It has been a season of change for the Trail Blazers, both on and off the court. The upgrades to the roster seem to be paying dividends early, as the team currently has one of the best records in the NBA and is playing a brand of basketball that is more exciting than what we’ve seen in recent years.
And while the off court changes don’t rival the excitement of an overtime victory against the Raptors or a come-from-behind win in Brooklyn, there are changes, some interesting, others mundane, being considered that Trail Blazers fans that are worth reviewing.
So here are some details provided by Dewayne Hankins, Trail Blazers Vice President of Marketing and Digital, about a number of potential changes and upgrades the team is considering, including changes to the team uniform and court. Keep in mind that many of these discussions taking place are exploratory in nature and are in no way guaranteed to occur for any number of reasons, be it feedback from fans to general infeasibility.
· It was recently reported on Blazersedge.com that the team sent out a survey to gauge fan response regarding potentially changing the team’s uniforms. If the team does decide to tweak the jerseys, it will be just that, a tweak, as the team has already heard from fans that a drastic departure from their current uniforms would be frowned upon. And of course, it’s possible that no changes are made.
“We honestly don’t know to what extent we’ll make changes at this point if any,” Hankins wrote in an email. “We just want to gauge the temperature of the fans for these kinds of changes … We’ve had the same uniforms for more than a decade so it is at least worth asking the question. What we do know from the research we’ve already done, is that we have a pretty good thing going here and the fans don’t want to see a drastic departure from the current look.”
One possibility is that the team will look to a more retro feel, as preliminary feedback has been positive regarding throwback uniforms. Moving away from the tradition red, black and white colors the team has used since its founding unlikely, but Hankins notes that at this stage in the process, nothing is even close to decided.
“The idea of vintage uniforms is a popular look around the NBA,” wrote Hankins. “In fact, we are blessed as an organization to have so many good uniforms in our past to look at as inspiration and much of the feedback we’ve seen so far indicates that fans would like us to at least look in that direction. While we haven’t even started the process of imagining what new uniforms will look like and won’t until we get results back from this most recent survey, you can guarantee that we will make the fan’s voices a part of the process.”
· Chris Haynes at CSNNW reported a few weeks back that the team is looking at potentially moving away from replacing the one tone court the team currently has with a two tone court used by various teams around the NBA. Hankins said that there will in fact be a new court but that the color scheme may remain the same.
“The court is need of replacement since it’s reached the end of its life,” Hankins wrote. “It has been reported that we’re looking at the two-tone court, but we’re also looking at the possibility of a one-tone court.”
But there’s also other interesting court aesthetics being considered, including wood products that are native to Oregon and sustainably harvested.
“Again, at this point we haven’t reached the design phase on this but from a foundational standpoint, I can tell you that we want to make sure that there’s a story behind the wood that we choose for the court that’s unique to Oregon,” wrote Hankins. “For instance, it makes sense for the Moda Center, in all of its LEED Gold-Certified glory, to look at FSC certified wood and, potentially, use trees that are unique to Oregon. That’s important to people here and we want the court to reflect a story that goes beyond the design on the court.”
A new court made out of trees like Douglas Fir, Oregon White Oak or Bigleaf Maple? It’s at least being considered.
· As for the Pinwheel, the team’s primary logo which was designed by the cousin of Harry Glickman, one of the founders of the team, Hankins says there are no plans to make any changes noting that it is “one of the most recognizable logos in all of sports and has stood the test of time for more than 40 years.” However, the team is considering changes to what Hankins describes as the “parallelogram-shaped mark” seen here that is technically the Trail Blazers’ primary mark, though you probably wouldn’t know it by how infrequently it gets used.
“It doesn’t have many practical applications and not one you see us use very often,” said Hankins via email. “We’d love to have other ‘go-to’ marks to add to our arsenal, but only if they make sense.”
· The team added multiple local food options at the Moda Center this season, including Portland-grown restaurants such as Fire On The Mountain wings, Bunk Sandwiches and Killer Burger. Those changes, as well as changes made to the existing concessions, have gone over well thus far on game nights.
