After struggling to finish at the rim for most of the night, Damian Lillard made a surprisingly easy go-ahead layup with six seconds to play to give the Trail Blazers a 90-89 victory against the Suns Wednesday night at the Moda Center.
“It was uncontested,” said Lillard of his game-winning layup. “I mean, I got straight to the rim. I missed a couple where I was right at the rim but that was the one that counted. When it get to that part of the game I forget about everything else. I wanted to be in that situation, I’m glad we were able to execute.”
The win was Portland’s fourth-straight and their first against the Suns, a team that beat the Trail Blazers in Phoenix on opening night.
The Trail Blazers struggled for much of the game, shooting just 38 percent from the field through three quarters. Luckily the Suns, a team that looked like a well-oiled offensive machine in the first contest, weren’t much better, as both teams found it nearly impossible to get any kind of rhythm offensively.
“I give Phoenix a lot of credit,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They play hard. I don’t think anybody could watch that game and come away with the feeling how hard Phoenix plays. They compete with you, they compete for the catches, they push out post ups, they’re physical in the paint, they go after the ball, they’re active with their hands. So give Phoenix a lot of credit on their defense.”
After playing just five minutes in Monday’s night’s victory against the the Pistons, Thomas Robinson got into the game early in place of LaMarcus Aldridge, who was forced to take a seat early in the first quarter after being called for two offensive fouls.
“As far as mentally being strong I think I’m stronger when it comes to that,” said Robinson of being called upon despite barely playing on Monday. “Went through a rough year last year so I know to keep my calm. I know I only played five minutes last game but you never know what happens. LA came out and got two quick fouls tonight and my name was called called.”
Robinson immediately made an impact, scoring six points and grabbing two rebounds in his first six minutes on the court. He would later be the catalyst for Portland’s comeback in the fourth quarter, starting the quarter off with a dunk, followed by a steal, followed by a trip to the free throw line. But it was his ferocious put-back dunk with 8:02 to play that sent a shock wave through the arena and awakened the Moda Center crowd.
“I think the game could have gone either way at that point,” said Lillard of Robinson’s dunk. “What happened could have happened. He dunked it, everybody got excited, the crowd got behind us and I think it kind of made us believe a little bit more. Not that we didn’t believe but everybody was fired up. He definitely led the comeback.”
Robinson would miss two-straight free throws, prompting the Suns to take the surprising step of intentionally fouling Robinson on the ensuing possession (he would make one of two) but still finished the quarter with eight points, six rebounds and the game with a career-high tying 15 points and eight rebounds.
“Thomas Robinson came in and gave us a lot of energy and got us back into the game,” said Terry Stotts. “That sparked the team, it sparked the crowd and got us back into it.”
The Trail Blazers called a timeout with 11 seconds to play and the Suns leading 89-88, allowing Portland to advance the ball to past midcourt. Batum in-bounded the ball to Lillard, who came around an Aldridge screen at the top of the three-point line. The screen took Suns guard Eric Bledsoe out of the play while Suns forward Channing Frye neglected to rotate over to Lillard, choosing instead to stick to Aldridge, presumably to defend against the pick and pop. From there, Lillard was left with a wide open lane to the basket.
“We ran it exactly how we drew it up,” said Lillard. “We ran a quick inbounds like we always do, I got the ball. We wanted to get right into it so maybe we could get an offensive rebound. It was a pick and roll with me and LA and I came off and as soon as I came off it was just wide open. It was an easy read.”
On the ensuing possession, Suns guard Eric Bledsoe was isolated with Nicolas Batum at the top of three-point line with six seconds to play. Bledsoe drove and put up a high-arching attempted at the rim over Batum’s outstretched arms, but the shot careened off the rim. Both PJ Tucker and Markieff Morris would have tip-in opportunities, but neither was able to get the putback to fall and the Trail Blazers escaped with a one-point victory in front of a jubilant crowd of 19,537.
“That was a long six seconds,” said Wesley Matthews. “I think we had a foul to give, too. I guess we earned it. We gought through not playing very well. They played well and we took a lot of their good punches. We just continued to play the right way, playing hard and the ball bounced our way.”
