SAN ANTONIO — The 2014 NBA postseason came to a close for the Trail Blazers Wednesday night in San Antonio with a 104-82 loss to the Spurs in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinal. The Spurs take the series 4-1 and move on to face the winner of the Thunder/Clippers series.
“I’d like to congratulate the Spurs, their organization, Coach Pop and his staff,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They’ve done a terrific job all year and they showed, after a tough series with Dallas, they came out and played extremely well this series. I think it’s a compliment to all the years they’ve been here, the program that they’ve developed. They certainly outplayed us in this series.”
The Trail Blazers finish the 2013-14 campaign with 59 wins, their most since 2000.
“I think we have had a very good year,” said Stotts. “I think it was a special year. We weren’t expected to be in the position we were in the regular season. We weren’t expected to win the first round. It was a special year. I thought everyone of our stars had career years. The young guys got better. We fought through adversity during the season. We made a strong push at the end of the year. There were so many positives about this season. One of the tough things about losing in the playoffs is you end on a loss. I think it is important that we look back at what we were able to accomplish this year. We got a taste of playoffs. We got a taste of success. It is something that we can build on going into next season.”
Through the first two quarters, it looked as though the Trail Blazers might put themselves in position to continue their season with a Game 6 in Portland. They didn’t make their first field goal until the 7:37 mark of the first quarter, but unlike in other games at the AT&T Center, the Trail Blazers got off the mat and fought back. After trailing by seven, Portland finish the first quarter outscoring San Antonio 18-11 to tie the game at 19-19 going into the second quarter.
A similar scenario would play out in the second quarter, though this time, Portland couldn’t get back to even. As they did in seemingly ever second quarter at home in the series, the Spurs used a quick, overwhelming run, this time of the 13-4 variety, to push their lead well into double digits.
Though once again, the Trail Blazers managed to come back. They used a 12-4 run to end the half to get the deficit down to seven before the halftime intermission.
But in the third quarter, the Spurs would put the Trail Blazers away for good. A 13-2 run to start the second half game the Spurs an 18-point lead before four minutes had elapsed in the third quarter.
“They make plays, we make a lot of mistakes, myself first,” said Nicolas Batum. “Turn the ball over too many times. They’re the San Antonio Spurs, they’re good. They play those games. They stick together and play great basketball.”
Portland would cut into the lead at various times through the third, but not deep enough to get back in the game against a disciplined team like San Antonio.
“They’re not a championship team for nothing,” said Wesley Matthews, who finished with 14 points, three rebounds and an assist in 37 minutes. “They play well. They’re like a puzzle. Different piece fit and different pieces show up on any given night. For the most part all series, Danny Green was quiet and then he erupted for 22 points, he had timely threes that just deflated us. We kept fighting, we kept fighting but credit them.”
Portland trailed by 14 going into the fourth quarter, not an insurmountable deficit for a team that had made a comeback after comeback this season. But the Spurs, a team playing as well as any right now, would simply not allow the Trail Blazers to get back in the game. San Antonio would push their lead to as many as 28 in the fourth before Stotts waived the white flag by putting in his reserves with three minutes to play in regulation. It would be the end of a season that would start with low expectations, at least from the national media, and conclude with a trip to the second-round for the first time in 14 years.
“Since Day 1 I felt this team would be special,” said Aldridge. “Every guy came into training camp ready to work, every guy came in with a very unselfish attitude and played a brand of basketball I hadn’t seen until the Spurs. I was very high on this team early and we definitely lived up to my hype of speaking boldly and saying we would be a seven-seed during the preseason. I think we definitely exceeded that expectation and I think every guy got better. I’m proud of this team from top to bottom because guys who didn’t play came in every day, they worked and they got better. Guys who started and played a lot of minutes got better. I’m proud of this team. I think everybody counted us out and we kind of embraced that role and I felt guys played great in their role.”
“It was felt like we were one of ‘those teams,'” said Lillard. “The whole season I felt like we were one of those teams that people looked to and people were talking about. Me and LA had really good seasons, both made the All-Star team, Nico had a really good season, Wes, RoLo, Mo. I think our team, we were one of those teams this season. There’s only eight teams playing right now. We were one of the last eight to play. I think that’s big-time of our team.”
After the game, most of the players in Portland’s locker room were able to appreciate what they had achieved this season. But by that same token, none were satisfied about how their season ended. The same determination and pride that pushed them to defy expectations also left them feeling that there was so much more left to accomplish.
“As far as the season, it was a hell of a season,” said Matthews. “To do what we did, through the adversity that we had, through the doubt that surrounded us to start the year off, we accomplished way more than anybody thought we would. That’s something to be proud of. But this team, we were hungry. We predicted a special year and this was big, making it to the second round was big, but this team isn’t a content team. We’re not happy with our departure but we are proud of how we got here. That’s what I got.”
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”