“Based on our brand audit and all of the questions we’ve asked of fans, they wanted the arena and the games to feel more like Portland and Oregon,” wrote Hankins. “There really isn’t an easier way to do that than to provide them with the great food of Portland in the arena. All of the credit has to go to Chris McGowan, Chris Oxley and Levy Restaurants, whose our new arena concessionaire, to get creative and make this happen with local food vendors. However, even in concession stands that don’t carry the names of familiar Portland restaurants, we’ve made a concerted effort to re-brand those and up the game at what we provide there as well. If you walk around the concourse in the Moda Center, you’ll definitely notice a new look and feel across all of our stands.”
As for the changing of the 100-point promotion from Taco Bell chalupas to McDonald’s McMuffins, Hankins says the reluctance of fans (if that’s what it actually is) to chant something other than “CHA-LU-PA” has not been unexpected.
“We knew that after 14 years of chanting the same thing, something that was created by the fans, there would be resistance to chanting something new,” wrote Hankins.
· When it comes to the in-arena experience during games, which has been more subdued in an effort to make sure the focus is on the on-court product, Hankins said the changes have been generally well-received and were made, again, at the behest of fans via the expansive brand survey the team conducted before the start of the season.
“I’m glad people are noticing the changes in our in-game entertainment,” wrote Hankins. “We’ve made a concerted effort to focus more on the basketball and less on the ‘everything else’ that we were doing that took your eyes off the product on the court. I think the more we can focus on the basketball and the flow of the game, the more people are going to feel like they can contribute to the in-arena atmosphere. Our main goal is to make sure the fans feel included, since that’s so tough to measure, we hope that’s the case.”
Hankins said the team received similar feedback about the in-game experience as they did about the concessions in that fans wanted more of a local and authentic feel.
Said Hankins: “A lot of things came out of the post-season survey, but the one comment that struck a chord with me was that fans were asking for our games to feel unique to Portland and unique to Oregon. I think you see that we¹ve started to build that with special nights built out for the Winterhawks and Timbers, the pre-game spoof we do with Portlandia and the music we play in the arena. I think we’ll only continue to grow that as the season goes on and as fans give us their feedback.”
· There have also been changes for fans following Trail Blazers games from home. The team decided to discontinue the CoverItLive chats that were the centerpiece of in-game coverage on Trailblazers.com, replacing it with new digital experiences that cater to various forms of content consumption.
“I put a lot of stock into doing everything we can to provide fans with the best possible second-screen experience,” Hankins wrote. “Unlike any other form of media, live sports is the one place where you can hold the attention of a massive amount of people for a two-hour period. It’s why we’ve invested in providing a mobile and tablet app that can pull up shot charts, statistics and highlights at the palm of your hand. It’s why we’ve invested in SportStream to provide a desktop experience unlike any other that shows both great statistics and crowdsources a narrative of the game based on the most influential people on Twitter and it’s why we’ve invested money with Livefyre, a company who truly understands how to curate a social conversation in the live chats we do on Forward / Center. Not to mention, our recent partnership with Rip City Two and the flurry of activity that goes on during their game threads.
While much of Trailblazers.com was redesigned to bring the website more in line with what the majority of other NBA teams, using products like SportStream and Livefyre still sets the Trail Blazers in-game digital experience apart from how most teams handle live, second-screen action during games.
“I don’t think a ‘one-size, fits all’ approach would necessarily work here and that’s why we strive to provide a bunch of different options,” wrote Hankins. “It’s also why we put most of our efforts on the digital side around the game itself.”
The Trail Blazers are also unique in that they continue to offer a live streaming video service for fans who are unable to subscribe to Comcast SportsNet Northwest. New carriage agreements with cable providers on the Oregon coast alleviated some of the need for the streaming service, which has resulted in fewer signups than in previous seasons, but the decision to offer a way for fans who cannot watch on cable, despite various obstacles, has always been more about making the games available for anyone who wants to watch than making a profit.
“It’s not a money-making proposition for us, it’s about ensuring that fans still have the possibility of having a connection with us by being able to watch games they couldn’t normally receive,” wrote Hankins. “As with all rural areas, using IP address for location detection and overall internet speed are big issues, but we think providing streaming with these challenges is a better move for the organization than not providing it at all. We hope customers are satisfied with what we are able to provide to them, but we fully understand that this doesn’t solve the overall issues with our broadcast deal.”
