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.”
PORTLAND — It wasn’t easy, but usually that’s the way things go in an elimination game.
Though it came down to the final seconds, the Portland Trail Blazers were able to defeat an undermanned Clippers team 106-103 Friday night at the Moda Center in Game Six of their first round playoff series. With the win, the Trail Blazers take the series 4-2 and move on to face the Golden State Warriors, the reigning NBA champions, in the Western Conference semifinals.
“Hey, 106-103 is beautiful,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, who become just the fourth Portland head coach to get his team out of the first round more than once. “Look, it was a grind it out game. They have some players who can put the ball in the basket and play off the dribble. Honestly, we lost so many of these type of games early in the season, to keep our composure and make the plays, get a rebound, make some free throws, trust your teammates. It’s not going to be a beautiful 48 minutes. But what I have a problem with is that when you don’t score, it’s considered ugly basketball – when two teams are really competing and playing hard and defending, to me, that’s a thing of beauty as well.”
With the win, the Trail Blazers improve to 10-0 all-time at home potential playoff series-clinching games. The Trail Blazers are the first team since 2000 to win four-consecutive playoff games in the same series. What’s more, the Trail Blazers are just the 16th team in NBA history to win a series after starting off losing the first two games.
And after failing to win a playoff series for 14-straight season, the Trail Blazers have now advanced to the second round in two of the last three seasons.
The Trail Blazers, as was the case in Game Five at Staples Center, were never able to put the Clippers away in the first three quarters, with the visitors, playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, taking an 82-80 lead into the fourth quarter. Portland would erase that slim deficit and take a seven-point lead of their own late in the fourth, but the Clippers never relented, tying the game at 103-103 with 32.1 seconds to play.
But Mason Plumlee would save the day, as he’s done on multiple occasions in the first round, by securing an offense rebound and getting fouled while attempting a putback with 14.7 seconds to play. He’d make both free throws, and would go 1-of-2 from the line on the next possession, to secure the three-point win.
“It feels great,” said Plumlee, who became the first Trail Blazer since 1977 to record at least 10 rebounds in five-straight playoff games. “There’s no easy playoff wins, there’s no easy series. Our guys were resilient, they really played well. We’re ready for the next round.
The Trail Blazers were led by Damian Lillard, who went 9-of-21 from the field for 28 points to go with seven assists and five rebounds in 38 minutes. CJ McCollum went 7-of-16 from the field and 2-of-3 from three to add 20 points.
Plumlee finished with nine points, 14 rebounds, four assists and a steal in 31 minutes. Maurice Harkless scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half to go with three rebounds in 29 minutes. Allen Crabbe went 5-of-9 to add 13 points and five rebounds in 31 minutes.
The Clippers had five players score in double figures led by Jamal Crawford, who went 10-of-25 from the field for a game-high 32 points. Austin Rivers, who was bloodied in the first quarter after catching an elbow from Al-Farouq Aminu, causing a gash that required 11 stitches, finished with 21 points, eight assists and six rebounds in 31 minutes.
The Trail Blazers now move on to face a Golden State Warriors team that set the NBA record for wins in a season with 73 after winning the 2015 NBA Championship. Reigning MVP Stephen Curry is currently sidelined with an MCL sprain and is not expected to be available for the first two games of the series, though Golden State still managed to advance to the second round nonetheless.
“We thought this team was tough without CP and Blake, but (the Warriors are) a championship team,” said Lillard. “Even without Steph, they’re still a championship team. We’ve got to keep our mind right, compete and play together. We can’t be worried about who’s not out there because we just watched them beat Houston by 25 twice without Steph. We’ve just got to keep improving on the things we’ve done well and be locked in defensively.”
On the plus side, the Trail Blazers were one of the few teams to best the Warriors this season, blowing out the defending champs 137-105 on February 19. However, Golden State took the other three games of the season series by an average of 20.3 points.
“They pose a lot of problems,” said McCollum. “Historically speaking, they had a really good year breaking the record for wins, losing one game at home I believe this year, so you know it’s going to be a tough environment. Offensively, even without Steph, they do a great job of moving the ball. Draymond is the head of the snake now that Steph’s out, and he moves the ball well. He’s the heart and soul of the team and he gets everybody involved. Klay will be a little bit more aggressive looking to score without Steph and Harrison Barnes and Shaun Livingston and the rest of the guys will be a lot more aggressive too.”
The Trail Blazers will now fly to the bay area for Game One, which is scheduled for Sunday at Oracle Arena in Oakland.
“As the series goes along, both teams will make adjustments,” said Stotts. “They’ve had some time to think about us. It’s going to be a challenge obviously, but we’ll watch a lot of video tonight and tomorrow, have a meeting tomorrow, and be ready to tip it up on Sunday.”
Tipoff is set for 7:30 pm on ABC and 620 AM.
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.