HOUSTON — The Rockets were bound to win at home eventually. And on Wednesday night, that eventuality came to fruition.
After losing the first two games of the series at home, Houston staved off elimination for at least one more game by holding off the Trail Blazers 108-98 in Game 5 of the Western Conference four/five first-round series. The Trail Blazers still hold a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 scheduled for Friday in Portland.
“It was another hard-fought game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Obviously we got down early in the first half. I didn’t think, first half, we really played the way we’ve been playing most of the series at either end of the floor. We turned the ball over a little bit too much, a little out of sorts defensively. We made a good run at it in the second half. It was just another hard-fought game. Look forward to playing them on Friday.”
Both teams seemed primarily interested playing the offensive side of the ball to start the game, with both teams shooting better than 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three in the first quarter. Damian Lillard, with his mother watching from the stands in Houston, got off to a hot start with 10 points in the first 12 minutes while also grabbing two rebounds, handing out two assists and poking away two steals. The Rockets employed a more balanced attack, with Chandler Parsons, Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverly combining for 18 points to help Houston to a 30-27 lead after the first quarter.
But trouble was already on the horizon. The Blazers would go scoreless in the last two minutes of the first quarter and the first three minutes of the second, which afforded the Rockets the opportunity to take a 14-point lead after a Troy Daniels three-point connected at the 9:41 mark of the second quarter. The Trail Blazers used a quick 7-0 run to get the deficit under control, but Houston answered right back to take a 17-point lead, their largest of the game, with 5:39 to play in the first half.
“I think we may have underestimated how desperate they were going to come out,” said Robin Lopez. “I think it was just the energy in the first half. I don’t know if Houston did anything different. They just came out very desperately.”
Luckily for Portland, they had been in the same situation before and knew how to react. They finished the half on a 14-5 run to go into the intermission down a very manageable 56-48.
‘They’re going to continue to fight,” said Parsons of the Trail Blazers. “They’re resilient no matter how far they get down. They’re going to keep attacking you and they’ve got guys who are capable of hitting some tough shots.”
And in the third, it would be Wesley Matthews who hit those tough shots, not to mention the easy shots. In just over 11 minutes in the third, Matthews hit 6 of 7 shoots from the field, 4 of 5 from three and 2 of 2 from the free throw line for 18 points.
“I felt good, but I was just playing basketball,” said Matthews. “I don’t think I went into that quarter thinking that I had to be aggressive, but it was in the flow of the game and my teammates were finding me and my shots were falling.”
Even with Howard scoring 10 in the third, the Trail Blazers went into the fourth down just five points, which set the scene for what looked like another close finish in a series that has already seen three overtime games.
“There’s no question that we thought we were going to win that game,” said Matthews. In an 82-game season, you play in every kind of game and we have been a resilient team all year. We’ve been in deficits that we’ve allowed ourselves to get into, but we’ve been able to pull them out.”
It looked like that would once again be the case after Lillard cut Houston’s lead with 100-98 with 3:39 to play in regulation. But Lillard’s layin would be Portland’s last points of the game as Houston finished the evening a 10-2 run to close out the game and ensure a Game 6 in Portland.
“We didn’t make certain shots that we needed,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “We didn’t get the big stops down the stretch and I think they definitely played well down the stretch. We didn’t.”
Portland was led by Matthews, who finished with 27 points on 9 of 18 shooting from the field and 5 of 9 shooting from three. Matthews also added two rebounds and three blocks in 39 minutes.
“Wes picked up where he left off in Game 4,” said Stotts. “Third quarter he kept us afloat. He’s shooting the ball well, his defense has been consistent throughout the series. He makes all the effort plays that we need to make to win a game, to win a series. It’s something that we count on him doing.”
Lillard also shot 50 percent from the field to finish with 26 points. He also had his best game of the series, statistically, with seven assists, eight rebounds and four steals in 43 minutes.
Robin Lopez also has one of his best games of the postseason, finishing with 17 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. Nicolas Batum scored 15 to go with five rebounds and four assists.
Aldridge finished the night with just eight points on 3 of 12 shooting. He picked up two fouls in the first six minutes of the game and never seemed able to find his shot for the first time in the series.
“I think the early foul trouble probably got (Aldridge) a little out of rhythm,” said Stotts. “Our team is constructed where we’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities that are there. Obviously LA didn’t score but we still scored 98 and we had some opportunities in the last three minutes.”
The Rockets were saved by the play of reserve point guard Jeremy Lin, who finished with 21 points on 9 of 15 shooting while hitting timely shots when it looked as though the Trail Blazers might finally get over the hump in the fourth quarter.
“He hit two big shots as the shot clock was coming down in both halves, big momentum plays,” said Stotts. “Those two were big momentum plays for them and kind of took a little bit out of us because both of those plays we had a good defensive stand and then he throws it up at the end. But his penetration hurt us, particularly in the second half and we know he’s very capable of doing that for them. For him to have 21 off the bench gave them a lot of found points.”
Portland’s bench, however, finished with just five points on 2 of 11 shooting.
Dwight Howard added 22 points and 14 rebounds. Chandler Parsons and James Harden finished with 20 and 17 points, respectively.
Next up, the Trail Blazers will try to close out the series at home Friday night at the Moda Center.
“They came home and they took care of their home court,” said Aldridge. “Now we’ll go back home to Portland and we’ll try and do the same thing. We’ve been a good at home all year, and now we’ll go back home and take care of business.”
Tickets are still available for the scheduled 7:30 PM tipoff on KGW, ESPN and 620 AM.
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
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.”