This time, it would be Lillard’s turn to come away victorious, hitting a game-winning three-pointer, his second game-winning shot in as many games, to lift the Trail Blazers to a 119-116 victory Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
“Damian had it going,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “He missed four threes and those four could have gone in, they were all right on line. He had a special night. I thought it was appropriate he finished it like that.”
After the Cavaliers tied the game at 116-116 with a little over seven seconds to play on an Anderson Varejao layup off an acrobatic drive and dish from Irving, the Trail Blazers called a timeout to draw up a play and advance the ball to midcourt. Nicolas Batum would inbound the ball to Lillard, who was matched up with lanky forward Alonzo Gee, near the halfcourt line.
Rather than driving the lane as he did for his game-winner against the Pistons on Sunday, the second-year guard would take a few dribbles before elevating for a jumper well behind the three-point line.
“I didn’t want to get into the paint too deep because I know they got some giants in there — they altered a lot of shots tonight,” said Lillard. “Alonzo Gee is a great athlete so I didn’t want to put myself in position where I couldn’t get a good look. On the perimeter I knew I could get a good look so I just gave him a move to kind of get him off balance to where he would try to get ready for me to blow by him. As soon as I seen him try to get ready and froze a little bit I just rose up.”
Lillard’s shot would find the mark as time expired, though on review, the officials put 0.4 seconds back on the clock, giving the Cavilers one last chance to send the game to overtime. But Irving’s heave at the buzzer careened off the rim and the Trail Blazers escaped with their 22nd victory of the season.
“That’s what all great players want, the last shot,” said Irving of Lillard taking the game-winning shot. “And that’s what he did, big-time players make big-time shots. He hit one in our home, but you just have to move on to the next game.”
“I think Lillard pulled up about five feet behind the three-point line,” said Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown. “That’s a tough situation to be put in. He hit some tough threes. Hindsight, you push up, push up, push up, but it’s tough in that situation. He’s a very good player and he’s more capable of dribble-driving by you and finishing. Their last game in Detroit he drove by somebody and shot a pull up (jump shot). He’s a very good player so you pick your poison.”
The reigning Rookie of the Year would set a career-high in three-pointers with eight and finished the night with 36 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and just three turnovers. He became the first player since Jason Kidd in 1995 to finish with at least 36 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and eight three-pointers.
While Lillard was on fire from the start, the Trail Blazers got impressive performances from both LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with what both he and Stotts called a “quiet” 26 points, 15 rebounds, and Joel Freeland, who pulled down seven rebounds, five on the offensive glass, in 27 minutes filling in for Robin Lopez, who played just 20 minutes due to foul trouble.
“I’m just there trying to be ready and step up when I get the opportunity,” said Freeland. “I had the opportunity tonight so I was there trying to fill his role and help the team defensively as much as I could. That’s my job. I’ve got to offensive rebound as much as I can and I try to do it to the best of my ability.”
Despite going up against a large Cleveland frontcourt which featured Andrew Bynum, Tristan Thompson and Varejao, the Trail Blazers were able to out-rebound the Cavs 56-44.
“I knew that they like to crash the boards with Varejao and Thompson and Gee and Bynum out there.,” said Lillard, who tied his career-high in rebounds. “They can really rebound the ball. I just wanted to be down there and help the bigs because I knew they had their hands full keeping those guys off the boards and there would probably be some rebounds floating around. So I just wanted to try and get as many of those that I could.”
Portland’s work on the glass, which resulted in 35 second chance points, gave them an opportunity to come away the victory despite allowing Cleveland to shoot better than 50 percent from the field for most of the game.
“I’m surprised by how important our second-chance points and our offensive rebounding is,” said Stotts. “We do a good job. LaMarcus and Joel and Robin are always active on the offensive glass. I think one of our strengths, not only our tips, but kicking it out for three’s. That’s been a big part of our offense actually is coming up with those second chance points.”
The Trail Blazers have now won five-straight and nine of their last 10. They lead the NBA in victories with 24. It is also the first time in franchise history that the Blazers have won their first 11 games against Eastern Conference opponents. Their 12-2 road record is the best in the NBA and ties a franchise-best through 14 road games.
Portland won’t have much time to celebrate, as they travel to Minneapolis tonight to take on the Timberwolves Wednesday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 PM.
“It’s the end of a road trip, it’ll be tough,” said Lillard. “We’re on another team’s floor, a good team. In the past, us playing there, we build big leads and they get back into the game, but it’s going to be a fight. We’ve got to go get some rest tonight and get focused for it.”
