Rockets Hold Off Elimination With Game 5 Win In Houston

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 years ago

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.

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Trail Blazers Finally Break Through In Memphis In Overtime

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
20 hours ago

MEMPHIS — The Portland Trail Blazers haven’t had much luck in Memphis over the last few years, be it in the regular season or playoffs. But their fortunes in the River City changed Monday night, as the Trail Blazers overcame a five-point deficit in the final 90 seconds of regulation, were the beneficiaries of basketball’s version of an own goal to force overtime and then proceeded to allow just four points in the extra period on the way to defeating the Grizzlies 112-106 in front of 15,892 at FedExForum.

“I was really pleased with our perseverance in that game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We just kept after it. We did a lot of good things, enough to win the game, but a lot of good contributions by a lot of guys and showed a lot of heart to win that game on the road.”

Portland is now 26-27 overall, which is a half game back from the Utah Jazz for eighth place in the Western Conference, and 11-16 on the road this season. The win is Portland’s first in Memphis since January 4, 2013, snapping a streak of eight-straight losses, including playoffs, and their 15th overtime victory since the start or the 2012-13 season. The Trail Blazers have won 11 of their last 14 games, with four of those occurring on the road.

Monday night’s game seemed destined to go to overtime, as evidenced by three of the four quarters ending with a buzzer-beating field goal. Between 17 lead changes, none of which were by more than six points, and 18 ties and it only seemed fair that Monday’s contest would last longer than the traditional 48 minutes.

Though the end of regulation probably didn’t feel all that fair to the Grizzlies or their supporters. Tony Allen’s free throw with 7.6 seconds to play in the fourth quarter gave Memphis a 102-100, a lead that survived a Damian Lillard three-point attempt with roughly 2.0 seconds to play and a would-be CJ McCollum putback. Both Allen Crabbe and Gerald Henderson would make contact with the loose ball as it bounced off the rim, but replays would show that it was actually Grizzlies forward Jeff Green who touched the ball last before it passed through the net as time expired. It wasn’t entirely clear what the call on the floor was initially, but in the end, Crabbe was credited with the basket, even though Henderson seemed to be the last Blazer to touch the ball, and the game went to overtime.

“I tried to make a play on the ball and it went in so they gave me the two points so I’m going to take credit for the tip-in,” said Crabbe. “I feel like I had a piece of the ball. I don’t want to lie, I saw the ball come out and I was down there. We can all just go back to the footage really and check it out. Like I said, they gave me the two points so I tipped it in.”

After going 4-of-12 from the field in the first three quarters, McCollum scored the first six points of the overtime to give the Trail Blazers a 108-102 lead with under two minutes to play.

“CJ McCollum was struggling, but over time late in the fourth into overtime, it was good to see him,” said Stotts. We needed every one of (his points). But he got on track, he got his rhythm on his jump shot and for him to fight through some of the frustration he was having throughout the game and coming out strong late was really a good sign.”

As was Portland’s play on the defensive end in the overtime. The Trail Blazers held the Grizzlies to 2-of-13 shooting, blocked two shots and forced two turnovers in the overtime period, with the play of the game coming with 10 seconds to play and the Blazers clinging to a 108-106 lead. McCollum had a jumper blocked by Green, which Zach Randolph securing the rebound before finding a streaking Allen for what looked like an easy game-tying layin. But the Blazers gave chase rather than giving up on the play, prompting Allen to flub the layup.

“I thought we played with a lot of grit and defensively we have really picked it up, getting key stops,” said Stotts. “I thought the play of the game was the runback by Damian Lillard and Allen Crabbe and Ed Davis and Gerald Henderson on the layup, that could have gone either way. That was a big time hustle play and it was a winning play, and I think we really locked in on doing those type of things.”

Green’s putback attempt would also miss the mark, Davis would grab the rebound and all that would be left is for the Blazers to make their free throws, which they did, on the way to the four-point victory. In a season that has seen the Trail Blazers blow leads for losses on numerous occasions, winning a close game after trailing in the fourth quarter seemed to be a demonstrable sign of growth for a team that feels they’ve left a few wins on the table.

“We know how to close games out now,” said Crabbe, who finished with 13 points, four rebounds and three steals after missing Saturday’s game in Houston with a bout of gastritis. “We know what it takes now. Everybody is digging down defensively to get the stops we need. I think everybody’s game has taken that next step. As the season goes along, I just feel like we know how many wins we can get at home, winning in these situations and we need to make sure we get these wins. I think everybody is just on the same page and we’re just playing hard.”

