PORTLAND — After 14 years, the wait is finally over.
Damian Lillard hit a game-winning three-pointer as time expired to push the Trail Blazers past the Rockets 99-98 in Game 6 of the Western Conference playoffs.
“I mean, I got a pretty good look,” said Lillard, who finished the game with 25 points on 8 of 14 shooting from the field and 6 of 10 shooting from three. “Mo and Wes did a great job of trying to screen and I was able to break free and I got my feet squared up and it felt real good leaving my hands. Once I saw it on line, I said that’s got a chance. It went in, but it did feel good when it left my hands.”
“I’ve been here so long, I definitely know this city has been waiting for this type of moment, this night, for a long time,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “I think they’re probably still cheering in their cars and at their houses. This city loves basketball and to give them this type of series and give them a shot like that to end it, they love it. They’ve been behind us the whole season. They believe in us.”
With less than a second to play, it looked as though the series was going to head back to Houston for a Game 7. And as exciting as the series has been, no Trail Blazer, let alone their fans, were interested in enduring a win-or-go-home Game 7 on the Rockets home court. But that looked like the direction the series was headed after the Rockets took a 98-96 lead off a Chandler Parsons putback with 0.9 seconds to play.
“I think I can speak for our entire team – when Chandler Parsons made that layup with 0.9 seconds, everybody was like ‘Man, we have to go back to Houston,'” said Lillard. “I told LA the first thin I did after he made it was look to the other end at the clock to see how much time was left. I knew we would get a shot off. I didn’t know what the quality would be of the shot, but we got as good of a look as we was going to get.”
Portland called a timeout to advance the ball, though the Rockets would call a timeout of their own after assessing Portland’s formation. It wouldn’t help though, as no amount of scouting, preparation and scheming was going to keep the Trail Blazers, a team that has shown themselves to be supremely confident in their ability to overcome any obstacle, no matter how formidable, during the court of the first-round series.
As soon as the officials blew the whistle to start play, Lillard charged hard from the other side of the court to collect the inbounds pass from Nicolas Batum. Despite Lillard’s reputation as one of the most clutch shooters in the NBA, Rockets forward Chandler Parsons, who was responsible for checking Lillard, was slow to pursue. Lillard came open while curling toward Batum, clapping his hands in an effort to get the point across that, even though Aldridge was the first option, he would was ready to take the shot.
“It was either LA or Damian coming up,” said Terry Stotts of what he drew up for the last play of the game. “You try to have two looks. To be honest, I didn’t think Damian would come that open. LA was probably the first look but Dame came wide open. So it was one of the two looks.”
Parsons was able to make up ground as Lillard received the pass from Batum and squared his shoulders to take the shot, but the 6-3 guard from Weber State has shown time and time again in his two NBA seasons that he needs only the slightest peek at the rim to crush opponents dreams in crunch time. Lillard elevated roughly two feet behind the three-point line and got a shot off with roughly 0.4 seconds on the clock that hit nothing but net as time expired, sending the Moda Center into complete hysterics.
“(Lillard) lives for those moments,” said Stotts. It looked good when it left. It’s remarkable. It was a remarkable shot.”
Lillard’s game-winner was reminiscent of Brandon Roy’s game-winner against the Rockets on Nov. 6, 2008, though the stakes this time were far, far higher, prompting at least one Trail Blazer who was on the team at the time of Roy’s winner to declare that Lillard’s game-winner was the new leader in the clubhouse.
“Since I’ve been here, all the respect I have for (Brandon Roy), this is No. 1,” said Batum. “B.Roy moved to No. 2 now. B.Roy’s was a huge shot, but this one, we passed the first round with that shot. We’ve been waiting for that for six years, LA for eight and this team, this city for 14 years. So yeah, that’s going to be No. 1 like, maybe in Blazers history. One of the best shots in Blazers history.”
To be in the position to win the game, the Trail Blazers needed huge fourth quarter contributions from their bigs, primarily Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson.
Lopez scored eight of his 12 points in a four minute stretch in the fourth quarter during a time in which Portland’s offense seemed to grind to a halt. While he couldn’t completely negate Dwight Howard’s 26-point, 11-rebound performance, his timely makes were the only thing keeping the Trail Blazers in the game late in regulation.
