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.”
Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is currently holding his annual youth basketball camp in Beaverton, and unlike some of these events put on by other players, Lillard is there actually there working with the kids every day. If you send your child to the Damian Lillard Basketball Camp, he or she is going to meet Damian Lillard.
But even though the focus is on the kids, Lillard took a few minutes to take questions from the media about the camp, his recent trip to Asia, working with Special Olympics, the upcoming free agent signing period on his involvement with recruiting and why he declined to to play for Team USA.
Regarding the Damian Lillard Basketball Camp experience…
“When I get up there and speak, I tell them ‘Make sure you thank your parents, make sure you listen to the coaches, follow their instructions, be coachable, work hard.’ Just simple things like that, a lot of basic things that could teach them a lot more than how simple it is, things like that. Just being here and having a presence is the biggest thing. The session that you guys just watched, it’s something that I’ve enjoyed because it allows me to kind of break apart the game for the kids. For them it might be a little bit boring, but it’s 10 minutes of the day where they get to listen and see what’s going on, that it’s deeper than just a pass and a shot. Some of them are probably too young to follow it as well as the older ones, but I think it’s something that you can really teach them at a young age.”
On his relationship with Special Olympics…
“When I was 17, when I first got on campus at Weber State, it was a mandatory thing, we did a one day camp with Special Olympics. The first day I kind of just went in there, I didn’t really know much about it. But then I saw that some of them, they wanted to play against us and they could actually play. They had as much passion with the game as I did, they really enjoyed our company. I’ll never forget, it was a random day like months after the Special Olympics event and there was a kid — I’ll never forget his name — Jason Depper. I was at the mall and he walked up to me at the mall like ‘Remember I made that shot on you?’ and I was just like ‘That’s funny.’ It had that type of impact on him. I’ve been involved ever since.”
On his recent trip through Asia with adidas…
“It was fun, did some pop-ups at stores. I went to some 3-on-3 tournaments, watched a lot of kids play. They’re playing so they can all make it to Beijing and it’s like a super tournament over there right now. I did some promotion for my shoes and things like that, I went back to a store that I opened up after my rookie year in Taipei, I went back to Manila. We did a huge event there, I got to get in the three-point shootout, they let me perform a couple times over there. It was kind of on the spot performances, but I had a lot of fun.”
Why he decided not to be a part of the 2016 Olympic team…
“It was simple: the last three months of the season I played with plantar fasciitis and it really bothered me. There was days the games seemed like the only time I could play, and that was adrenaline and two hours of treatment before the game. I didn’t want to go into next season dealing with it. I actually really wanted to play and I was really close to saying ‘Just forget it, I’m going to go’ but I didn’t want to go to Rio and come back a month before training camp and my foot still be bothering me, then I can’t give what I want to give to my team. That was just more important to me.”
On free agency…
“I think there’s some guys out there that can really help take our team to the next level. I really like the guys we have, too. I’m a strong believer that if guys go home and get better over the summer, we come back, we’ll be that much better. We’ll continue to get better. But my job is to make sure that I’m prepared and when I’m asked about a player that can help us, I’m going to give my honest opinion. That’s my duty to our team.”
His thoughts on Portland’s free agency plan…
“I’m excited, because it’s not hard to see… Our whole roster could look at free agency and say ‘This guy could help us, this guy could help us.’ It’s just a matter of how bad they want to be here, what we have to offer compared to what they would like. We’ll see where it goes. I have no doubt that our team is going to be ready regardless of who we bring in, who we don’t bring in. We’ll come back ready.”
Whether he’s going to help recruit free agents in person…
“Maybe. Maaaaaaybe… I might. To help our team, of course.”
Regarding what he’d tell free agents who might have “red flags” about joining Portland’s locker room…
“When I speak to these guys, I’m going to tell them what it is with our team on how we do things, what will be tolerated and what won’t. If we happen to get someone that has red flags, we don’t know for sure if that’s ‘he said, she said’ or if it’s real or if it’s the situation or people around him or what. But if it comes to our culture and our individual, it will be addressed. Nobody going to back down to nobody, let somebody come in here and think something is going to change, because it’s not. That’s not just me. I’m going to be the first one to say something because that’s just what it is. I know CJ (McCollum) is going to back that up and each guy down the line is going to back that up. We show up every day to practice to work, we show up on time, we hold each other accountable, we allow our teammates to hold us accountable and that’s the bottom line. We don’t do cute stuff, we show up and do what we’ve got to do and that’s it. If you don’t want to do it, it’s not going to work.”
Greetings fans of NBA offseason news. With the 2106 Draft now completed and the free agent moratorium less than 48 away, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
This week, Trail Blazers power forward Meyers Leonard joins the show to discuss his travels around Oregon this offseason, rehabbing from the shoulder surgery that prematurely ended his 2015-16 season, “sprint mechanics” and his upcoming restricted free agency. As for the rest of the show, we briefly recap Portland’s draft night, which netted the team Maryland forward Jake Layman, discuss what we know about the negotiations regarding the team’s television rights and discuss the unpredictability that is free agency.
The relationship between Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver predates both of their current occupations. When the two first sat down for a interview back in 2010, McCollum had not yet been drafted by the Trail Blazers with the 10th overall pick of the 2012 Draft (though that would happen later that night) and Silver, while already tabbed to take over for outgoing commissioner David Stern, was still pulling duty as deputy commissioner.
Every year since then, McCollum and Silver have met up in New York City after the end of the season to discuss topics pertaining to the NBA and society in general. In 2014, they discussed the situation with the previous Los Angeles Clippers ownership, the age limit, emerging technologies, Silver’s first year as the NBA’s head honcho and their favorite Jay-Z tracks. In 2015, McCollum, armed with a few seasons of experience and a new job at The Players’ Tribune, followed up on some of the questions from the year before regarding the age limit while also bringing up issues such as ads on jerseys, transparency in officiating and head injuries.
And in their fourth annual interview, released on The Players’ Tribune as a part of McCollum’s summer internship with the athlete-owned website, the two discuss how far they’ve come (or in CJ’s case, how much weight he’s lost) since their first meeting in 2012, Silver’s handshakes, whether the NBA would have their All-Star Weekend at “remote locations” like the NFL, whether the league is considering moving the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, the 2016 NBA Finals and the suspension of Draymond Green and recent efforts to increase diversity in NBA front offices. You can watch an excerpt of the interview in the above video, or read the entire Q&A over at The Players’ Tribune.