We fought hard,” said Durant, who finished with a game-high 36 points on 15 of 28 shooting while pulling down 10 rebounds. “We’re a resilient team. We’re not happy only when we’re winning, we keep our heads up through adversity, through tough times.”
Portland’s defense stiffened up in the fourth quarter with the Trail Blazers holding the Thunder to 30 percent shooting. But Portland would shoot just 23 percent from the field, missing all seven of their three-point attempts in the final 12 minutes.
Though they struggled mightily from the field, Portland lead 95-93 with 1:54 to play after a Robin Lopez putback. On the next possession, the Jackson would find Lamb in the corner for a three-pointer, which would be the last made field goal of the night for either team, to give the Thunder the lead for good. Lamb would finish with 19 points of the bench on eight of 11 shooting.
“Especially in the first half, they made some hay when Durant was on the bench and (Lamb) had a lot to do with it,” said Stotts. “He’s becoming a much more confident player as the season goes on. I think one of the byproducts of (Thunder point guard Russell) Westbrook being out is that guys like Lamb and Jackson (17 points, six rebounds, five assists) are taking it upon themselves to look to score a little bit more.”
The Blazers would be led by Nicolas Batum, who scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half to go along with four assists and a rebound in 38 minutes. Aldridge turned got his 33rd double-double of the season with 12 rebounds and 12 points, though he shot just five of 22 from the field.
Lopez also finished with a double-double, his 18th of the season, with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Lillard finished with 16 points, seven assists and Wesley Matthews rounded out Portland’s double-digit scorers with 11.
Next up, the Trail Blazers head Los Angeles to play the Clippers, a team currently in fourth player in the Western Conference standings, in their final game before the All-Star break.
“I think it makes it a bigger game for us because the Clippers are right behind us and we lost a tough one tonight,” said Lillard. “So not only do we not want to lose two games in a row, we don’t want to go down there and lose to a team that’s right on our backs.”
Tipoff is schedule for 7:30 PM.
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.”