Blazers Settle For Season Series Split After Loss To Thunder

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 years ago

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.

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Disastrous Fourth Quarter Ruins Portland’s Chance Of Snatching Home Court From Golden State

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
8 hours ago

OAKLAND — For the first three quarters, it looked as though the Portland Trail Blazers might actually beat the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena, something that only two teams have managed to do in the last seven months.

But unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, NBA games last four quarters. And Tuesday night in Oakland, the Warriors outscored the Trail Blazers 34-12 in the final 12 minutes to come away with a 110-99 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 in Game Two of the Western Conference semifinals.

“We played three really good quarters, and we showed that we can compete with them, and it got away from us in the fourth quarter, obviously,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “It was disappointing to lose a game that you’re competitive and you’re in a position to be in the fourth quarter. But we’ve got to close it out… It was an opportunity to get a win on the road, and we’ve got to learn from it and be ready to go get one in Game Three.”

The Warriors now lead the series 2-0.

“I think nights like tonight, they suck,” said Damian Lillard. “It hurts to go back in the locker room after you play so well for so long and you come back in there with the L. But it is a part of growth. The entire season has been growth for us. But nights like tonight, we have to close that out. We have to get that done. It was just a missed opportunity.”

The first half of Tuesday night’s game went about as well as the Trail Blazers could possible expect, with Portland taking a 17-point lead in the second quarter thanks to shooting 51 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. Though the Warriors would cut into the Trail Blazers lead thanks to an 18-3 run, Portland, as was the case for most of the night, always seemed to counter at just the right time to quiet the Oracle Arena crowd. That counter in at the end of the second quarter came courtesy of back-to-back threes from Al-Farouq Aminu and Damian Lillard to push the lead back to eight by the intermission.

Portland, thanks mostly to Lillard going 6-of-11 from the field and 4-of-5 from three in the third, extended their lead to 11 going into the fourth quarter before Golden State got white hot to finish out the game. The Warriors took their first lead of the night early in the fourth quarter and would go on to win by 11 after finishing out the game by shooting 11-of-18 in the final 12 minutes of regulation. The Trail Blazers also play right into the Warriors’ hands by turning the ball over five times while going 5-of-19 from the field.

“I think the last run, they were desperate,” said Lillard. “It got to the point where it was win or lose. There wasn’t another quarter after that. It wasn’t just stay with it. It was, ‘We’ve got to do it now.’ And they played desperate, and we just didn’t respond to it well enough to finish the game.”

The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who scored 17 in the third quarter before finishing with 25 points on 8-of-20 shooting from the field and 6-of-11 shooting from three, six assists and four rebounds in 40 minutes. CJ McCollum went 9-of-19 for 22 points, two rebounds and two assists in 41 minutes.

Aminu got off to a fast start, scoring 10 points in the first quarter before finishing with 14 to go along with six rebounds and two assists. Maurice Harkless would add 11 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes with Gerald Henderson coming off the bench to add 12.

As was the case in Game One, Klay Thompson would lead the Warriors with 27 points on 7-of-20 shooting from the field and 5-of-14 shooting from three. Draymond Green, who was the driving force along with Festus Ezeli in Golden State’s pivotal fourth quarter, was just shy of another triple-double with 17 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in 41 minutes while also blocking four shots.

“I think there came a point where me and Klay were trying to do too much,” said Green. “When we settled down and trusted everybody else, that’s when everything started to click for us. So as far as the way I’ve been playing with the exception of that one game, it’s playoff basketball. This is what we live for. You play the whole season to get to this point.”

Shaun Livingston and Harrison Barnes scored 14 and 13 points, respectively, with Andre Igoudala putting up 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting off the bench.

Next up, the series takes a three-day break before shifting to Portland for Game Three on Saturday at the Moda Center.

“We’ve been in bad positions time and time again, and we’ve never shied away,” said Lillard. “We’ve never not answered the call. I don’t see why this time it would be any different. In our last series against the Clippers, we were down 0-2. We went home, and the next two games they were pretty much full strength. They had their guys and we got it done those two games. Obviously, Golden State is a different monster, but we know the same thing can happen, and that’s what we’re going in there thinking and believing, and we’re back on our home floor. We’ve got to go out there and play a game like tonight and go finish it.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 pm on ABC and 620 AM.

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Shootaround Notes: Fewer Adjustments, Balancing Small Lineups And Lillard Feeling Better

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
18 hours ago

The Trail Blazers held shootaround Tuesday morning at the Olympic Club in downtown San Fransisco in preparation for tonight’s Game Two of the Western Conference semifinal matchup versus the Warriors at Oracle Arena (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on TNT and 620 AM). Some notes from shootaround…

• The Trail Blazers, after losing badly in Game One of their first round series versus the Clippers, made a host of adjustments going into Game Two. Whether it was having Al-Farouq Aminu guard Chris Paul, using Mason Plumlee to initiate more of the offense or giving spot minutes to Chris Kaman, Terry Stotts and is staff came up with a number of ways to mitigate L.A.’s advantages, which ultimately helped the Trail Blazers go on to win the series in six games.

