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.”
Maryland forward Jake Layman took questions from the Portland media via conference call for the first time Friday afternoon since being acquired by the Trail Blazers from the Orlando Magic after he was selected with the 47th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. The 6-9 wing, who averaged 10.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists in four seasons with the Terrapins, discussed being selected by the Trail Blazers, whether he knew the team was interested in him prior to the draft, what skills he has that are most applicable in the NBA, his defensively strengths and his plans to come to Portland in time for summer league workouts…
What was your initial reaction after being drafted by the Trail Blazers and your impressions of the franchise?
Jake Layman: First off, I’m very excited. It was such a stressful night. I was nervous all night, I didn’t really know what to expect with what was going to happen the way the draft was going last night. To finally hear my name called was just a big sign of relief, I was very excited, especially to be picked up by the Blazers because I’ve watched them play a lot. I think that their style of play fits me very well.
Why did you watch them a lot over the season?
Jake Layman: I think it was really more playoff time when I saw them play.
Where the Blazers on your radar? Did they interview you in Chicago at the combine, have any interaction with the team leading up to the draft?
Jake Layman: I did an interview with them at the combine but they were still in the playoffs, so they didn’t have really anybody there who could interview. That was really it. I didn’t work out for them. But I did know that they were very interested going into the draft, but they had no picks, so I really didn’t think much of it. So when my agent called me to tell me they traded in for the pick, I was excited.
What did you think about Portland’s recent playoff run?
Jake Layman: It was very exciting. Watching them with how young they are, how much talent they have, to be battling out there against some of the best teams in the NBA. I know how excited the fanbase was to see that happen.
What are your most applicable NBA skills right now and how do you see yourself projecting as an NBA player from a position or skill perspective?
Jake Layman: I think for me, my shooting ability, it’s gotten better each year that I was in college. So I think for me, just carrying that into the NBA is going to be huge. And also for me, I think being able to guard multiple spots on the floor is what teams are looking for now. I think that’s something I can do.
Do you know Pat Connaughton at all since you’re from the same area? Did you play against him at all?
Jake Layman: I know him pretty well. We never really played against each other in high school or anything, but just being from the same area. We were part of the Boston Globe all-star team one year, so yeah, we definitely know each other.
Do you know when you’re going to come to Portland, when you might sign and whether you’ll play for the team at summer league?
Jake Layman: Talking to the GM yesterday, I think I’m going to fly out to Portland either July 3rd or 4th and then I’ll be there for the practices leading up to summer league, which starts pretty soon after that. Then I’ll play in summer league. I’m not really sure about signing contracts or anything right now, but for summer league I’ll definitely be there.
What was your conversation like with Neil Olshey?
Jake Layman: He just asked me how I felt. All the emotion going through your head when you get drafted, it was definitely nice to talk to him. Asked me how I’m feeling and if I’m ready to get going. I was very excited to hear from him, I talked to Coach Stotts also.
How would you describe yourself off the court? What’s your personality like? How do you approach the game? Approach life or leadership or being in a locker room.
Jake Layman: I think for me, I’m a little different off the court than I am on the court. I think when it comes to being on the court, I’m definitely pretty intense. I’m always going hard, going crazy on the court. Then off the court, I’m a pretty quiet guy, very laid back, definitely a great locker room guy. I get along with everybody. That’s how I would describe myself.
You said you feel like your defensive versatility is an asset. Could you break down your strengths defensively?
Jake Layman: I think my on-ball defense has definitely gotten better over the years. But I think playing off the ball on defense, being able to come over and help and then block shots from the weakside, it is something that I’m definitely good at.
Do you feel like joining a young team, but one that has already had some success in the playoffs, give you an opportunity that other guys in the draft might not get?
Jake Layman: I think it’s a great chance to be able to come in this next year and help, make an impact on the team, just go in and help whatever way I can, whether it’s scoring, defending or all of those. I think the makeup of this team definitely gives me a chance to go in and make an impact right away.
What’s your hometown of Wrentham like? What was it like growing up there?
Jake Layman: Growing up in Wrentham, I’m one of five boys in my family, so there’s always something to do, always someone to play with. I was big into sports when I was little. My dad played baseball in college, my mom played basketball in college so I was always involved in the youth leagues, whether it was baseball, football or basketball. I think for me, my childhood was definitely run by sports when I was little growing up.
Can you see someone in the NBA who reminds you of yourself or someone who has the same skillset?