“Sometimes, when you’re an offensive threat, you can flip it on like that,” said Lopez in the best deadpan he could muster after such an exciting victory. “My teammates had a lot of faith in me and that will put the ball in the bucket sometimes.”
As for Robinson, who said it was “sweet as cake” eliminating one of the teams that traded him during this rookie season, he played just 16 minutes and logged eight points, three rebounds and a steal but provided a boost of offense and energy by either assisting or scoring Portland’s first three buckets of the fourth quarter.
“It was big for my team,” said Robinson. “What I had to get used to this year was doing the things that were big for my team. So that’s all I try to do is be big for my team. My personal accolades and my personal achievements will come later. I’m two years in. So for right now, I’m on a winning team, on a great team playing behind a legend, so I’m just going to embrace this moment.”
That “legend” Robinson is referring to is Aldridge, who led the way and kept the Trail Blazers afloat with 30 points and 13 rebounds.
“I was definitely trying to take more shots, find my rhythm and try to get us going early,” said Aldridge, who scored 21 points in the first half. “Coach told me that he was going to come to me early and I wanted to get us off to a good start, because I know when I put pressure on the defense, it makes everybody’s job easier.”
Now, the Trail Blazers turn their sights to the next job: playing either the Spurs in San Antonio or the Mavericks in Portland in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
“Once the shot went in and I knew the series was over, the crowd was so into the game,” said Lillard. “I think our whole team really wanted to get it done for them, not only ourselves, our group in the locker room but for the crowd because they show up so consistently for us. They were with us. The whole series, they were with us 100 percent. I felt like they deserved to be rewarded.”
Greetings Trail Blazers fans. With the 2016 NBA Draft scheduled to take place on Thursday and the Trail Blazers recently making changes to their broadcast team, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, felt like it was a good time to break our hiatus to record a new edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
In this edition we discuss the Cavaliers winning the 2016 NBA Championship, talk to Kevin Calabro, fresh off of calling the deciding Game 7 of the NBA Sunday night, about taking over play-by-play duties for the Trail Blazers, discuss Portland’s options going into the draft considering the team doesn’t have a pick in either round and answer a host of your Twitter-submitted questions. Hopefully there’s enough here to get you through until the next time we record, which probably won’t be long.
A happy Friday the 13th to all of you loyal podcast listeners. Before everyone goes their separate ways now that the offseason is here, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net and TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio one last time to record a season-ending edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we attempt recap the series versus the Warriors, which ended in five games with a 125-121 loss at Oracle Arena Wednesday night, and the season in general, discuss the lasting effects of the playoff run and the respect that they earned from around the league due to their performance and look forward to some of the questions the Blazers will have to answer in the offseason, particularly in regard to free agency. And as always, we finish up by answering your Twitter-submitted questions on topics such as the culture the Trail Blazers have developed, (more) free agency, exit interviews and favorite moments from the just-completed season. It’s been a fun one.
Less than 12 hours after being eliminated from the postseason, the Trail Blazers returned to their practice facility in Tualatin to meet with the coaches to discuss offseason plans, clean out their lockers and take questions from the media one last time before starting their vacations.
Here’s the audio and a few quotes from Terry Stotts and the players from today’s exit interviews…
On the 2015-16 season…
“Like I said last night, this has been a special season. This group of players, what they were able to do individually and collectively, our chemistry was really good. We had good guys, they got along, players and coaches. It means a lot and it goes both ways. It was a joy. I think players enjoyed coming to work every day and I know the coaches and staff did, too.”
On whether this was his most rewarding season as a head coach…
“No question. This was an extremely rewarding season because it kind of played out the way we wanted it to. And we’re not talking about the record or the playoffs, everything was about growth, improvement, getting better throughout the season and being better at the end of the season. I think we did that individually and collectively and from a coaching standpoint, that’s as pure as it gets. That’s what coaching is about. You don’t get to experience that very much at the NBA level.”
On whether he expects anyone on his staff to be interviewed for various open head coaching positions…
“I hope so. I can’t say enough about how good my staff is. I think Jay Triano and Nate Tibbetts and David Vanterpool are all ready to be considering for head coaching jobs. I think they’re all prepared to do a great job as a head coach depending on whatever a team is looking for. I hope they get consideration because they’re all very deserving.
