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.”
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.
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.”
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.