PORTLAND — When it comes to this series, having home court advantage just ain’t what it used to be.
After winning the first two games of the Western Conference four/five series in Houston, the Trail Blazers fell to the Rockets 121-116 in overtime in front of a sellout crowd at the Moda Center in their first home playoff game since 2011. Through three games, neither team has yet to win on their home floor.
“It was a hard fought game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “A little bit different than the previous two, but a game that could have gone either way. Ultimately, they made some shots at the end and we didn’t shoot the ball necessarily well in the overtime. But none of them are going to be easy. It’s part of the playoffs.”
Game 5, which is now necessary in the best-of-seven series, will be played April 30 in Houston.
For a moment early in the overtime, it looked as though the Trail Blazers might pull out the win and give themselves an opportunity to sweep the series after taking a 116-112 lead at the 3:08 mark in overtime. But despite numerous quality looks, the Trail Blazers would not score again.
“We executed, we just didn’t make any shots,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “I had one or two shots I missed. We did get denied on some plays, which we have to work on not getting denied on certain played because then our play breaks down. I thought we had looks down the stretch, we just didn’t make shots.”
But sometimes basketball isn’t just about which team makes shots. Sometimes, it’s more about the fortuitous bounces that lead to those shots. And on Friday night, that bounce went in Houston’s direction.
Houston guard James Harden was being blanketed by Nicolas Batum with less than 17 seconds to play in overtime and the score tired 116-116. Harden tried to find space curling around a Dwight Howard screen, but Batum was able to stay close, funneling Harden into a waiting Dorell Wright, who pocked the ball away from Harden.
Trail Blazers guard Mo Williams looked to have a chance to possess the loose ball, but he lost his balance, possibility due to Harden cutting his legs out from under him, and the ball in the ensuing pandemonium.
Rockets guard Jeremy Lin corralled the loose ball with under five seconds left on the shot clock and spotted little-used guard Troy Daniels behind the three-point line. Daniels, who already had two made three-pointers on the night, caught Lin’s pass in rhythm and calmly hit the shot to put Houston up 119-116.
“I was ready,” said Daniels, who spent time with Houston’s D-League team this season and had not played in the first two games of the series. “My teammates and coaches said just be ready to shoot that shot and that’s what I do. That’s my job, so it was a great shot and a great game.”
On the ensuing possession, Batum would get a great look at what would have been a game-tying three-pointer, but the shot was long and the the Rockets corralled the rebound, effectively ending the game.”Nic’s three at the end, to get a clean look like that, he was 4 of 8 going into that, so I thought that was good execution,” said Stotts. “Mo set a good screen, Nic made a good read and had a good look.”
After the game, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, who has his best shooting performance from the field thus far in the series, said Batum’s three was the right play, even if he would have liked an opportunity to live up to his reputation as one of the most clutch shooters in the NBA.
“Nico got a good look and he’s made that shot before plenty of times,” said Lillard. “Of course I would have liked to shoot the shot but when you’re on a team with guys who can also do the same thing, you live with the first open look, and Nico got the first open look, which was a great shot. If it happened all over again and he can get that look, I would say do the same thing.”
The Blazers were led by Lillard, who finished with 30 points, six assists and six rebounds in 47 minutes. Lillard was called upon to carry more of the offensive load Friday night with the Rockets throwing all of their efforts at slowing down Aldridge, who had scored 89 points combined in the first two games of the series.
“They were more aggressive,” said Aldridge, who finished with 23 points on 8 of 22 shooting, 10 rebounds, three assists and three blocks in 43 minutes. “They forced me baseline and brought the big baseline. That’s why the first half I was making a read on it and I was more aggressive in the second half when I kind of figured it out a little bit. Pick and roll, they rotated big to big, so they made it a point to take me out and not let me get up a lot of shots tonight and not find a good rhythm.”
After having no answer for Aldridge in the first two games, Rockets head coach Kevin McHale decided to start Omer Asik at power forward in place of Portland-native Terrence Jones, who played just 13 minutes Friday night.