MEMPHIS — The Portland Trail Blazers haven’t had much luck in Memphis over the last few years, be it in the regular season or playoffs. But they made their own luck Monday night, defeating the Grizzlies 112-106 in front of 15,892 at FedEdForum.
Portland is now 26-27 overall and 11-16 on the road this season. The win is Portland’s first in Memphis since January 4, 2013, snapping a streak of five-straight losses. The Blazers are also 15-6 in overtime since the start of the 2012-13 season.
The Blazers were led by Damian Lillard, who went 9-of-22 from the field, 5-of-13 from three and 10-of-12 from the free throw line for 33 points in 43 minutes. CJ McC0llum came alive in the fourth quarter and overtime to finish with 21 points and six assists in 38 minutes. Gerald Henderson continued a streak of strong play to finish with 16 points, including the buzzer-beating tip-in that sent the game to overtime, and three rebounds in 35 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers return home to host the Houston Rockets before heading into the All-Star break. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm.
It’s been a bit of an up and down year for both Maurice Harkless and Gerald Henderson in their first seasons as Trail Blazers since being acquired via separate trades during the 2015 offseason,
Henderson missed all of training camp, preseason and the first eight games of the regular season, a difficult hurdle for a new player to clear, even for one entering his seventh NBA season, after undergoing a minor hip surgery in the offseason. As for Harkless, he’s already appeared in more games this season with the Trail Blazers as he did during the entirety of his last season with the Orlando Magic, though he’s seen most of his statistics, from minutes to points to rebounds, diminish every month as the year has played out.
For much of the season, Harkless and Henderson have been in a competition for playing time, with head coach Terry Stotts playing both roughly equal minutes in the first half of games, with the second-half minutes going to whoever played the best in the first. That went on for the first half of the season until Stotts opted to cut his rotation from 10 players to nine, which resulted in Henderson’s minutes increasing considerably while Harkless was relegated to playing mop-up minutes or simply drawing DNPs.
But Saturday night in Houston, Stotts would need both Harkless and Henderson with starting power forward Noah Vonleh out with a sprained left ankle and Allen Crabbe, Portland’s top sixth man this season, sidelined with a bout of gastritis. They responded by combining for 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting while taking turns checking Rockets All-Star shooting guard James Harden as Portland defeated Houston 96-79 at the Toyota Center. It was arguably the first game in which both players exceeded the high hopes Trail Blazers fans had for the two athletic wings, a game in which they were menaces on the defensive end while managing to take advantage of the opportunities provided by playing alongside the likes of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the offensive end.
“I (Harkless) he was very consistent with (Harden),” said Stotts. “He had good length, he was really in tune every possession. Harden is a great player, he’s going to get shots and you’re not going to completely stop him but I thought he worked really hard on him.”
Harden finished with 33 points, but needed 18 shots from both the field and free throw line while committing a career-high 10 turnovers, due in large part to the effort Henderson and Harkless put in.
“Gerald had a lot of bounce,” said Stotts. “He’s been on a roll, he’s feeling very comfortable out there. I thought defensively, he was good as well, he had his stint on Harden.”
As noted by his head coach, Henderson played easily his best basketball of the season since the middle of January, which has coincided with the Trail Blazers winning 10 of their last 13 games. Whether it’s due to being completely fit after missing the start of the season or knowing he’s going to second-half minutes — or a combination of both — Henderson has looked more like the player who started 292 games over six season with the Hornets.
“I feel good. I think that’s how I’m used to playing. I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor. I think that helped us win tonight.
“I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor,” said Henderson. “I think that helped us win tonight.”
While Henderson’s production has become somewhat expected over the last month of the season, seeing Harkless go from playing seven minutes combined in the five games prior to starting the last two games in place of Vonleh has been a surprise. Harkless himself said he was a bit taken aback by his promotion, though it was something he had prepared himself for, even when he was only playing fourth-quarter blowout minutes.
“I just stayed locked in the whole time,” said Harkless. “Even when I wasn’t playing at all, just stayed locked in, stayed ready, just kept working every day. I knew it would come back around.”
He only got 16 minutes in his first start of the season versus the Raptors, taking just one shot and scoring just two points in the loss. But on Saturday, Harkless almost doubled his playing time to 30 minutes and made a much larger impression in the process, going 2-of-3 from three in the first quarter and 6-of-13 from the field for the game while grabbing six rebounds and tallying two steals.
