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.
And we’re back. After the Trail Blazers defeated a shorthanded Clippers team 109-98 in Game Five at Staples Center to take a 3-2 lead in the first round series, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studios once again to deliver another playoff edition of the Rip City Report podcast. Please consider listening…
On this episode, Joe and I discuss the Trail Blazers being on the verge of winning just their second playoff series in the last 16 years, what we’re expecting to see during Game Six Friday in Portland, make our picks for the Trail Blazers’ MVP and most surprising during the first five games, how the injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin change the narrative surrounding the series and answer some of your Twitter-submitted questions regarding Chris Kaman’s birthday, non-Moda Center places to watch Game Six, player playoff bonuses and give a few binge watching suggestions, not that you’d ever need to watch TV again with all these fine podcasts we’re providing for you.
After struggling in the first few games of their first round playoff series, the play of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in Games Three, Four and Five has been one of the main reasons the Trail Blazers hold a 3-2 advantage versus the Clippers. Mason Plumlee has arguably been Portland’s most valuable player, and both Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless have delivered game-changing performances at times during the series, but the attention Lillard and McCollum draw from the Clippers’ defense has allowed for their teammates to have a chance to shine in the postseason. And despite L.A.’s defensive gameplan focusing almost exclusively on stopping Portland’s starting backcourt, Lillard and McCollum are combining to average just over 40 points a game during the 2016 playoffs.
Given that, and the fact that they even made the playoffs, let alone are a game away from winning Portland’s second playoff series in the last 15 years, TNT analyst Charles Barkley declared on last night’s edition of “Inside The NBA” that Portland’s backcourt is second only to Golden State’s, the team the Trail Blazers would face should they advance to the next round.
Damian Lillard was having one of his worst shooting nights of the season through the first three 36 minutes of Portland’s 108-98 victory versus the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Five of their first round playoff series Wednesday night at Staples Center. Though he no longer had to deal with being defended by guard Chris Paul, who is out of the series after breaking a bone in his right hand during Game Four, the Clippers continued their series-long tactic of throwing constant double teams and traps at Lillard, pestering the 6-3 point guard to go just 1-of-10 from the field through the first three quarters.
“It wasn’t even so much missing the shots that was bothering me, it was just I couldn’t get any attempts because they were so aggressive,” said Lillard. “They played a smaller lineup more often than they did the first couple games, but everything that I did, they were just as aggressive. It was obvious that they wanted me to get rid of the ball just like it was in the first four games.”
And for most of the night, the strategy worked. Despite being being without Paul and Blake Griffin, who is also out for the series with a left quad injury, the Clippers took a five-point lead into the intermission. Even when CJ McCollum got his shot going in the third quarter, scoring 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, Los Angeles was still able to go into the fourth quarter tied at 71-71.
But even though Lillard was struggling, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts decided to leave his point guard in the game to start the fourth quarter. Stotts said after the game that he changed up that rotation in order to get McCollum some extra rest, though it ultimately had another benefit.
“I usually play the third and then I sit the first couple minutes of the fourth,” said Lillard. “But I hadn’t gotten it going, and Coach Stotts knew that it was a game that we needed to win. It was a huge game for us. I think he left me out there just so I could get it going.”
Which he did. Lillard made his first attempt of the fourth quarter, a 26-foot pullup three-pointer, after just 15 seconds had elapsed in the fourth. Less than two minutes later, he made another pullup three. He stripped Clippers guard Pablo Prigioni on the ensuing possession and then converted the turnover into a fastbreak dunk, which gave Lillard eight points roughly two minutes.
“I’ve always been able to put the first three quarters behind me and come up big when my team has needed it,” said Lillard. “All my teammates throughout the game, they just kept saying, keep shooting, stay with it, stay aggressive, keep your mind right. I would have been doing that all along, but it felt good to have that encouragement and that support, especially with them trapping so high out. I had to trust the right play, hitting the guy in the middle and allowing him to make the next play to the weak side. I just had to be patient.”
But Lillard wasn’t done just yet. He left the game with just over nine minutes to play in order to get the rest that he’d usually get at the start of the quarter before returning at the 6:25 mark to presumably play the remainder of regulation.
And from there, it was Lillard Time.
He’s go on to make a 16-foot jumper and two three-pointers over the course of a two-minute span that saw the Trail Blazers extend their lead from 10 to 17 while effectively putting the game out of reach with 3:38 to play. By time Lillard subbed out with just under a minute to play, he had put up 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from three in eight and a half fourth-quarter minutes, helping Portland take a 3-2 series lead with what could be a deciding Game Six scheduled for Friday at the Moda Center.
Some players might have chosen, either subconsciously or otherwise, to defer exclusively to his teammates or find reasons not to shoot after struggling through the first three quarters like Lillard did. But that’s not how he got to where he’s at, and it certainly wouldn’t get the Trail Blazers to where they want to go. Regardless of how the game starts, Lillard is always out to finish thanks to a firm belief that the next shot, and the one after that, and the one after that, is going to find the bottom of the net.
“Regardless of how I play in the first three quarters, always in my mind I tell myself, ‘You going to come up big,’” said Lillard. “Even if it comes down to one possession, if I’ve got one point and there’s one possession left in the game, I always tell myself, ‘You’re going to come up big.’ So I was counting on that. That was it. It’s just the mindset, confidence.”