The Blazers were led by Lillard, who score 20 points in the first half and went on to finish 9-of-22 from the field, 5-of-13 from three and 10-of-12 from the free throw line for 33 points in 43 minutes. It is the 12th time this season that the 6-3 point guard out of Weber State has scored at least 30 points.

“(Lillard) was really good all game obviously, but Memphis did a good job defensively in the second half,” said Stotts. “They went small pick-and-rolls, they did a good job defending the pick-and-rolls… But Damian certainly had it rolling in the first half.”

Lillard also added five assists, four rebounds, a steal and a block.

“I think our team was excited because our last time in Houston, we let the game slip at the end,” said Lillard. “Our last time (in Memphis) we lost the game with 0.6 seconds left. We’ve been playing a lot better since then. We handled our business in Houston, we came out tonight, we grinded it out, we had a lot of things not go our way, but we stayed the course, we stayed together, we trusted each other on the defensive end of the floor — I think that’s what it came down to.”

McC0llum late-game flurry helped the starting shooting guard shake off a tough start to finish with 21 points and six assists in 38 minutes. Gerald Henderson continued a streak of strong play to finish with 16 points and three rebounds in 35 minutes. Henderson, Crabbe, Davis and Maurice Harkless combined to score 47 points on 63 percent shooting off the bench in Monday’s victory.

Meyers Leonard started in place of Noah Vonleh, who missed his second-straight start with a sprained left ankle, and finished with three points in 13 minutes. Stotts opted to use a small lineup for most of the game after Grizzlies center Marc Gasol left the game in the first quarter with a right foot injury.

The Grizzlies were led by 27 points from Mike Conley, with Zach Randolph right behind him with 26 points on 12-of-19 shooting. Both Green and Mario Chalmers scored 12 points off the bench.

Next up, the Trail Blazers return home to host the Houston Rockets, a team they beat to start the now-completed two-game road trip on Saturday, with a chance to get back to .500 before the All-Star break. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm.

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Stotts Roots For His Doppelganger In Super Bowl 50

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 days ago

The 2015-16 NFL season comes to a close Sunday with the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers facing off at Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, CA. And after having an official rooting interest the last two years by way of the Seattle Seahawks, a team owned by Paul Allen, making the Super Bowl in consecutive seasons, the Trail Blazers seem fairly ambivalent about the result this time around. Various player on Portland’s roster have acquaintances on both the Broncos and Panthers, and Gerald Henderson is probably pulling slightly for Carolina considering he spent his first six NBA seasons in Charlotte while playing for the Bobcats/Hornets, but outside of those casual ties, the preference among most of the Trail Blazers is to simply see a good game regardless of which team wins.

Outside of Terry Stotts, that is. While he’s not taking the game too seriously, if at all, Portland’s head coach would like to see the Broncos win the Super Bowl for one reason: he looks a bit like Denver quarterback and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Despite being almost 20 years older and roughly five inches taller, it’s not uncommon for Stotts to be mistaken for Manning, at least outside of Portland.

“I was sitting in Starbucks in a Vegas and a guy kept looking at me while I was drinking my Starbucks,” recalled Stotts. “As I was leaving he showed me a picture on his phone and he goes ‘Is this you?’ and it was a picture of Peyton Manning. I said ‘No, wrong guy’… And last summer I was up in Canada and somebody thought I was Peyton Manning up there, too.”

It’s not hard to see the resemblance. They share similar complexions, similar builds and just have the somewhat difficult to pinpoint look of men who have played contact sports at their highest levels for extended periods of time. Putting your body through that kind of rigor obviously takes a toll, one that can be seen in both Stotts and Manning, the most obvious example being the long, thin nose rendered permanently crooked by countless hits and multiple breaks that both men share.

peytonstotts

But on a more obvious and less esoteric level, the two share some easy to distinguish features that make for apt comparisons. They both have narrow jaws, long faces, large foreheads and closely cropped, slightly thinning brown hair parted from left to right. Then there’s the shared facial expressions that fluctuate between aw-shucks when content and red-faced, about-to-blow when angered. Whatever is, Stotts looks enough like a Manning to get mistaken for Peyton on the regular while somehow avoiding comparisons to his younger brother Eli, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants.

One might assume Stotts would take offense at being mistaken for a Manning considering he’s built an impressive pro sports resume of his own, but apparently the flattery of the comparison more than outweighs the annoyance of being lesser known.

Said Stotts: “Saying that I look like someone who is 20 years younger than me is totally okay.”