Jake Layman: Someone I’m trying to model my game after — I’m not saying I’m him right now, but it’s someone who I definitely think my game over time could be just like his — is Gordon Hayward, plays for the Utah Jazz.
Can you describe waiting to hear your name called last night?
Jake Layman: From the start of the night, you’re going in with the thought of what you’ve been hearing from teams and what your agent’s been telling you. Once the draft starts going, especially last night, it was definitely not what I expected. I was surrounded by a bunch of family and friends, so they were keeping me calm the whole time. I was just hanging in there, staying strong and to finally hear my name called, it was definitely a sigh of relief.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, the Trail Blazers have acquired the No. 47 pick of the 2016 Draft from the Orlando Magic, which they will use to select 6-9 forward Jake Layman out of Maryland…
Portland will select Maryland’s Jake Layman with No. 47, sources tell @TheVertical.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) June 24, 2016
Source: To get Maryland’s Jake Layman at No. 47, Portland will send Orlando $1.2M and a 2019 second-round pick.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) June 24, 2016
The Trail Blazers entered Thursday’s draft with no picks, though it always seemed likely they’d purchase a second round pick, as Paul Allen has shown throughout his tenure as owner that he’s willing to spend in order to bring in draft talent. The $1.2 million the Trail Blazers reportedly sent to Orlando, along with a future second round pick, for the 47th pick is significantly less than what some other teams reportedly spent to get picks later in the second round.
Assuming Layman and the Trail Blazers can come to contract terms — second round picks can negotiate their contracts, while salaries for first round picks are dictated by where they’re taken — it seems likely that he would play for the Trail Blazers at the Las Vegas Summer League, which starts in mid-July.
UPDATE: It’s official. From the team’s press release…
“Jake is a high character young man with a skill set we value on both ends of the floor,” said Olshey. “His ability to defend multiple positions and shoot the ball from range will be positive additions to our roster.”
Orlando selected Layman with the 47th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. A four-year player out of the University of Maryland, Layman (6-9, 220) posted career averages of 10.2 points (44.5% FG, 36.2% 3PT, 75.9% FT), 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists for the Terrapins.
An Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection his senior year, Layman led Maryland to 114 wins over his four seasons and is one of just 12 players in school history to record 1,400 points (1,436) and 600 rebounds (674). Layman, 22, guided Maryland to its first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2003 last season, and ranks 18th in school history in points (1,436) and 18th in rebounds (674).
According to Shams Charania of The Vertical, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard will not play for Team USA at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in order to rest and continue rehabilitating the plantar fasciitis injury that dogged the 6-3 for much of the 2015-16 season. I can confirm this report.
Though Lillard was able to play through the injury after missing seven games in late December, the pain caused by the plantar fasciitis in his left foot never really went away. He received treatment on his foot throughout the season, though the most effective approach to the injury, which causes extreme pain on the bottom of the foot and heel, is rest, which is obviously hard to get when you’re the leader and best player on a team trying to make the postseason. By forgoing the month-long lead up to the Olympics and the Games themselves, Lillard should have the recuperation time he’ll need to go into Portland’s 2016 training camp completely healthy.
Charnania is also reporting that Lillard was hoping for more time to make the decision before being pressed by Team USA for a commitment one way or another. This could very well be true, though if being completely healthy and rested for the start of the 2016-17 NBA season is Lillard’s motivation for declining a Team USA invite, it’s hard to figure how another week or two would change his decision.
Lillard initially declined being a part of the pool that Team USA draws their roster from, though he ultimately relented despite not feeling particularly optimistic about his chances of being named to the Olympic team after being passed over for the FIBA World Cup team in 2014. But between players opting to rest in preparation for the upcoming season and the myriad of concerns regarding the 2016 Games, the number of candidates has dwindled to the point where Lillard would have been a lock to make the Olympic team had he chosen to participate.
But Lillard opting for rest over Rio doesn’t mean you won’t have a Trail Blazer to root for during the Olympics, as Al-Farouq Aminu and the rest of Team Nigeria (a team that also includes former Trail Blazer Ike Diogu and former Oregon Duck Chamberlain Oguchi) have qualified for the 2016 Games after winning AfroBasket 2015 in Tunisia. And CJ McCollum has also been invited to play on the USA Select Team, whose purpose is to help the USA National Team prepare for international events, though players from the Select team have been promoted to the National team, with the most recent example being Mason Plumlee making the 2014 World Cup team.