“I definitely think I just played better tonight,” said Harkless. “Last game, I hadn’t played in six games or something like that, it kind of caught me off guard when (Stotts) told me I was starting. So I think a little bit of it was rust but tonight I just went out there and just played. Making those first two shots, that was big for me as well.”
“For a guy to go games without even checking on sometimes or getting in for the last few minutes of blowouts, he could have easily been in his feelings and checked out on us, but he’s stayed locked in,” said Damian Lillard of Harkless. “At practice when they get out there and play three-on-three, he’s playing hard, he’s competitive, he’s positive. He’s been himself. I talked to him, I told him ‘You’ve just got to stick with it. You’re a huge part of what we’re gonna do. Just keep your mind right and be ready because you never know.’ We had a few guys do down and now he’s playing really well for us. I was happy with the way he played tonight.”
It’s hard to tell what will happen to Harkless’ and, to a lesser extent, Henderson’s minutes once the Trail Blazers are back to full strength. But for the first time this season, the full potential of both players was a welcomed sight.
HOUSTON — The old saying goes that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If Saturday’s result in Houston is any indication, the Trail Blazers’ collective memory is well intact.
After losing to in overtime in the last game in Houston despite owning a 15-point fourth-quarter cushion, the Trail Blazers did a much better job protecting their lead in the second meeting, with the result being Portland besting the Rockets 96-79 Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd of 18,308 at the Toyota Center.
“That was a really good win, obviously,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I like the way we came out. Defensively we were solid all night, for the most part… They’re a dangerous team. They can get the threes going and I liked we kept our composure when they made their run.”
Portland is now 25-27 overall and 10-16 on the road this season after playing their last seven games in the cozy confines of the Moda Center. The Trail Blazers have now won 10 of their last 13 games and are currently mere percentage points behind the Utah Jazz for eighth in the Western Conference.
The Trail Blazers looked to be the better team Saturday night from the opening tip. Portland shot 52 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in the first quarter while scoring eight points on six Rockets turnovers to take a 29-23 lead into the second quarter. They’d start the quarter a 13-2 run to take their first double digit lead of the night and would go up by 21 by way of holding the Rockets to just four made field goals in the second quarter while turning six more turnovers into seven more points. Add with the Portland bench outscoring Houston’s 18-0 in the first half and it was easy to see how the road team took a 55-36 lead into the intermission.
“We played really well defensively, I thought,” said Damian Lillard. “We set the tone from the start of the game with active hands, getting our hands on the balls. We just weren’t fun to play against to start the game. That’s what we wanted to go coming out tonight and we did a great job.”
Portland would take their largest lead of the night at the 5:01 mark of the third quarter, though Houston managed to get that down to 21 before the start of the fourth. The Rockets would continue to slim the Trail Blazers’ lead, getting it down to 11 points in late in the fourth quarter. One can imagine there had to be a little nervousness on Portland’s bench after seeing two-thirds of a 32-point third quarter lead evaporate, especially with the specter of the last game in Houston still looming. But after a 10-0 Rockets run cut the lead to 91-76 with two minutes to play, Portland scored the final five points of the game to secure the 17-point lead.
“I don’t know if nervous is the right word, but certainly the way (Houston) won the last time here, I think that was probably in the back of everybody’s mind,” said Stotts. “They’re capable of doing that… I liked the way we kept our composure and pulled out the win.”
Six Trail Blazers finished in double figures led by Damian Lillard, who went 7-of-20 from the field and 3-of-9 from three to finish with 21 points and 10 assists for yet another double-double in 36 minutes.
CJ McCollum went 6-of-13 from the field to finish with 16 points, while Gerald Henderson went 5-of-8 from the field to 16 points as well. Al-Farouq Aminu filled up the stat sheet with 11 points, seven rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block. Maurice Harkless, who started his second-straight game in place of Noah Vonleh (sprained left ankle) and saw extended minutes due to Allen Crabbe missing the game with gastritis, went 6-of-13 from the field for 14 points, six rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes.
Portland’s bench would outscore Houston’s 24-12 thanks in part to the Rockets not getting any points from a reserve until early in the fourth quarter. James Harden finished with a game-high 33 points with Dwight Howard adding 17, but no other Rocket scored more than eight points in the loss.
“James (Harden) is a good player,” said Henderson, who spent a good chunk of his minutes defending the hirsute shooting guard. “He knows how to score, he knows how to draw fouls so sometimes it’s very difficult to guard him. He got his 30 but we felt like we did a good job containing some of the other guys.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers head to Memphis to finish a quick two-game trip versus the Grizzlies at FexEd Forum on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 pm.