· So why all the changes? Hankins says that there was a general feeling that many facets of the business needed to be “freshened” and “drastically improved.” In the ever changing landscape of professional sports, the new leadership felt like there was no choice but to forge a new path.
“The organization has made a lot of changes, out of necessity, to ensure that we can compete with all of the forces that exist that keep fans from coming to our games, watching our games on TV and following the team in general,” wrote Hankins. “For a fan base that has dealt with a ton of change over the past several years, my hope is that they’ll see all of these changes as part of a greater process of trying to create a better product for our fans.”
While the success of the organization will always hinge in large part on the the performance of the team itself, the goal of most of the changes has been to ensure that, even in the lean times, there’s still a sense that the Moda Center is the place to be on game nights.
“For those of us on the business side, we don’t have the luxury of being able to rely solely on the product on the court to get people to our games,” wrote Hankins. “We have to do an exceptional job of building the right foundation through our business practices and taking advantage of that foundation so that when the team is excelling, we can capitalize on it.”
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.”
Few thought the Portland Trail Blazers would make the playoffs when the NBA regular season started back in November. And even those who did believe that Portland could overcome significant roster turnover to make the postseason, it’s hard to imagine that even they figured the Trail Blazers would still be playing come the beginning of May.
Yet here they are.
After winning their first round, best-of-seven playoff series 4-2 versus what ended up being a significantly hobbled Los Angeles Clippers squad, the Trail Blazers now advance to the Western Conference semifinals to take on the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors, with Game One scheduled to tip off Sunday at 12:30 pm at Oracle Arena.
As was the case versus the Clippers, Portland’s matchup versus Golden State is the first time the two teams will have met in the postseason. The Warriors took the 2015-16 season series 3-1, with their wins coming by an average of 20.3 points. But on the plus side, the Trail Blazers handed Golden State one of their nine losses this season, blowing out the defending champs 137-105 in the first game back from the All-Star break.
And there’s also the matter of Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, who is expected to miss at least the first two games of the series with a sprained MCL in his right knee. The reigning MVP, who is expected to win the award again this season, averaged 32.5 points on 54 percent shooting from the field and 53 percent shooting from three, 6.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds versus the Trail Blazers this season, so the fact that he’s sitting out at least the first game of the season certainly helps Portland’s chances. However, the Warriors still managed to beat the Houston Rockets in the first round with Curry sidelined and the Trail Blazers struggled at times to eliminate a Clippers team playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, so even with Curry out, Golden State are still the heavy favorites, especially playing at Oracle Arena, where they’ve lost just twice during the regular season.
Before the series starts on Sunday, brush up on the matchup by perusing some of the pertinent details of the previous meetings this season
SECOND ROUND SCHEDULE
Game One — Sunday, May 1: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors at Oracle Arena, 12:30 pm on ABC, 620 AM and ESPN Radio
Game Two — Tuesday, May 3: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors at Oracle Arena, 7:30 pm on TNT and 620 AM
Game Three — Saturday, May 7: Warriors vs. Trail Blazers at Moda Center, 5:30 pm on ABC and 620 AM
Game Four — Monday, May 9: Warriors vs. Trail Blazers at Moda Center, 7:30 pm on TNT and 620 AM
Game Five* — Wednesday, May 11: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors at Oracle Arena, Time TBD on TNT and 620 AM
Game Six* — Friday, May 13: Warriors vs. Trail Blazers at Moda Center, Time TBD on ESPN and 620 AM
Game Seven* — Monday, May 16: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors at Oracle Arena, 6 pm on TNT and 620 AM
* if necessary
TRAIL BLAZERS TALK CLIPPERS
“We thought (the Clippers) was tough without (Chris Paul) and Blake (Griffin), but that’s a championship team. Even without Steph (Curry), they’re still a championship team. We’ve got to keep our mind right, compete and play together. We can’t be worried about who’s not out there because we just watched them beat Houston by 25 twice without Steph. We’ve just got to keep improving on the things we’ve done well and be locked in defensively.
