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.”
Howdy kind listeners. Before we all take some much needed respite before the start of a brutal March schedule, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the studios at the Moda Center to record an All-Star break edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this week’s episode we marvel at the Trail Blazers being 27-27, good for seventh in the Western Conference, and how that’s going to cost Freeman some money/beer at some point, the emergence of Maurice Harkless since joining the starting lineup, Portland rising while other teams in their general range struggle, discuss how we’ll be spending our respective All-Star breaks and answer a host of questions pertaining to the upcoming trade deadline, Gerald Henderson’s tenure in Portland, Damian Lillard passing Brandon Roy and a bunch of other stuff that I’ve already since forgotten. As I noted during the show, my brain is already on vacation.
You can find the Rip City Report on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher. And consider using a small portion of the time you would usually spend watching the Blazers to give us a review on iTunes! You can be as mean as you want!
Though they were never teammates, Damian Lillard and Brandon Roy manage to talk from time to time. Their relationship started not long after Lillard was selected by the Trail Blazers with the sixth overall pick of the 2012 Draft and they’ve stayed in contact ever since over the years. During those somewhat regular chats, the current and former faces of the Trail Blazers’ franchise sometimes discuss the responsibility that comes with that title, especially at a relatively young age, and what could have been if the 6-3 guard out of Weber State and the now-retired 6-6 guard out of Washington ever had the opportunity to play alongside each other in Rip City.
And the next time they talk, they’ll have something new to discuss. With his 31-point performance in Tuesday night’s victory versus the Rockets, Lillard passed Roy for 15th in franchise history in points. Lillard now has 6,119 in less than four seasons in Portland, surpassing the the 6,107 points that Roy scored in five seasons before knee injuries ended his career far too prematurely.
“I mean, that’s an honor,” said Lillard of passing Roy. “Just to be moving up on that list period, but I mean, if Brandon Roy got to play as long as he should have played and people would have liked to have seen him play, I probably would never pass him, so it’s a great accomplishment. It’s an honor you know, but the more important thing is just continuing to be myself and continuing to win games.”
Which Lillard has done an excellent job of his season. He’s the only player to rank in the top-6 in both scoring (24.3 points per game) and assists (7.3 assist per game) this season and has led the Trail Blazers to a 27-27 record this season, vastly outperforming preseason expectations, despite being the only holdover from last season’s starting five.
Though he’s had plenty of help this season from the likes of CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis, Lillard’s performance through 54 games is the the primary reason that the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in seventh place in the Western Conference. Roy, a three-time All-Star, was a fantastic player in his own right, a player whose peak performances are still the stuff of legend in Portland, but even he never carried the load that Lillard has this season. And of course, Lillard has already helped the Trail Blazer win a playoff series in his first four season in Portland, something Roy never accomplished.
“He’s been pretty good in a short amount of time,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of Lillard. “I mean, Brandon Roy, I wasn’t here for that, but I know what an imprint he made on the city and the franchise and how important he was to the Blazers. The fact that Damian has passed him this early in his career really says something because I know how good Brandon was. I know his career was cut short but everybody here holds him in high regard.”
Assuming Lillard experiences relatively good health — the seven games he missed this season due to plantar fascitiis are the only games he’s missed in his profession career thus far — there’s no reason to think that he won’t replace Roy as the best guard to play in Portland since Clyde Drexler, if he hasn’t taken that mantel already. But Roy can take some satisfaction in knowing that at least some of the success Lillard has had as a Trail Blazer was accomplished in part due to emulating the example he set on and off the court.
“When (Roy) got to Portland, a lot of the stuff he did, it brought excitement,” said Lillard. “I think the city really embraced him, they liked who he was as a person along with what he did as a player, obviously. I think because I kind of came and did the same thing, did some of the same things he did, I think he respects that… He was well respected, people appreciated the kind of person he was and he got it done on the floor. I think I can say the same for myself.”
PORTLAND — What a nice way to go into the All-Star break.
For the second time in five days, the Trail Blazers built a large third-quarter lead against the Rockets, then allowed them to make a comeback, only to make a final push to come away with the double-digit victory, this time to the tune of a 116-103 win in front of a sellout crowd of 19,393 at the Moda Center.
“I really like the way we’re playing right now,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Defensively, we’ve been really good the last two or three weeks. Our aggressiveness has been good, our alertness has been very good and I thought we did that for most of the night tonight. It’s good to go into the break on a win streak and playing well.”
The Trail Blazers are now 27-27 overall and 16-11 at the Moda Center this season. With the win, Portland is .500 for the first time since the team was 4-4 on November 9, 2015, have won eight of their last 10 games at home and 12 of their last 15 games overall, regardless of venue. Thanks to that streak, the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings while the Rockets, a team that started the game in seventh place, drop to ninth.
“We dug ourselves a hole to start the season, giving up some games late, but we stuck with it, we kept going, we kept working,” said Damian Lillard. “We didn’t get too high or low. We were able to close in and get to .500 going into the break. Our team has done a great job of sticking to the grind, working every day in practice and staying together. That’s gotten us to where we are now.”
After ending the first quarter tied 29-29, the Trail Blazers used a 18-3 run in the second quarter to build a 12-point lead. Portland would expand their lead to 21, only to see the Rockets cut the deficit to five with 9:31 to play in the fourth. But the Trail Blazers would close out the game by outscoring the Rockets 23-15 to come away with the 13-point victory.
Portland won Tuesday’s contest despite shooting worse percentage than the Rockets from the field and the three-point line, but making eight more free throws despite having the same number of attempts and turning 20 Rockets turnovers in to 31 points more than made up for their so-so field goal percentages.
“I like the fact that we’re doing it within the context of our defense rather than gambling and extending our defense,” said Stotts of forcing turnovers. “We’re being aggressive on the ball, we’re alert on the weak side, so I think those two things combined help create those turnovers.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who went 9-of-22 from the field, 4-of-11 from three and 9-of-11 from the free throw line for 31 points to go along with nine assists, three rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes.
Maurice Harkless remained in the starting lineup, despite Noah Vonleh being on the active list for the first time in the last two games, and responded with his best game as a Trail Blazers with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 13 rebounds and two steals in 28 minutes.
“I liked his defense on Harden, he finished around the basket, he got rebounds, he ran the floor well,” said Stotts of Harkless. “He did a little bit of everything in a kind of understated way.”
Meyers Leonard went 6-of-9 from the field for 14 points while grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Al-Farouq Aminu shot just under 50 percent to finish with 11 points and five rebounds and Ed Davis grabbed 13 rebounds in 21 minutes. Gerald Henderson went just 3-of-10 from the field but made up for it by going 7-of-10 from the line to finish with 13 points.
The Rockets were led by James Harden, who finished with 34 points, and Dwight Howard, who added 28 points and 13 rebounds in 35 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers have more than a week off before hosting the Golden State Warriors on February 19.
“We’re playing well and hopefully when we get back we pick up where we left off,” said Stotts, “but everybody could use a break.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm.