The Portland Trail Blazers did what few outside of their locker room thought they Wednesday night in Houston by defeating the Rockets 112-105 to take a 2-0 lead in the four/five matchup of the Western Conference first-round. It is only the second time in franchise history that the Trail Blazers have won their first two road games in a playoff series.
“Let me just say, getting a second win here was quite an accomplishment,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I liked out demeanor. We withstood some of their blows and kept fighting. I told the team it’s something to be proud of, but we have a tough game on Friday, so it’s just on to the next one.”
LaMarcus Aldridge was once again absolutely dominant, scoring 43 points on 18 field goals, a franchise playoff record, to go with eight rebounds, three blocks and an assist in 36 minutes.
“LaMarcus Aldridge killed us once again,” said Rockets guard James Harden. “Two games, ninety plus points. It is tough for us to get out in transition and play how we play if we can’t get stops.”
Few people, even Aldridge himself, thought he could follow up his historic 46-point performance from Game 1, but the three-time All-Star nearly did just that, and without the aid of an overtime period.
“I just went into the game just trying to feel it out and ended up finding my rhythm,” said Aldridge in the understatement of the night. “I thought Coach did a really great job of moving me around. They were trying to double me a little, so I thought Coach moving me around the floor was great.”
Aldridge is now only player with two 40-point playoff games in franchise history, a feat made even more impressive when one considers he did so in consecutive games. He’s the first player with back-to-back 40-point games in the playoffs since LeBron James did it during the 2009 Playoffs. He’s also the first player since Michael Jordan to put up at least 80 points and 15 rebounds in his team’s first two playoff games.
“There’s no question that these two games here is as well as I’ve seen him play,” said Stotts of Aldridge. “He is very determined, he’s focused, and he’s leading the team, not only with his play but also the way he’s handling himself in the timeouts and in the locker room. This is really the best I’ve ever seen him play.”
Aldridge went 9 of 12 from the field for 23 points in the first half, which was absolutely necessary in order for the Trail Blazers to withstand a first-half barrage by Houston center Dwight Howard. Howard scored Houston’s first 13 points Wednesday night and looked all but unstoppable on the way to finishing the first half with 25 points on 11 of 17 shooting.
“(Howard) got off to such a good start,” said Stotts. “We wanted to play him straight up and I thought we did a better job as the game went on mixing up our coverages.”
But even with Howard living up to his self-appointed “Superman” moniker, his regular sidekicks, Harden and small forward Chandler Parsons, went 3 for 11 from the field in the first half.
“I think the one thing that I worry about is letting (Howard) go get all those points and then letting all of their shooters start making shots, too,” said Aldridge. “As long as we were trading twos, I was fine with it. I didn’t want to overreact to it.”
Nor did they need to. While many were falling all over themselves heaping praise on Howard for his first-half performance, the scoreboard read 53-53 going into halftime, which was an unqualified success for the road team.
And in the third quarter, Howard would take only two shots, missing both. He would finish the second half with just seven points.
“I thought Robin (Lopez) and LA played good defense and the rest of the team really paid attention to him,” said Stotts. “The fact he had twenty five in the first half and finished with thirty two … we wanted to give him a lot more attention in the second half.”
In the meantime, Howard’s teammates decided they were no longer content to be spectators in their own playoff game. Harden was particularly damaging to the Rockets in the third, going 1 for 7 from the field.
But while Howard was on the bench for half of the third while his teammates bricked shot after shot, Aldridge would continue to cook, scoring 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting.
“This team, in general, just believes in me so much, they ride the wave so well,” said Aldridge. “When I’m going, one through 15, they’re all cheering for me, they’re all telling me to shoot it. If I pass up a shot, they’re all mad at me. So I think having 15 guys have your back like that, that’s great.”
Portland would also get a boost off the bench from Dorell Wright, which helped Portland take a six-point lead into the fourth.
Wright, along with fellow veteran Mo Williams, would play an important role in the final quarter as well. Houston pulled to within two points with 9:23 to play in regulation, but back-to-back three-pointers courtesy of Wright and Williams, followed by a block by Wright on Chandler Parsons, pushed Portland’s lead back to eight with 8:30 to play.
“I thought Dorell Wright coming off the bench really made a difference,” said Stotts. “They made a run and we had a lead and they tied it up. He came in and I thought he made a lot of big plays. He was making some shots and he had a block and got some rebounds. Mo Williams, during that stretch as well. We need our bench to play well and it doesn’t always mean scoring.”
Wright and Williams would combine to go 8 of 12 from the field for 25 points.
“With us both not playing well in Game 1, we just looked at each other and said ‘Tonight’s the night. We’ve got to come alive and we’ve got to be aggressive and make shots,'” said Williams. “We both did a good job of that.”
The Rockets had one more run left, cutting Portland’s lead to four with 42 seconds to play, but Damian Lillard, who finished the night with 18 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds, would grab an offensive rebound off a rare Aldridge miss and was immediately fouled by Patrick Bevereley, sending the second-year point guard to the line for two free throws. He would convert both freebies and the Trail Blazers would again hold the Rockets to twos
rather than threes, which paved the way for what would eventually be a seven-point victory.