Lillard on how they beat the Warriors during the regular season…
“To beat them we basically had to outscore them. Against a team like that, when you don’t get stops and you let them get rolling, if we weren’t making shots the way we were, we probably would have lost by 30. We can’t let them be that comfortable, as comfortable as they were that night. They’re going to make shots, we can’t be discouraged by that, but every possession matters when you’re playing against a team like that because they always one three away from running off on you. So we’ve just got to be ready for that.”
“They pose a lot of problems. Historically speaking, they had a really good year breaking the record for wins, losing one game at home I believe this year, so you know it’s going to be a tough environment. Offensively, even without Steph (Curry), they do a great job of moving the ball. Draymond (Green) is the head of the snake now that Steph’s out, and he moves the ball well. He’s the heart and soul of the team and he gets everybody involved. Klay (Thompson) will be a little bit more aggressive looking to score without Steph and Harrison Barnes and Shaun Livingston and the rest of the guys will be a lot more aggressive too.”
“We’re ready for them. Obviously you get so locked in to one team that you have to take a deep breath, step back and start watching the film. They’re the champs, so you’ve got to beat them. They aren’t going to have off nights, they’re going to be locked in and we’re ready for the challenge.”
“It’s a big challenge, but we’re up for it. We feel like we can compete with anybody in this league. We’re NBA players just like them. We know it’s going to be a big challenge, but I think it’s going to be exciting for us.”
“Obviously they’re a great team, got a lot of pieces. Steph (Curry) is out but it’s still a great team. Without Steph they probably still a boarder line 50-win team. It’s not like they can’t play or whatever, so it’s going to be a tough series for us, so we’re going to take it one game at a time… It’s going to be a tough series, they’re a great team, they’re defending champions, so you know they definitely have a lot to play for. It’s going to be a tough series for us.”
“It’s a team we’re familiar with, we played them five times this year including preseason, so we’re familiar with them. There’s no surprises as to what they do well, what they want to do. I don’t know how long Steph will be out — I haven’t actually got to watch them much in the playoffs without him — but it’s a little different with him out there. They still play the same style but having a player like that out… I guess would change things a bit.”
PORTLAND: Meyers Leonard is OUT for the series after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder on April 8, 2016.
GOLDEN STATE: Stephen Curry (MCL sprain, right knee) and Kevon Looney (left hip surgery) are OUT for Game One.
Points per game: Trail Blazers 105.1 (6th), Warriors 114.9 (1st)
Points against per game: Trail Blazers 104.3 (20th), Warriors 104.4 (19th)
Point differential: Trail Blazers +0.8 (13th), Warriors +10.8 (1st)
Field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 45 percent (16th), Warriors 49 percent (1st)
Opponent field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 45 percent (16th), Warriors 43 percent (3rd)
Three-point field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 37 percent (4th), Warriors 42 percent (1st)
True shooting percentage: Trail Blazers 55 percent (10th), Warriors 59 percent (1st)
Rebounds per game: Trail Blazers 45.5 (5th), Warriors 46.2 (4th)
Offensive rebounds per game: Trail Blazers 11.6 (3rd), Warriors 10.0 (20th)
Rebound differential: Trail Blazers +1.8 (10th), Warriors +2.3 (8th)
Rebound percentage: Trail Blazers 51 percent (10th), Warriors 51 percent (8th)
Assists per game: Portland 21.3 (21st), Warriors 28.9 (1st)
Turnovers per game: Trail Blazers 14.1 (17th), Warriors 14.9 (25th)
Pace: Trail Blazers 98.31 (12th), Warriors 101.6 (2nd)
Offensive rating: Trail Blazers 106.1 (7th), Warriors 112.5 (1st)
Defensive rating: Trail Blazers 105.6 (20th), Warriors 100.9 (5th)
Net rating: Trail Blazers +0.6 (14th), Warriors +11.6 (2nd)
• October 9, 2015: Trail Blazers 118, Warriors 101 (preseason)
While it’s foolhardy to draw too many conclusions from two games, it’s hard not to get a little excited about how the Trail Blazers have fared during the preseason, particularly on the offensive end, after their performance Thursday night against the defending NBA champs.