On many of his teammates deciding to stay in Portland during the offseason…
“That means a lot because I stay here every summer. I’m used to coming in here like ‘I wonder when everybody else coming back to town,’ you know what I mean? The trainers are here, the coaches are here and it’s an empty gym. And even after the game last night, on the plane, I started getting worried already. I was sitting on the plane like ‘Man, we had some success this year, it was unexpected it was no pressure. Next year people gonna expect a little bit more’ and I started to get worried about too many pats on the back. ‘They weren’t supposed to do this but they did that.’ I started getting worried, but we don’t have those kind of guys. We’ve got hungry guys, we’ve got humble guys that work hard. We had a taste this season as a young group of how well we could do and what it takes. We lost to a really experienced, championship team. That makes me happy to hear that so many guys are going to be here working out in the summer because that lets me know that they see how close we are and they see how important it’s going to be going forward.”
On free agency and having a say in the process…
“I’m pretty sure they’ll communicate what the plans are with me, but like I’ve said in the past, my job is to be a good teammate, to make sure I put in my time and become a better player and that’s what I’ll do. They ask me my opinion on something, I’ll give them my honest opinion, but I love all the guys that we have on our roster now. I think going forward, if we continue to grow together, we’ll be a good team. Obviously it’s a business and rosters change, players make decisions for themselves, so when that time comes, we’ll see what happens. But when they come to me ask for my opinion or what I think about something, I’ll tell them what I think.”
On what he’s looking for as a restricted free agent…
“Any pay raise is going to be significantly higher than what I’m making now. But like I said earlier, it’s just situation really for me. It doesn’t make sense to make a lot of money and go to a team that, if you don’t fit that system, then get paid a lot of money to be frustrated? That doesn’t make sense to me. The culture here, it’s great. I know this organization well, I know the system, know the coaches, players. It’s just real comfortable here. I wouldn’t mind being here, I really wouldn’t. It’s really just coming down to situation and how I can continue to improve as a basketball player.”
On head coach Terry Stotts…
“Definitely think he should get an extension. I feel like everybody here knows that he should get an extension. He’s done a great job with this team. It’s really hard to put into words what he did with this group because nobody expected us to do what we did. Even from Day One, even through the games where we were 11-20, seven-game losing streak, he never folded and he always told us it’s all about trusting the process and we stuck with that throughout this whole year.”
On spending time in Portland this offseason…
“I think, for one, it doesn’t rain a lot in the summer, so that helps. Just being around the facility, 24 hour access, you’re able to get a lot of things done without a distraction. You go home, you go to certain cities, you either got to pay to get in the gym or you’ve got to worry about people interrupting you while you workout. I go back to my high school but sometimes I’ve got to just like lock the door so I can just workout and not have to worry about certain interruptions because you can’t get through a full workout when people are coming in, talk to you. It’s meant to be a compliment to you, it’s hard. So I think it helps that here, you just come in, the doors are locked, you’ve got your finger scan, you workout when you want, the weather is nice. You’re paying rent here anyway, so it makes sense.”
On the camaraderie of the roster and the changes that might be in store…
“I think we had a really unique group. They did a great job of putting together like minds, young guys who are easy to talk to. Nobody is really arrogant or overly cocky. We’ve got some ignorant guys on the team that you guys guys know who’s outlandish with his statements. I won’t put him out there, he knows who he is. Besides that, we all got along well, everybody spoke their minds, nobody was afraid to say certain things. If somebody played bad, if somebody wasn’t doing things the right way, you could address it and nobody would frown or look at you the wrong way. So I like the way our team is put together, I like the work ethic everybody had. This is one of the rare teams where you could hang out with players off the court. Everybody’s got their friends, but I could hang out with any one of the 15 guys off the court and be perfectly comfortable, eat dinner, et cetera… We’ve got a really good unit and a lot of guys made themselves some money this year, a lot of guy’s prices went up. Hopefully we can rekindle the flame, but if not, we had a good run, we had a good year together collectively and wish everybody the best of luck in the free agency process.