“They didn’t have an answer for LA in the first two games,” said Lillard. “Once I saw (Asik) and Dwight (Howard) out there at the same time, I figured they were trying to make it harder for him. When a guy gets 40-plus points two games in a row, you’ve got to change something and that just happened to be the adjustment they made.”
With the defense focusing on Aldridge, Batum was freed up, particularly on drive to the lane, and responded with a 26-point, nine-rebound, five-assist, three-steal night. He also had the job of guarding Rockets James Harden, who had his best game of the series with 37 points on 13 of 35 shooting, nice rebounds and six assists in nearly 50 minutes.
“We made everything tough,” said Lillard of Portland’s defense on Harden. “He got 37 points on 35 shots, so we’ll live with that.”
Howard finished with 24 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks in 45 minutes. Patrick Beverley scored 16 points while handing out nine assists and Chandler Parsons finished with 15 points before fouling out.
Next up, the Trail Blazers host Game 4 at the Moda Center on Sunday. Portland will try to be the first home team to win at home while also taking a 3-1 lead before heading back to Houston for Game 5.
“They made one more play than we did,” said Lillard. “It would be a problem if we lost this game because of effort or we weren’t focused on taking care of business, but we were. It’s the playoffs and nobody said we were going to come out and sweep them. We’re lucky that we were able to win two games in Houston and be in the position right now that we’re in right now. It’s one game and we’ve got to move on from it.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 PM.
Greetings Trail Blazers fans. With the 2016 NBA Draft scheduled to take place on Thursday and the Trail Blazers recently making changes to their broadcast team, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, felt like it was a good time to break our hiatus to record a new edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
In this edition we discuss the Cavaliers winning the 2016 NBA Championship, talk to Kevin Calabro, fresh off of calling the deciding Game 7 of the NBA Sunday night, about taking over play-by-play duties for the Trail Blazers, discuss Portland’s options going into the draft considering the team doesn’t have a pick in either round and answer a host of your Twitter-submitted questions. Hopefully there’s enough here to get you through until the next time we record, which probably won’t be long.
A happy Friday the 13th to all of you loyal podcast listeners. Before everyone goes their separate ways now that the offseason is here, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net and TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio one last time to record a season-ending edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we attempt recap the series versus the Warriors, which ended in five games with a 125-121 loss at Oracle Arena Wednesday night, and the season in general, discuss the lasting effects of the playoff run and the respect that they earned from around the league due to their performance and look forward to some of the questions the Blazers will have to answer in the offseason, particularly in regard to free agency. And as always, we finish up by answering your Twitter-submitted questions on topics such as the culture the Trail Blazers have developed, (more) free agency, exit interviews and favorite moments from the just-completed season. It’s been a fun one.
Less than 12 hours after being eliminated from the postseason, the Trail Blazers returned to their practice facility in Tualatin to meet with the coaches to discuss offseason plans, clean out their lockers and take questions from the media one last time before starting their vacations.
Here’s the audio and a few quotes from Terry Stotts and the players from today’s exit interviews…
On the 2015-16 season…
“Like I said last night, this has been a special season. This group of players, what they were able to do individually and collectively, our chemistry was really good. We had good guys, they got along, players and coaches. It means a lot and it goes both ways. It was a joy. I think players enjoyed coming to work every day and I know the coaches and staff did, too.”
On whether this was his most rewarding season as a head coach…
“No question. This was an extremely rewarding season because it kind of played out the way we wanted it to. And we’re not talking about the record or the playoffs, everything was about growth, improvement, getting better throughout the season and being better at the end of the season. I think we did that individually and collectively and from a coaching standpoint, that’s as pure as it gets. That’s what coaching is about. You don’t get to experience that very much at the NBA level.”
On whether he expects anyone on his staff to be interviewed for various open head coaching positions…
“I hope so. I can’t say enough about how good my staff is. I think Jay Triano and Nate Tibbetts and David Vanterpool are all ready to be considering for head coaching jobs. I think they’re all prepared to do a great job as a head coach depending on whatever a team is looking for. I hope they get consideration because they’re all very deserving.