Now the series moves to Portland with the Trail Blazers hosting the Rockets Friday night at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 PM
Even at full strength, the Trail Blazers were having a hard time keeping up with the Golden State Warriors in the first game of their second round, best-of-seven playoff series. But that task got significantly harder after reserve guard Gerald Henderson, who is averaging 7.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists in the 2016 postseason, was ejected after a series of altercations with Warriors center Anderson Varejao that occurred late in the third quarter of Portland’s 118-106 loss Sunday night at Oracle Arena.
The first incident took place at the 3:29 mark of the third. Henderson and Varejao collided during the run of play, sending Varejao tumbling to the floor. As he was falling, he seemed to extend his leg out in an effort to trip Henderson, which ultimately proved successful. Henderson immediately got off the floor and into Varejao’s face, prompting the officials to call assess technicals to both players.
“I bumped him — not on purpose — he tripped me on purpose,” said Henderson. “I fell hard, I didn’t like it, so came together, that’s what happens.”
But that wouldn’t be the end of the tete-a-tete between Henderson and Varejao. Though Varejao was on the bench, that didn’t stop him and Henderson from continuing their less than cordial discussion, which the officials apparently noticed, as both players were once again awarded technicals, resulting in double ejections.
“The ref threw me out from across the way. I guess he could here what I was saying from across the court,” said Henderson. “We were talking since the first technicals happened, but there’s a lot of talking going on out there. For both of us to get kicked out of the game, it was surprising.”
Despite the tense moments, Henderson said postgame that there was no lingering animosity while noting that he was more mad at himself than at Varejao.
“I been put it behind me,” said Henderson, who finished with five points and three assists in just under 17 minutes. “We lost the game, that’s the only thing that matters. I was pissed I got thrown out, we still had a chance to win the game. I got ejected, I’ve got to be smarter, regardless of if I thought I should have got kicked out or not.”
OAKLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers had roughly 36 hours to prepare for Game One of their Western Conference Semifinals matchup versus the Golden State Warriors after eliminating the Clippers in Game Six at the Moda Center on Friday night. There was only so much film they could watch, only so many Warriors-specific plays they could learn before a 12:30 pm tipoff Sunday afternoon in Oakland.
That was a reality reflected in Portland’s performance to start the game, as they made just five field goals and trailed by as many as 20 in the first quarter before going on to lose 118-106 to the top-seeded Warriors in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 at Oracle Arena.
“Certainly wasn’t the start we wanted,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “It was disappointing to get off to such a poor start. Our offense, we had trouble scoring. Their defense got into us. It was just — we struggled at both ends, and probably more so on the offensive end, which fed into their defense. They had second chance point, they had fast-break points. It was a little bit of everything.”
The Warriors now lead the series 1-0 with Game Two scheduled for Tuesday.
“To start the game, we played like a team playing it’s second game in 30 hours,” said CJ McCollum. “We can’t start like that, especially here.”
The good news is the Trail Blazers improved as the game went on. Portland shot 52 percent from the field an 67 percent from three in the second quarter, utilizing small lineups that featured Maurice Harkless at “center” to eventually outscore Golden State 34-28 in the quarter. The Trail Blazers managed to cut the Warriors’ lead to single digits on numerous occasions before the half but were never able to keep the deficit in check for more than a possession or two, allowing the home team to take a 14-point lead into the intermission.
The Warriors, playing without reigning MVP Stephen Curry, who is sidelined with a sprained right MCL, would reestablish their dominance in the third quarter, holding Portland to 9-of-27 shooting from the field and a particularly stingy 1-of-8 from three. Between their defense and shooting 50 percent from both the field and three in the quarter, Golden State took a 26-point lead, their largest of the night, before heading into the fourth up 93-73.
Portland was able to give the final score an air of respectability by outscoring Golden State 33-25 in the fourth, but never realistically threatened the defending champs before the final buzzer. And while there was little to like about their Game One performance, the Trail Blazers can take some comfort in knowing they were able to bounce back from a rough start in the first round to win their series versus the Clippers.
“We got beat pretty soundly in Game One against the Clippers and we made some adjustments, we played a little bit better and got better as the series went along, and we need to do the same thing,” said Stotts. “So we’ll watch the video, see what we can come up with for Game Two. But there’s no question that we have to play better and learn from Game One like we did with the Clippers.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who finished with 30 points, five assists and four steals in 41 minutes. CJ McCollum added 12 points, three rebounds and three assists in 40 minutes. Portland’s starting backcourt combined to shoot 13-of-43 from the field, with many of those makes coming when the game was already out of reach.
“We’ve just got to be better,” said Lillard, who said he’s been battling a chest cold the last few days (and sounded like it when answer questions postgame). “I got some looks that I need to make, CJ did as well. We just got to be better offensively if we want to have a chance against this team.”