So after the Trail Blazers lost 118-106 to the the Warriors in Game One of their second round series on Sunday afternoon, one might have assumed that Portland would once again make wholesale changes in time for Game Two Tuesday night at Oracle Arena. Turns out, that isn’t necessarily the case. While the Trail Blazers are sure to try a few different things, their adjustments will likely be a change of approach rather than tactics.

“The short answer to that is a little bit less only because it’s such a different style,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of whether he’d be make more or less adjustments versus the Warriors. “So the adjustments that we’re making for this series is just trying to adjust from playing a team that’s so different than the team that we just played six games. Clippers play a different style of game, and that’s the adjustment we have to make.”

That difference in styles between the Clippers and Warriors makes Portland’s preparation for Game Two a bit more abstract than it was in the last series. The Warriors tend to play more of a freewheeling brand of basketball than the Clippers, which requires more nuanced adjustments on Portland’s end.

“I would say fewer adjustments for sure, because they play basketball,” said Mason Plumlee. “There aren’t a whole lot of plays, they exploit what they see as their playing the game. So it’s not a whole lot of scouting of plays, it’s more tendencies and personnel.”

The changes that worked versus the Clippers not necessarily working versus the Warriors is more proof of the individuality of every playoff series. The situations might be somewhat similar, but that doesn’t mean the solutions are the same.

“Everybody keeps drawing comparisons; you’ve got to let that last series go,” said Plumlee. “Every series is new, they’re a better team. This series is completely different so we have to make a point to come out and win this next game. I don’t think you can count on them getting up 2-0 and then giving you four-straight, so this next game is a big one.”

• When the Warriors went to their small lineups in Game One, the Trail Blazers countered by doing the same, with varying degrees of success. Portland played multiple lineups during the course of Sunday afternoon’s loss that have rarely been on the court together this season, if at all, including a five-man group that featured Maurice Harkless at “center” surrounded by four guards.

But Golden State has extensive experience utilizing small lineups, at least relative to Portland, and with the personnel on their roster reflecting that reality. So it’s debatable just how much the Trail Blazers should try to match those units rather than trying to take advantage of a size advantage.

“I’ll be dating myself, but when Seattle beat Golden State back in ’92, ’93, something like that, and (Don Nelson) was playing small ball and George (Karl) stayed big with Benoit Benjamin and Derrick McKey and Shawn Kemp. So (Seattle) beat (Golden State) playing to their strengths. I think the important thing is that you play to your strengths more than anything else.”

Stotts will likely continue to give some nontraditional lineups a try when the Warriors go small, but it’ll be just as important for their standard lineups to fare better than they did in Game One, particularly after giving up 16 offensive rebounds, which led to 17 second-chance points.

Said Mason Plumlee: “I think a way to punish them when they go small is to own the glass, get second-chance points and finish everything inside.”

• Though no one in the media knew about it until he answered questions in a decidedly raspy voice after Game One, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has been battling a significant chest cold for roughly the last week. While it stands to reason that an athlete, especially one playing at the highest level, would be affected negatively by such an illness, Lillard refused to blame the infirmaty for his less-than-stellar performance Sunday afternoon at Oracle Arena.

“I actually felt pretty good,” said Lillard. “Obviously being clogged up inside, it has you a little bit more winded than usual. There’s no excuses. The bottom line is my team needs me to perform better than I did.”

And it sounds, literally, like Lillard’s lungs won’t be as much of an issue in Game Two. The 6-3 point guard in his fourth season out of Weber State didn’t exactly sound like his normal self prior to Tuesday morning’s shootaround, but he said he’s making progress toward feeling better and didn’t sound as though his chest was on fire when making said proclamation.

“I feel better,” said Lillard. “Obviously still trying to shake it. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing the last two days, just trying to do different stuff to make myself feel better for tonight.”

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Podcast: Rip City Report, Second Round, Game One Edition

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 days ago

Greetings from San Fransisco. After the Trail Blazers lost 118-106 to the Warriors in Game One of their Western Conference semifinal series, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, grabbed a couple mics to record the first second round edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which is now available for your afternoon listening…

On this edition, we discuss Sunday afternoon’s loss, Portland’s tough start and whether there’s anything positive to be taken from the last three quarters, dealing with Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, the eventual return of Stephen Curry and if there any similarities between Sunday’s game and Game One versus the Clippers. We also answer a host of questions about Allen Crabbe, the enthusiasm at Oracle Arena, the quick turnaround from Game Six to the second Game One and give some tips on packing for regular business travel. And we also start the show off with some bad Mike Meyers impersonations. Sorry about that.

You can find the Rip City Report on SoundcloudiTunes and Stitcher. We’ll talk again after Game Two.

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