This morning, Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears reported via unnamed source that Trail Blazers rookie C.J. McCollum, who has been sidelined since fracturing the fifth metatarsal in his left foot during training camp, will make his NBA debut “shortly after New Year’s Day“. Given that, I figured it would be a good idea to check in with McCollum after today’s shootaround in New Orleans to find out how he’s progressing after being cleared for full practice ten days ago. Here’s what he had to say about his return, including when he might see his first NBA minutes.
How are you feeling after a week of full practice?
“I feel pretty good. My legs are getting back underneath me, feel like I’m getting in a lot better shape, kind of getting my rhythm back and getting used to playing with the guys.”
What are some of the things you feel like you’ve lost after having to sit out the last few months and do you feel like those things are coming back?
“Just little things like the timing and kind of getting used to getting in different spots with the team and going through the plays and stuff like that. That’s the stuff you lose when you’re not playing. Where to pick and choose your spots from when scrimmaging and stuff like that.
“In terms of the rehab, I was on the court basically through the whole process so everything is kind of there still. Still got the jumpshots, still got the handle. The hardest stuff is just getting used to the speed because you set out for a little bit and you come back and you’re trying to come back in while everybody is in midseason form. That would be the only thing that’s an adjustment first when you go through practices, just the speed of everything, getting your shot off in traffic, stuff like that. But I don’t feel like it’s been too hard of a transition because I’ve been able to do a lot of stuff this time around.”
The team doesn’t practice much due to the number of games. Do you feel like you’re getting enough practice in?
“I’ve been getting a lot of gym time in. The live stuff, it fluctuates in terms of when we get to play three-on-three, four-on-four, five-on-five. Obviously when we have practice days coming off back-to-backs a lot of the starters don’t participate or are limited in their participation, so a lot of us get to play the four-on-four and the five-in-five stuff against each other. I usually get to the
gym early on game days and get a workout in before 3:30 PM or so. I’m still trying to stay sharp but obviously the more five-on-five I can play, the better.”
Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports reported today that you’ll make your NBA debut shortly after the New Year. Do you have a date in mind for your return?
“We’re going over stuff right now. Hopefully I’ll be back soon. I know there’s no definite date penciled in yet, but hopefully we can get one soon to kind of get it going.”
Of all the adjectives one could use to describe the 2015-16 Portland Trail Blazers, “resilient” might be the most applicable. Despite being the third-youngest team in the NBA this season, the Trail Blazers have been remarkably adept at bouncing back. Whether it was replacing four of five starters from the season before, enduring two losing streaks of at least five games or finishing the season by going 33-18 after starting the year 11-20 to make the postseason and finish fifth in the Western Conference, the Trail Blazers, under Terry Stotts’ steady hand, have shown a level of maturity with regard to the way they’ve dealt with disappointment that belies their relative youth and inexperience.
Which is good, because they’re going to need every last bit of fortitude they can muster to get over their fourth-quarter performance at Oracle Arena in their 110-99 loss to the Warriors in Game Two of the Western Conference semifinals. Despite leading by as much as 17 in the game and 11 in the fourth quarter, the Trail Blazers were outscored 34-12 in the final 12 minutes, resulting in an 11-point loss and a 2-0 series deficit.
“They’re not a young team, they’ve got a lot of guys that have been around, they’re very smart,” said Damian Lillard of the Warriors. “They see slippage and they go after it. If they see something that they can take advantage of, they take advantage of it. In that last five minutes (of Game Two), we just let our foot off the gas a little bit. I don’t know if it was fatigue mentally but we had some mental mistakes. One or two plays got them going, they got into it and the better they played offensively, they just got sharper defensively. That hurt us.”
While every loss stings, Portland’s loss in Game Two seemed to be more painful than most, for multiple reasons. First, the Warriors have lost at Oracle Arena just twice during the regular season, setting the NBA record for most consecutive home victories in the process, making the unfulfilled opportunity of beating the defending champs on their home court, and in a playoff game no less, a rather bitter pill to swallow, especially after leading for all but the last five minutes of the game. The Trail Blazers will have to beat the Warriors at least once at Oracle to move on to the Western Conference Finals, and one could argue that they won’t get a better chance to do so than they had Tuesday night.
“After that game, I was pretty hot about that one,” said Lillard. “Just because not only was it a great opportunity, but we had it. It was right there, all we had to do was four and a half, five minutes where we just got to be as sharp as possible. That was the challenge for us, just lock in even more, take it to a new level. Instead of that, we went a little bit downhill and they picked it up the way we needed to pick it up. We just wasn’t able to finish it. It sucked man. I was pretty hot about that one.”
And then there’s the matter of soon-to-be two-time MVP Stephen Curry, who has sat out the last two games with a sprained MCL in his right knee. While the Trail Blazers are in no way rooting for Curry to remain sidelined, the simple fact is they have a much better chance of beating the Warriors when the best player in the NBA is in street clothes. Golden State head coach Steve Kerr said the Curry would probably sit out Game Three as well, though it seems very unlikely he misses another game this series at Oracle, which, once again, makes the loss in Game Two that much more disappointing.
“I can’t speak on behalf of (the rest of the team), I don’t know how they feel personally, but it’s a game we should have won,” said CJ McCollum. “It’s unfortunate that we let it slip away. That’s what good teams do, they hang around and they finish off games at home. We’ve got to be better than that and I think we will be better. Got to move forward now and take advantage of Game Three.”
Luckily, the Trail Blazers have a bit of extra time to put Game Two behind them. While they have shown an ability to learn from their mistakes and move on this season, some players admitted that Game Two going down the way it did was lingering a bit. And in those situations, sometimes the best solution is playing another game as soon as possible, though that might not be the case this time around.
“Yesterday, I didn’t even want to see a basketball,” said Lillard. “I wasn’t even going to watch the playoff game yesterday until I heard Cleveland was hitting a bunch of threes, so I wanted to see for myself. But I didn’t even want to have nothing to do with basketball yesterday after that game.”
But after a day away from the game, Lillard and the rest of the Trail Blazers returned to their facility in Tualatin to prepare for Game Three at the Moda Center. If they’re able to make the improvements and adjustments necessary to get their first victory of the series Saturday night in Portland, they might truly be able to move on from what happened Tuesday night in Oakland.
“Ain’t nothing I can do about it now. In my mind, it’s over,” said McCollum. “It’s unfortunate that it had to happen but we can learn from it. We can’t sulk and moan and act like it’s the end of the world. We’re down 0-2 against a very good team. Now we’re at home, now we have a very good opportunity to take advantage of two home games and learn from mistakes in the first two games.”
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.
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.”