If you look at the final score of Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal series between the Trail Blazers and Spurs, it’s easy to come away thinking that nothing went right all night for the Trail Blazers. After all, how much could have gone right when you trail by as many as 29 points and end up losing by 24?
But if you’re looking for something to feel good about as you wait for Game 2 Thursday night in San Antonio, consider this: The Trail Blazers outscored the Spurs 53-51 in the second half. Portland shot a better percentage from the field (42 percent to 41 percent) and from three (36 percent to 22 percent), outscored San Antonio 20-14 in the paint, pulled down 11 more rebounds and shot three more free throws in the final 24 minutes of Game 1. And while you can certainly chalk some of Portland’s success in the second half to San Antonio being able to rest on the laurels of a 26-point halftime lead, there’s little doubt that the game would have been much closer if the Trail Blazers had performed in the first half the way they did in the second.
Here’s what Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and some of this players thought of the team’s second-half performance, and what they might be able to apply from those last two quarters to Thursday night’s game …
Terry Stotts: “I thought (Aldridge’s) postups in the second half were very effective. I thought we played better in the second half. Now, part of that was being down 20 and maybe San Antonio didn’t have the same energy as they started the game with. But the fact that, the second half, we played a little bit better and the way we needed to play at both ends is something we’ve got to have a focus to do at the beginning of the game.”
Damian Lillard: “I think we took a lot away from the first game, things we could do better, the things that we did better in the second half that worked for us. We’ve just got to come with a better effort, take those things into consideration. The most important thing is just playing harder with more energy.”
“We just played with more urgency. I thought we flew around more, hands were more active, we were a little more aggressive, period, in the second half than we were in the first.”
Nicolas Batum: “We’re not the favorites — nobody thinks we’re going to win — so we’ve got to play like it and go out, be more angry. We were pissed off against Houston. We were madder than then. It’s got to be the same mentality against the Spurs now.”
LaMarcus Aldridge: “We definitely had a much better second half than first half. We felt like that’s the way we have to start the game. Playing through the post, going to the basket and just being better overall. I thought we came out kind of passive.”
Wesley Matthews: “They came out with an edge, they came out with a fire that ‘We’re champs. All these banners, we put all those up there and this is how it is and this is how you play.’ It was kind of eye-opening for all of us. By no means are we intimidated. I think the game still could have went differently if we had made some shots in the first quarter, in the first half, but we didn’t. We bounced back in the second half and played the way we needed to, it was just too much of a deficit. SO now we know what to do coming into Game 2.”
“What killed us was second-chance points. What killed us was transition points. Us beating ourselves, us not cutting off screens, them riding us up, not letting us get to our offense. Give them credit: they threw their punches and we didn’t respond the way we should have and needed to, but we did in the second half. We cut hard, we got into them and for the most part, our pick and roll coverages and halfcourt defense was good.”
When the Western Conference first round series between the Trail Blazers and Clippers started, many assumed it would be a quick affair, with the Clippers eventually moving on to face the Golden State Warriors in the second round. And after Warriors point guard Stephen Curry suffered a knee injury that will keep the reigning MVP sidelined for the start of the second round, much of the conversation revolved around how that would improve the Clippers’ chances of beating the defending champs in the Western Conference semifinals. The fact that the Clippers still had to beat the Trail Blazers two more times didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
A few days later, that narrative has flipped. Leading the series 3-2 with a chance to clinch in Game Six tonight at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on KGW, ESPN and 620 AM), the Trail Blazers are now Golden State’s presumptive opponent, as injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have all but ended the Clippers’ playoff run.
But just as the Clippers still had to win four games to advance, so too do the Trail Blazers, which is a good reminder that there are no such thing as inevitability when it comes to sports. “That’s why the play the game,” might be trite, but it’s still as true as it ever was, something the Trail Blazers know as well as any team still alive in the postseason.
“We just go out there and play, we don’t really pay attention to what’s being said,” said CJ McCollum. “You can’t read into that too much. First we were supposed to get swept, first we were just happy to win a game, so you just go play. You don’t really worry about the other stuff, you just control what you can control, keep your mindset the same, understand that nothing is inevitable. You’ve got to go out there and play.”
Though the Trail Blazers were able to beat the Clippers 108-98 at Staples Center in Game Five sans Paul and Blake, a team led by JJ Redick, DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers still managed to take a five-point lead into the half and had the game tied at 71-71 going into the fourth quarter, so it’s not as if any team, including Portland, can just roll the ball out in a playoff game and expect to emerge with the victory. After all, if that were the case, the Clippers would already be in Oakland preparing for the Western Conference semifinals.
“We understand that they’re a good team,” said McCollum “Regardless of what’s happened, regardless of what injuries they’ve gone through, they’re still a good team and we’ve still got to go play the game.”
And we’re back. After the Trail Blazers defeated a shorthanded Clippers team 109-98 in Game Five at Staples Center to take a 3-2 lead in the first round series, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studios once again to deliver another playoff edition of the Rip City Report podcast. Please consider listening…
On this episode, Joe and I discuss the Trail Blazers being on the verge of winning just their second playoff series in the last 16 years, what we’re expecting to see during Game Six Friday in Portland, make our picks for the Trail Blazers’ MVP and most surprising during the first five games, how the injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin change the narrative surrounding the series and answer some of your Twitter-submitted questions regarding Chris Kaman’s birthday, non-Moda Center places to watch Game Six, player playoff bonuses and give a few binge watching suggestions, not that you’d ever need to watch TV again with all these fine podcasts we’re providing for you.
After struggling in the first few games of their first round playoff series, the play of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in Games Three, Four and Five has been one of the main reasons the Trail Blazers hold a 3-2 advantage versus the Clippers. Mason Plumlee has arguably been Portland’s most valuable player, and both Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless have delivered game-changing performances at times during the series, but the attention Lillard and McCollum draw from the Clippers’ defense has allowed for their teammates to have a chance to shine in the postseason. And despite L.A.’s defensive gameplan focusing almost exclusively on stopping Portland’s starting backcourt, Lillard and McCollum are combining to average just over 40 points a game during the 2016 playoffs.
Given that, and the fact that they even made the playoffs, let alone are a game away from winning Portland’s second playoff series in the last 15 years, TNT analyst Charles Barkley declared on last night’s edition of “Inside The NBA” that Portland’s backcourt is second only to Golden State’s, the team the Trail Blazers would face should they advance to the next round.