Al-Farouq Aminu shot 6-of-13 from the field and 3-of-8 from three for 15 points in 25 minutes. Harkless added 10 points and three rebounds, with Mason Plumlee grabbing a game-high 13 boards.
Allen Crabbe continued his strong play as of late, going 6-of-9 from the field for 15 points and five rebounds in 33 minutes. Ed Davis went 5-of-6 from the field to finish with 11 points and seven rebounds before fouling out in 18 minutes.
Gerald Henderson finished with five points and three rebounds in 16 minutes before being ejected after getting receiving two technicals for arguing with Warriors center Anderson Varejao, who was also ejected.
The Warriors were led by Klay Thompson, who shot 50 percent from both the field and three to finish with a game-high 37 points to go along with five rebounds in 37 minutes.
“We’ve got to do a better job, starting with me if I’m guarding (Thompson),” said McCollum. “Got to make sure I’m pacing better and making him curl. Hard hedges got to be there, especially if it’s Bogut or somebody setting setting that screen where he’s not really a good shooter. We’ve got to make sure we make them pay for that.”
Draymond Green put up a triple-double of 23 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in 37 minutes. Shaun Livingston added 12 points and with both Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut finishing with 10 points.
Next up, the Trail Blazers will try to regroup before heading back to Oracle for Game Two on Tuesday.
“I got some looks that I usually would have made that I didn’t knock down,” said Lillard. “So next game, I look forward to the challenge again. At this point in the season, all that matters is winning. You either win or you lose; you advance or you go home. At this point, we’re just trying to fix things and make sure that our season keeps going.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm.
When the Trail Blazers take the court for Game One of their Western Conference semifinals versus the Warriors on Sunday, they’ll be doing so in one of the most hostile environments in the NBA. Golden State has been all but unbeatable at Oracle Arena in recent years, so much so that they set the NBA record for most consecutive home victories before dropping two games on their home court in the last two weeks of the regular season.
But while the vast majority of those in attendance for the Game One Sunday matinee will be rooting hard for the Warriors, there will be a small contingent of fans at Oracle doing whatever they can to will the Trail Blazers to victory. Some will be transplants from Oregon, others will make the sojourn to the bay area, likely paying exorbitant prices for tickets, in order to see their team play in the second round for just the second time in 16 years.
And there will be at least one more group making the short trip from the Brookfield neighborhood in Oakland to Oracle to see Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard face off against the team he grew up cheering for as a boy growing up in the east bay. Sunday afternoon’s game will be the first time the Trail Blazers and Warriors have ever met in the postseason, which also means it’s the first time Lillard will have a chance to play in front of his family and friends in a playoff game at Oracle.
“First of all, the opportunity to play against the best team in the league, that’s the thing I’m most excited about, having another challenge where people are going to say we don’t have a chance,” said Lillard, who graduated from Oakland High School, which sits roughly five miles from Oracle Arena, before playing his college ball at Weber State. “That’s the most fun part of it for me. And second, being able to play in front of my family and friends. Since college they haven’t been able to see me play a lot and to be able to come home and play on the highest stage against the best team in the league, there’s no greater feeling and I’m really excited about it.”
Which comes as no surprise to anyone who knows the 6-3 point guard. Lillard is incredibly proud of his hometown and takes every opportunity he can to remind people about the city that helped shape him into the man he is today. Be it the the tattoo of the Oakland Tree across his chest or insisting on having his neighborhood on the soles of his signature adidas sneaker, Lillard is all about repping where he’s from.
“Growing up in Oakland, it just made me tough,” Lillard told ESPN analyst Doris Burke. “You see a lot of things, you’re around a lot of things. You’ve got to be able to handle it. You’ve got to take it in stride. Everybody’s going through it, so you can’t feel sorry for yourself. If something bad happens you can’t be the guy that sticking out, uncomfortable. You’re raised there, it prepares you to survive anywhere. You can handle any moment.”
Which is good news if you’re a fan of Lillard and the Trail Blazers. While an NBA playoff game doesn’t pose anywhere close to the kind of life or death challenges that sometimes come along with growing up in a place like Oakland, the difficulties of trying to win a game against the defending champions on their home court, even without the services of reigning MVP Stephen Curry, who is sidelined with a minor knee injury, will be numerous. Winning a road game in the playoffs, as Portland will have to do sooner or later if they want to win the series, is always going to be hard, but doing so against one of the best teams in NBA history will be a vicissitude in excess of anything the Trail Blazers have experienced this season. Given that, it’s somewhat ironic that the toughness instilled in Lillard by way of growing up in Oakland could ultimately be what helps the Trail Blazers pull off the near-impossible task of besting the Warriors at home.
That would be just fine for those who might duck out of church a bit early Sunday morning in order to get to Oracle to cheer for their son, brother, grandson, cousin, uncle or friend from around the way as he attempts to take down their hometown team.
“Everybody is excited about what they’re doing, but everybody that I grew up with and people in my family, they Damian Lillard fans first, Warriors fans second,” said Lillard. “That’s just what it is.”