Thanks to the Allen Crabbe’s shot, Damian Lillard’s ability to get to the free throw line, a yeoman debut performance from Al-Farouq Aminu and quality contributions up and down the roster, the Portland Trail Blazers got their first win of the preseason Thursday night against the Golden State Warriors with an impressive 118-101 victory in front of 19,303 at the Moda Center.
“It was a positive night,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I was pleased with the way we played. Obviously scoring 77 in the first half, I didn’t see that coming but I really liked the tempo of the game. I liked how we were getting our shots, we were moving the ball. Both halves were completely different. It was up and down first half and much more of a defensive game in the second half. I thought we had a lot of good performances. Obviously (Crabbe) had a night and that was good to see the rhythm. I thought for the most part offensively we helped each other get shots and that helps the ball go in a little bit.”
The Portland Trail Blazers had their entire squad available for Friday night’s game against the defending NBA Champion Golden State at the Moda Center. There were no injuries, no illnesses, no suspensions and no clerical errors to speak of, making Friday’s contest one of the first this season in which Terry Stotts had the entirety of the roster at his disposal.
It didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
The Warriors, as they’ve done more often than not to their competition this season, dominated the Trail Blazers whenever they seemed to put their minds to it and eventually came away with a wire-to-wire 128-108 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 20,035, many of whom came to support the road team.
“Well, it was pretty obvious Golden State’s a pretty good basketball team,” said Stotts. “They showed why they have the record they have. They shot the ball really well, they passed — 36 assists. I think one of the things they do best is their passing and their shooting sets up a lot of their passing, obviously. They’re a good team.”
The Portland Trail Blazers entered the All-Star break playing their best basketball of the season, so there might have been some concern that a week off might have threatened their momentum.
But as Damian Lillard often says these days, don’t let that worry you.
Despite playing the Golden State Warriors, a juggernaut of a team that had lost just four games this season going into Friday night’s game, the Trail Blazers picked up right where they left off, blowing out the defending champs 137-105 in front of a sellout crowd at the Moda Center.
“It’s an understatement: we played very well,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I like the way we kept our composure. Offensively, we were terrific all night moving the ball. Dame had it going early, had it going late. After giving up some easy baskets in the fist quarter, I thought our defense was pretty solid the rest of the night. It was a great way to start after the break.”
The Portland Trail Blazers set out to do two things that no other NBA team had done this season: defeat the Golden State Warriors twice and hand the defending NBA champions their first loss on their home court since 2015.
They succeeded in neither.
The Warriors built a 15-point lead in the first quarter, which they extended to 23 in the second quarter on the way to scoring 81 points in the first half to eventually beat the Trail Blazers 128-112 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 at Oracle Arena Friday night in Oakland.
“They’re a championship team and they played like it,” said Damian Lillard. “I thought we came out and we had a pretty decent start. They’re great shooters, they see the ball go in and there’s not a whole lot you can do after that… They played a much better game than we did.”
On Friday, the Boston Celtics, a day after losing to the Trail Blazers at the Moda Center, became the first team this season to beat the Golden State Warriors on their home court this season, proving that the reigning NBA champions were not actually invincible at Oracle Arena.
But while that might be good news for the rest of the league, it didn’t do the Trail Blazers any favors Sunday afternoon in Oakland. Behind yet another ridiculous shooting night from reigning MVP Stephen Curry, a Warriors team determined to avoid suffering consecutive home losses for the first time since January 2014 bested the Trail Blazers 136-111 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596.
“We played much better than we did last time (in Oakland),” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They jumped on us early and we were never really in the game the last time. At least this game we were competitive for two, almost three quarters. It’s hard to look at the score and feel that, but we certainly played better than last time.”
PORTLAND — It wasn’t easy, but usually that’s the way things go in an elimination game.
Though it came down to the final seconds, the Portland Trail Blazers were able to defeat an undermanned Clippers team 106-103 Friday night at the Moda Center in Game Six of their first round playoff series. With the win, the Trail Blazers take the series 4-2 and move on to face the Golden State Warriors, the reigning NBA champions, in the Western Conference semifinals.