On many of his teammates deciding to stay in Portland during the offseason…
“That means a lot because I stay here every summer. I’m used to coming in here like ‘I wonder when everybody else coming back to town,’ you know what I mean? The trainers are here, the coaches are here and it’s an empty gym. And even after the game last night, on the plane, I started getting worried already. I was sitting on the plane like ‘Man, we had some success this year, it was unexpected it was no pressure. Next year people gonna expect a little bit more’ and I started to get worried about too many pats on the back. ‘They weren’t supposed to do this but they did that.’ I started getting worried, but we don’t have those kind of guys. We’ve got hungry guys, we’ve got humble guys that work hard. We had a taste this season as a young group of how well we could do and what it takes. We lost to a really experienced, championship team. That makes me happy to hear that so many guys are going to be here working out in the summer because that lets me know that they see how close we are and they see how important it’s going to be going forward.”
On free agency and having a say in the process…
“I’m pretty sure they’ll communicate what the plans are with me, but like I’ve said in the past, my job is to be a good teammate, to make sure I put in my time and become a better player and that’s what I’ll do. They ask me my opinion on something, I’ll give them my honest opinion, but I love all the guys that we have on our roster now. I think going forward, if we continue to grow together, we’ll be a good team. Obviously it’s a business and rosters change, players make decisions for themselves, so when that time comes, we’ll see what happens. But when they come to me ask for my opinion or what I think about something, I’ll tell them what I think.”
On what he’s looking for as a restricted free agent…
“Any pay raise is going to be significantly higher than what I’m making now. But like I said earlier, it’s just situation really for me. It doesn’t make sense to make a lot of money and go to a team that, if you don’t fit that system, then get paid a lot of money to be frustrated? That doesn’t make sense to me. The culture here, it’s great. I know this organization well, I know the system, know the coaches, players. It’s just real comfortable here. I wouldn’t mind being here, I really wouldn’t. It’s really just coming down to situation and how I can continue to improve as a basketball player.”
On head coach Terry Stotts…
“Definitely think he should get an extension. I feel like everybody here knows that he should get an extension. He’s done a great job with this team. It’s really hard to put into words what he did with this group because nobody expected us to do what we did. Even from Day One, even through the games where we were 11-20, seven-game losing streak, he never folded and he always told us it’s all about trusting the process and we stuck with that throughout this whole year.”
On spending time in Portland this offseason…
“I think, for one, it doesn’t rain a lot in the summer, so that helps. Just being around the facility, 24 hour access, you’re able to get a lot of things done without a distraction. You go home, you go to certain cities, you either got to pay to get in the gym or you’ve got to worry about people interrupting you while you workout. I go back to my high school but sometimes I’ve got to just like lock the door so I can just workout and not have to worry about certain interruptions because you can’t get through a full workout when people are coming in, talk to you. It’s meant to be a compliment to you, it’s hard. So I think it helps that here, you just come in, the doors are locked, you’ve got your finger scan, you workout when you want, the weather is nice. You’re paying rent here anyway, so it makes sense.”
On the camaraderie of the roster and the changes that might be in store…
“I think we had a really unique group. They did a great job of putting together like minds, young guys who are easy to talk to. Nobody is really arrogant or overly cocky. We’ve got some ignorant guys on the team that you guys guys know who’s outlandish with his statements. I won’t put him out there, he knows who he is. Besides that, we all got along well, everybody spoke their minds, nobody was afraid to say certain things. If somebody played bad, if somebody wasn’t doing things the right way, you could address it and nobody would frown or look at you the wrong way. So I like the way our team is put together, I like the work ethic everybody had. This is one of the rare teams where you could hang out with players off the court. Everybody’s got their friends, but I could hang out with any one of the 15 guys off the court and be perfectly comfortable, eat dinner, et cetera… We’ve got a really good unit and a lot of guys made themselves some money this year, a lot of guy’s prices went up. Hopefully we can rekindle the flame, but if not, we had a good run, we had a good year together collectively and wish everybody the best of luck in the free agency process.