On how he’s approaching restricted free agency…
“To be honest with you, I haven’t had a real concrete conversation with my agent about this. I wanted it to be, right now, about my rehab and about supporting the guys, being there however I could, I guess more from an emotional standpoint, for the team. I certainly wish I could have been out there. With that being said, I’m sure we’ll talk within the next couple of days about how we’re going to really approach this, the timing of things, I suppose what teams are interested, what teams would maybe like to meet in person. I don’t have a concrete plan at this point. Restricted free agency, it gets a little hairy, it takes time, teams maybe don’t want to tie their money up. I honestly don’t know all the ins and outs of it. Like I said before the season when I didn’t accept an extension, I’m confident in where I’m at. It’s my agent’s job to present whatever he has on his mind and what’s on my plate from that side of things. My job right now is simply to rehab my shoulder, continue to work on my leg strength, which is a huge focus of mine for this summer, and just figure out different way in the weight room or out here, even simple things as ball handling, just trying to improve as a player and as a man.”
On why he’s going to spend much of the offseason in Portland…
“I’m coming back to Portland just because went through all that rain, got to enjoy some of the sun. I like it here. I’m renting a spot, so I’m just going to stay here. I like Todd (Forcier) and BK (Ben Kenyon) and those guys, so definitely going to put a lot of work in in the weight room. It’s always good vibes here so I don’t think guys want to get away. Some teams, you want to get away just because you don’t like certain people. It’s not like that here. I enjoyed being here so that’s why I’m going to stick around and do most of my training out here.”
On the realities of keeping a roster with multiple free agents together…
“It’s going to be tricky with all the salary cap stuff going on. I think a lot of the guys who are free agents definitely raised their value. I think everyone did. You never know. I hope all those guys get paid well, I think they will. They deserve it. You just never know with free agency, who they go after and things like that, but I hope everybody comes back, but that’s not really realistic. It doesn’t really work like that in the league. I just tried to enjoy that time yesterday because I’ve been around a little bit and I know how the business side of things work.”
On his mindset going into the offseason…
“This summer is big for me, become more of a scoring threat. I think there’s a lot to be added. I look forward, if the opportunity is there, to come back to have some stability from a staff perspective. I would look forward to coming back to a similar situation from one season to the next. I’ve played for three coaches in three years, so I think that would be something I’d look forward to as well… Once you’ve been traded, you never know.”
On being a restricted free agent…
“Free agency is something I haven’t really thought about. I’ve tried not to think about it during the season and we just finished yesterday, so it hasn’t really been on my mind yet. It’s something that we’ll have to think about soon.”
On his first season in Portland…
I loved it. It was by far the most fun season I’ve had. These guys here are great, the organization is great. I really, really enjoyed it and looking forward to seeing what happens this summer.”
On his first season in Portland…
“It’s the most fun year I think I’ve had as a pro. We had a great group of guys, high character guys, silly guys and it was a fun year. That’s without even being on the court. On the court, we had a special group. We came together halfway through, really made it a special year all the way until last night when we’re playing against the champions, gave them all we had. Played a tough series, obviously it didn’t end the way that we wanted it to, but it’s a year we’re all proud of.”
His thoughts on entering free agency and what he’s looking for…
This is my second time doing it and it’ll be a little different than the first time. I think getting a taste of what this year and this postseason was like and how much fun, how competitive it is, I think, number one, being on a team that’s a winning team. It’s obviously tough to get on one of the elite elite teams, but that could be a possibility. That could easily be a possibility here. Being on a team that is about winning and that’s a good fit for me.
On his first season with the Trail Blazers…
“It was an amazing journey of growth. We grew a lot throughout the season, personally and as a team. It was just fun to be a part of it.”
How he looks back on the season in terms of enjoyment…
The season was great. Any time you have guys that are the same age, it just makes it a lot easier to get along. It’s easy to have relatable points, different things like that. A lot of us are going through similar things in our careers so you get to relate on that note. When it came to comfortably in that sense, it was just unbelievable. And then I think that’s why the chemistry was there as well. Even our vets and the older guys like Chris Kaman, they were a joy to be around as well. From top to bottom, everybody was kind of in that same wavelength of what they were trying to do. It just made it easy to get along.