Lillard finished the game with 11 points on four of 13 shooting to go along with eight assists, three rebounds and two steals. Robin Lopez kept the Trail Blazers in the game early and logged his third-consecutive double-double with 13 points, 15 rebounds, a career-high. Aldridge shrugged off a tough shooting first have to also managed a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Matthews hit two timely three-pointers in the fourth quarter to finish with 11 points and two rebounds. Mo Williams rounded out Portland’s double digit scorers 12 points on five of 10 shooting, which helped the Trail Blazers bench tie a season-high in points with 34. Williams also added three assists and two rebounds.
Next up, the Trail Blazers embark on a four-game Eastern Conference road trip starting in Boston against the Celtics. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:30 PM.
“Going on an east coast road trip, you want to go out with something positive, especially on our home floor,” said Lillard. “We got it done. We didn’t make shots, we had some turnovers but we was able to steal, buckle down and find a way to win the game. I’m not sure we would have been able to do it last season.”
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.”
Though it hasn’t been officially announced, news broke Monday that the Trail Blazers and CJ McCollum have agreed on a four-year maximum extension that will keep the combo guard out of Lehigh in Portland for the foreseeable future. A day later, McCollum joined Dan Sheldon and Aaron Fentress on 620 Rip City Radio to talk about signing the extension and his future in Portland, which you can listen to in its entirety below…
On when he found out that the extension was in the works..
“I found out a little while ago that we were in talks, we were discussing an extension this summer. I actually flew out to Las Vegas for a photo shoot with Nike around the time the Select Team was out there and my agent told me not to fly back to the east coast because I was supposed to fly back to Philly to watch my brother’s 3v3 tournament game. So once he told me to fly back to Oregon I had a pretty good idea things were going to be finalized shortly.”
On whether he was smiling on stage at Damian Lillard’s concert because he knew about the extension…
“I had a good idea they were in discussions and I was excited about the opportunity to extend my career with the Portland Trail Blazers. I love the city, I love the team and the organization. That smile was the combination of a lot of things.”
On why he didn’t hold out for any player options or trade kickers in his extension…
“I love the city and I’m happy here. I’ve actually been looking for homes since my rookie year but I was not going to buy because I’m a business man and I think it’s important you have a secure situation before you begin to make expensive purchases such as purchasing real estate. But I told my agent I like it here and I’m content. I like the situation I’m in, I like the staff and I’m happy to be here with no outs, no trade kickers, ect. I want to be here and I told him that. So I said ‘Do what you’ve got to do to get it done and have me here long term.’”
Regarding whether or not it will be difficult to wait a year before his new contract kicks in…
“No, no no. I do a really good job of keeping my team close. My business manager, my financial advisor, my agent, we do a great job of discussing financial situations and continue to play a budget. I’m just thankful to have the opportunity, but I’m not really counting down the clock or anything like that. This is a game I love dearly, this game is priceless. You can’t really put a price on this game I’ve played my entire life for free, it just so happens I’m fortunate enough to get a max contract and be able to play at the highest level and have a role that’s carved out. But the next step is to continue to get better and not worry about the money, not worry about the labels and all that stuff. You perform well on the court and everything else will fall into place. I don’t really have any dates set. I make good money now and obviously I’ll make great money later, but it’s all in good time. I just try to live in the present.”
How he plans on staying motivated with a max contract…
“I stay paranoid. That’s the thing that got me to this point is being paranoid, playing with a chip on your shoulder understanding that it’s more than just money, it’s more than just playing for a starting spot. You’re playing for your last name, you’re representing the organization, I’m representing Canton, Ohio every time I step on the court, I represent Lehigh University. Growing up my mom and dad always told me you play this game because you love it, you play it because it’s fun and the rest will fall into place and you just have to pretend every time you step on the court there’s a little kid watching you that’s never seen you play before. He’s never seen you play, he’s only heard stories about you and his only impression is going to be of how you perform that day. So that’s kind of how I carried myself and why I put so much time in, because I don’t want that little kid to be disappointed in me. I don’t want him to say ‘Ah man, CJ’s not as good as we thought, doesn’t play as hard as I thought he was going to play.’ I want him to say ‘Wow, he goes hard no matter what, he plays a total game, he plays unselfishly and he had fun doing it.’ So that’s the kind mark I want to leave and eventually when I have kids I want them to understand that I got here through hard work. Nothing was ever handed to me.”