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.
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.
The 2016 NBA Draft is on Thursday, and as you’re probably well aware, the Trail Blazers do not currently own a pick in either round. Their first round pick, which ended up being the 19th selection, was sent to Denver as a part of the trade that brought in Arron Afflalo at the 2014 trade deadline. And their second round pick, which would have been the 48th selection, was sent to Cleveland — which Cleveland later traded to Chicago — as a part of the 2013 draft night trade that netted the Trail Blazers Allen Crabbe (by the way, I was the first person to tell AC he had been traded to Portland). Of course, just because the team doesn’t have a pick doesn’t mean they haven’t been preparing for Thursday’s draft for months, but as of today, the Trail Blazers are on the outside looking in.
Not that the Trail Blazers are alone in that. Portland is one of six teams this year that doesn’t have a first round pick in the 2016 Draft, which means there are numerous teams that have multiple first round picks. And according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Johnathan Givony on today’s The Vertical Podcast, therein lies the opportunity for a team like the Trail Blazers. The combination of teams, some of which that are necessarily looking to add a bunch of young players, owning multiple picks and the vastly different opinions teams have regarding players in this year’s class leads both Wojnarowski and Givony to believe there’s an opportunity for teams to get into the first round…
Adrian Wojnarowski: Every year there are plenty of trades, I think there will be even more this year, for a few reasons. One being, teams that we talked about — Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto has multiple picks, and Phoenix, Denver — they do not want to bring in a training camp full of kids. They can’t come out of this draft with three young players, most of these rosters aren’t built to do that. I think we’re going to see a lot of deals.
And there’s teams outside of the first round — Portland, Brooklyn, Houston — who, if the opportunity strikes, would like to get in. If there’s a player that they want who’s lingering there in the early 20s and they think they can get at him, then they potentially make a deal on draft night.
This is one, I think, especially with the multiple picks, I think you might agree, that we’re going to see a lot of movement. Teams jumping out, teams jumping in. The way the mock draft looks right now, I think it’s going to look very different Thursday night by 10 o’clock.
Jonathan Givony: Definitely. It’s two things we talked about. First of all, every team has this draft rated very, very differently and if there’s a player that a team has rated as a lottery pick and he starts sliding into the late teens, I think you’re going to see a team jump up and try to get him. If DeAnte Davis, if he starts sliding into the later part of the teens — if Henry Ellenson, if Skal (Labissiere), if (Ivica) Zubac. There’s so many big guys, that’s what’s interesting about this draft. There’s so many power forward/centers that think they’re going to go in the lottery and there aren’t enough spots for them because the NBA, their just not that interested in big men anymore…
I think that free agency is going to be in the back of everybody’s head, there’s so much new money coming in, everybody is going to have cap room. Like you said, they’re not looking to get kids. Kids aren’t getting you to the playoffs, kids aren’t winning you playoff games, and so they’re going to want to stay lean. That means not having three or four guys that you draft that you need to bring to training camp. So that’s where I think things are going to get real interesting and teams that are really aggressive are going to jump up and try and get some of these guys that slide down the board.
What it might take to acquire a pick in either round is anybody’s guess, but one thing you can be sure of is that a team owned by Paul Allen is going to be active on draft night — one needs to look back no further than to last year’s draft, where the Trail Blazers flipped their pick, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, to the Nets in exchange for Mason Plumlee and Pat Connaughton for proof of that. And Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has already vowed the team will be “aggressive” if any of the players they have on their wishlist become available, meaning that just because they enter Thursday’s draft without a pick doesn’t mean they’ll leave empty handed.