“Hey, 106-103 is beautiful,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, who become just the fourth Portland head coach to get his team out of the first round more than once. “Look, it was a grind it out game. They have some players who can put the ball in the basket and play off the dribble. Honestly, we lost so many of these type of games early in the season, to keep our composure and make the plays, get a rebound, make some free throws, trust your teammates. It’s not going to be a beautiful 48 minutes. But what I have a problem with is that when you don’t score, it’s considered ugly basketball – when two teams are really competing and playing hard and defending, to me, that’s a thing of beauty as well.”
With the win, the Trail Blazers improve to 10-0 all-time at home potential playoff series-clinching games. The Trail Blazers are the first team since 2000 to win four-consecutive playoff games in the same series. What’s more, the Trail Blazers are just the 16th team in NBA history to win a series after starting off losing the first two games.
And after failing to win a playoff series for 14-straight season, the Trail Blazers have now advanced to the second round in two of the last three seasons.
The Trail Blazers, as was the case in Game Five at Staples Center, were never able to put the Clippers away in the first three quarters, with the visitors, playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, taking an 82-80 lead into the fourth quarter. Portland would erase that slim deficit and take a seven-point lead of their own late in the fourth, but the Clippers never relented, tying the game at 103-103 with 32.1 seconds to play.
But Mason Plumlee would save the day, as he’s done on multiple occasions in the first round, by securing an offense rebound and getting fouled while attempting a putback with 14.7 seconds to play. He’d make both free throws, and would go 1-of-2 from the line on the next possession, to secure the three-point win.
“It feels great,” said Plumlee, who became the first Trail Blazer since 1977 to record at least 10 rebounds in five-straight playoff games. “There’s no easy playoff wins, there’s no easy series. Our guys were resilient, they really played well. We’re ready for the next round.
The Trail Blazers were led by Damian Lillard, who went 9-of-21 from the field for 28 points to go with seven assists and five rebounds in 38 minutes. CJ McCollum went 7-of-16 from the field and 2-of-3 from three to add 20 points.
Plumlee finished with nine points, 14 rebounds, four assists and a steal in 31 minutes. Maurice Harkless scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half to go with three rebounds in 29 minutes. Allen Crabbe went 5-of-9 to add 13 points and five rebounds in 31 minutes.
The Clippers had five players score in double figures led by Jamal Crawford, who went 10-of-25 from the field for a game-high 32 points. Austin Rivers, who was bloodied in the first quarter after catching an elbow from Al-Farouq Aminu, causing a gash that required 11 stitches, finished with 21 points, eight assists and six rebounds in 31 minutes.
The Trail Blazers now move on to face a Golden State Warriors team that set the NBA record for wins in a season with 73 after winning the 2015 NBA Championship. Reigning MVP Stephen Curry is currently sidelined with an MCL sprain and is not expected to be available for the first two games of the series, though Golden State still managed to advance to the second round nonetheless.
“We thought this team was tough without CP and Blake, but (the Warriors are) a championship team,” said Lillard. “Even without Steph, they’re still a championship team. We’ve got to keep our mind right, compete and play together. We can’t be worried about who’s not out there because we just watched them beat Houston by 25 twice without Steph. We’ve just got to keep improving on the things we’ve done well and be locked in defensively.”
On the plus side, the Trail Blazers were one of the few teams to best the Warriors this season, blowing out the defending champs 137-105 on February 19. However, Golden State took the other three games of the season series by an average of 20.3 points.
“They pose a lot of problems,” said McCollum. “Historically speaking, they had a really good year breaking the record for wins, losing one game at home I believe this year, so you know it’s going to be a tough environment. Offensively, even without Steph, they do a great job of moving the ball. Draymond is the head of the snake now that Steph’s out, and he moves the ball well. He’s the heart and soul of the team and he gets everybody involved. Klay will be a little bit more aggressive looking to score without Steph and Harrison Barnes and Shaun Livingston and the rest of the guys will be a lot more aggressive too.”
The Trail Blazers will now fly to the bay area for Game One, which is scheduled for Sunday at Oracle Arena in Oakland.
“As the series goes along, both teams will make adjustments,” said Stotts. “They’ve had some time to think about us. It’s going to be a challenge obviously, but we’ll watch a lot of video tonight and tomorrow, have a meeting tomorrow, and be ready to tip it up on Sunday.”
Tipoff is set for 7:30 pm on ABC and 620 AM.