On how he’s approaching restricted free agency…
“To be honest with you, I haven’t had a real concrete conversation with my agent about this. I wanted it to be, right now, about my rehab and about supporting the guys, being there however I could, I guess more from an emotional standpoint, for the team. I certainly wish I could have been out there. With that being said, I’m sure we’ll talk within the next couple of days about how we’re going to really approach this, the timing of things, I suppose what teams are interested, what teams would maybe like to meet in person. I don’t have a concrete plan at this point. Restricted free agency, it gets a little hairy, it takes time, teams maybe don’t want to tie their money up. I honestly don’t know all the ins and outs of it. Like I said before the season when I didn’t accept an extension, I’m confident in where I’m at. It’s my agent’s job to present whatever he has on his mind and what’s on my plate from that side of things. My job right now is simply to rehab my shoulder, continue to work on my leg strength, which is a huge focus of mine for this summer, and just figure out different way in the weight room or out here, even simple things as ball handling, just trying to improve as a player and as a man.”
On why he’s going to spend much of the offseason in Portland…
“I’m coming back to Portland just because went through all that rain, got to enjoy some of the sun. I like it here. I’m renting a spot, so I’m just going to stay here. I like Todd (Forcier) and BK (Ben Kenyon) and those guys, so definitely going to put a lot of work in in the weight room. It’s always good vibes here so I don’t think guys want to get away. Some teams, you want to get away just because you don’t like certain people. It’s not like that here. I enjoyed being here so that’s why I’m going to stick around and do most of my training out here.”
On the realities of keeping a roster with multiple free agents together…
“It’s going to be tricky with all the salary cap stuff going on. I think a lot of the guys who are free agents definitely raised their value. I think everyone did. You never know. I hope all those guys get paid well, I think they will. They deserve it. You just never know with free agency, who they go after and things like that, but I hope everybody comes back, but that’s not really realistic. It doesn’t really work like that in the league. I just tried to enjoy that time yesterday because I’ve been around a little bit and I know how the business side of things work.”
On his mindset going into the offseason…
“This summer is big for me, become more of a scoring threat. I think there’s a lot to be added. I look forward, if the opportunity is there, to come back to have some stability from a staff perspective. I would look forward to coming back to a similar situation from one season to the next. I’ve played for three coaches in three years, so I think that would be something I’d look forward to as well… Once you’ve been traded, you never know.”
On being a restricted free agent…
“Free agency is something I haven’t really thought about. I’ve tried not to think about it during the season and we just finished yesterday, so it hasn’t really been on my mind yet. It’s something that we’ll have to think about soon.”
On his first season in Portland…
I loved it. It was by far the most fun season I’ve had. These guys here are great, the organization is great. I really, really enjoyed it and looking forward to seeing what happens this summer.”
On his first season in Portland…
“It’s the most fun year I think I’ve had as a pro. We had a great group of guys, high character guys, silly guys and it was a fun year. That’s without even being on the court. On the court, we had a special group. We came together halfway through, really made it a special year all the way until last night when we’re playing against the champions, gave them all we had. Played a tough series, obviously it didn’t end the way that we wanted it to, but it’s a year we’re all proud of.”
His thoughts on entering free agency and what he’s looking for…
This is my second time doing it and it’ll be a little different than the first time. I think getting a taste of what this year and this postseason was like and how much fun, how competitive it is, I think, number one, being on a team that’s a winning team. It’s obviously tough to get on one of the elite elite teams, but that could be a possibility. That could easily be a possibility here. Being on a team that is about winning and that’s a good fit for me.
On his first season with the Trail Blazers…
“It was an amazing journey of growth. We grew a lot throughout the season, personally and as a team. It was just fun to be a part of it.”
How he looks back on the season in terms of enjoyment…
The season was great. Any time you have guys that are the same age, it just makes it a lot easier to get along. It’s easy to have relatable points, different things like that. A lot of us are going through similar things in our careers so you get to relate on that note. When it came to comfortably in that sense, it was just unbelievable. And then I think that’s why the chemistry was there as well. Even our vets and the older guys like Chris Kaman, they were a joy to be around as well. From top to bottom, everybody was kind of in that same wavelength of what they were trying to do. It just made it easy to get along.