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Harkless And Henderson Hit On The Same Night In Houston

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
3 days ago

It’s been a bit of an up and down year for both Maurice Harkless and Gerald Henderson in their first seasons as Trail Blazers since being acquired via separate trades during the 2015 offseason,

Henderson missed all of training camp, preseason and the first eight games of the regular season, a difficult hurdle for a new player to clear, even for one entering his seventh NBA season, after undergoing a minor hip surgery in the offseason. As for Harkless, he’s already appeared in more games this season with the Trail Blazers as he did during the entirety of his last season with the Orlando Magic, though he’s seen most of his statistics, from minutes to points to rebounds, diminish every month as the year has played out.

For much of the season, Harkless and Henderson have been in a competition for playing time, with head coach Terry Stotts playing both roughly equal minutes in the first half of games, with the second-half minutes going to whoever played the best in the first. That went on for the first half of the season until Stotts opted to cut his rotation from 10 players to nine, which resulted in Henderson’s minutes increasing considerably while Harkless was relegated to playing mop-up minutes or simply drawing DNPs.

But Saturday night in Houston, Stotts would need both Harkless and Henderson with starting power forward Noah Vonleh out with a sprained left ankle and Allen Crabbe, Portland’s top sixth man this season, sidelined with a bout of gastritis. They responded by combining for 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting while taking turns checking Rockets All-Star shooting guard James Harden as Portland defeated Houston 96-79 at the Toyota Center. It was arguably the first game in which both players exceeded the high hopes Trail Blazers fans had for the two athletic wings, a game in which they were menaces on the defensive end while managing to take advantage of the opportunities provided by playing alongside the likes of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the offensive end.

“I (Harkless) he was very consistent with (Harden),” said Stotts. “He had good length, he was really in tune every possession. Harden is a great player, he’s going to get shots and you’re not going to completely stop him but I thought he worked really hard on him.”

Harden finished with 33 points, but needed 18 shots from both the field and free throw line while committing a career-high 10 turnovers, due in large part to the effort Henderson and Harkless put in.

“Gerald had a lot of bounce,” said Stotts. “He’s been on a roll, he’s feeling very comfortable out there. I thought defensively, he was good as well, he had his stint on Harden.”

As noted by his head coach, Henderson played easily his best basketball of the season since the middle of January, which has coincided with the Trail Blazers winning 10 of their last 13 games. Whether it’s due to being completely fit after missing the start of the season or knowing he’s going to second-half minutes — or a combination of both — Henderson has looked more like the player who started 292 games over six season with the Hornets.

“I feel good. I think that’s how I’m used to playing. I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor. I think that helped us win tonight.

“I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor,” said Henderson. “I think that helped us win tonight.”

While Henderson’s production has become somewhat expected over the last month of the season, seeing Harkless go from playing seven minutes combined in the five games prior to starting the last two games in place of Vonleh has been a surprise. Harkless himself said he was a bit taken aback by his promotion, though it was something he had prepared himself for, even when he was only playing fourth-quarter blowout minutes.

“I just stayed locked in the whole time,” said Harkless. “Even when I wasn’t playing at all, just stayed locked in, stayed ready, just kept working every day. I knew it would come back around.”

He only got 16 minutes in his first start of the season versus the Raptors, taking just one shot and scoring just two points in the loss. But on Saturday, Harkless almost doubled his playing time to 30 minutes and made a much larger impression in the process, going 2-of-3 from three in the first quarter and 6-of-13 from the field for the game while grabbing six rebounds and tallying two steals.

“I definitely think I just played better tonight,” said Harkless. “Last game, I hadn’t played in six games or something like that, it kind of caught me off guard when (Stotts) told me I was starting. So I think a little bit of it was rust but tonight I just went out there and just played. Making those first two shots, that was big for me as well.”

“For a guy to go games without even checking on sometimes or getting in for the last few minutes of blowouts, he could have easily been in his feelings and checked out on us, but he’s stayed locked in,” said Damian Lillard of Harkless. “At practice when they get out there and play three-on-three, he’s playing hard, he’s competitive, he’s positive. He’s been himself. I talked to him, I told him ‘You’ve just got to stick with it. You’re a huge part of what we’re gonna do. Just keep your mind right and be ready because you never know.’ We had a few guys do down and now he’s playing really well for us. I was happy with the way he played tonight.”

It’s hard to tell what will happen to Harkless’ and, to a lesser extent, Henderson’s minutes once the Trail Blazers are back to full strength. But for the first time this season, the full potential of both players was a welcomed sight.

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