SAN ANTONIO — Texas hasn’t been nearly as kind to the Trail Blazers this time around.
After winning the first two games of their first-round series versus the Rockets in Houston, the Trail Blazers now find themselves down 2-0 to the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals after a 114-97 loss Thursday night at the AT&T Center.
“We were good in spots, but I don’t think we are close to playing our best game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts “We were good in the first quarter. I thought we were good for a long period of the second half. That second quarter, the lead just ballooned. You get down and you’re fighting an uphill battle. It is hard to evaluate the game because of that stretch.”
The series now moves to Portland, where the Trail Blazers will host the Spurs for next two games start Saturday night at the Moda Center.
After getting run out of the building early in Game 1, the Trail Blazers turned in a vastly superior effort to start Game 2. San Antonio still managed to shoot 52 percent from the field and Portland turned the ball over four times, but the Trail Blazers held Tony Parker to just two points, pounded the glass for 12 rebounds and shot 42 percent from the field.
Sure, they trailed 29-26 going into the second half, but after being down 13 points after 12 minutes in Game 1, a three-point deficit was an absolute victory for the road team.
next 12 minutes, however, were not fruitful. San Antonio reeled off a 19-4 run early in the second to take complete control of the game. The Spurs would shoot 63 percent from the field and 71 percent from three in the quarter to finish with 41 points, a franchise worse for points allowed in a quarter in the playoffs. San Antonio would lead by as many as 20 before taking a 70-51 lead into the halftime intermission.
“The first five minutes (of the second quarter) was huge for them,” said Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum. “They scored 25 points. They got offensive rebounds, threes, we didn’t stop them. We had a good start finally. Compared to last game we had a good first quarter. Right there in the game, but then the first five minutes we let them do whatever they wanted. They made threes, offensive rebounds, transition points, made their run and the crowd got into it and it was tough to get back into the game after that.”
Despite the deficit, the Trail Blazers would make a game of it in the second half, cutting the lead to eight with 5:37 to play after a Nicolas Batum three-pointer brought the score to 91-99.
“What was working for us in the second half was at the defensive end,” said Stotts. “They didn’t have any fastbreak points the second half, we did a much better job of defensive rebounding and that allows you to play in open court, it doesn’t put as much pressure on your halfcourt offense, takes the crowd out of the game a little bit. So I thought that’s what was important in the second half.”
But the Spurs would use another momentum-crushing run in the fourth, this one of the 11-2 variety, to ensure yet another double-digit victory.
“The first two games, they went on a big run in the first half of both games,” said Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard. “Then in the second half, we come out and make those adjustments and those corrections and clean things up and then we play a much better half. We have to do a better job of taking away those second chances. Every offensive rebound they get is leading to three-pointers and they’re kicking it out to their shooters and getting them going with open threes, and that’s putting them in rhythm for the rest of the game. I thought we did a great job in the second half, but we put ourselves in too big of a hole to begin with. If we don’t do that in the first half, then who knows what type of game it is at the end.”
Portland was led by Batum, who bounced back from a terrible Game 1 performance to finish with game-high 21 points, nine rebounds and two assists in 44 minutes.
Damian Lillard ended with 19 points, five rebounds and five assists and Wesley Matthews scored 10 points in the third quarter to finish the game with 14. Will Barton, playing extended minutes due to a groin injury suffered by Mo Williams, went 5 of 5 from the field for 13 points in 12 minutes.
“Will Barton, the way (Spurs) rotation is with their perimeter guys, I thought he was a good match,” said Stotts of the decision to play Barton. “In the first half we went with our small lineup, I liked his activity. Just looking for a spark and I think he’s played well both games.”
LaMarcus Aldridge struggled to find his touch Thursday night, finishing with 16 points on 23 shots.
“I definitely wasn’t in a good rhythm tonight,” said Aldridge. “I missed two dunks and four or five layups, so if those shots go in then the whole game is different. We know that we haven’t played our best basketball, so now we have to. Going home, every guy has to play better, starting with me, and I think every guy will.”
Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard scored 12 of his 20 points in the first quarter to lead the Spurs. Both Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker scored 16 points apiece. Marco Belinelli and Boris Diaw combined for 25 points off the bench.
Now the Trail Blazers will undergo the task of trying to win their first game of the semifinals Saturday night in Portland.
“They won their two home games and took care of home, and now we have the opportunity to do the same,” said Lillard. “Just going home doesn’t mean that we’re going to win the games the way that they did, just going home and getting two wins. It’s going to be tough, but we have confidence in what we can do on our home floor with our crowd being behind us, and just the way that we play in our home city.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 PM.
Howdy kind listeners. Before we all take some much needed respite before the start of a brutal March schedule, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the studios at the Moda Center to record an All-Star break edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this week’s episode we marvel at the Trail Blazers being 27-27, good for seventh in the Western Conference, and how that’s going to cost Freeman some money/beer at some point, the emergence of Maurice Harkless since joining the starting lineup, Portland rising while other teams in their general range struggle, discuss how we’ll be spending our respective All-Star breaks and answer a host of questions pertaining to the upcoming trade deadline, Gerald Henderson’s tenure in Portland, Damian Lillard passing Brandon Roy and a bunch of other stuff that I’ve already since forgotten. As I noted during the show, my brain is already on vacation.
You can find the Rip City Report on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher. And consider using a small portion of the time you would usually spend watching the Blazers to give us a review on iTunes! You can be as mean as you want!
Though they were never teammates, Damian Lillard and Brandon Roy manage to talk from time to time. Their relationship started not long after Lillard was selected by the Trail Blazers with the sixth overall pick of the 2012 Draft and they’ve stayed in contact ever since over the years. During those somewhat regular chats, the current and former faces of the Trail Blazers’ franchise sometimes discuss the responsibility that comes with that title, especially at a relatively young age, and what could have been if the 6-3 guard out of Weber State and the now-retired 6-6 guard out of Washington ever had the opportunity to play alongside each other in Rip City.
And the next time they talk, they’ll have something new to discuss. With his 31-point performance in Tuesday night’s victory versus the Rockets, Lillard passed Roy for 15th in franchise history in points. Lillard now has 6,119 in less than four seasons in Portland, surpassing the the 6,107 points that Roy scored in five seasons before knee injuries ended his career far too prematurely.
“I mean, that’s an honor,” said Lillard of passing Roy. “Just to be moving up on that list period, but I mean, if Brandon Roy got to play as long as he should have played and people would have liked to have seen him play, I probably would never pass him, so it’s a great accomplishment. It’s an honor you know, but the more important thing is just continuing to be myself and continuing to win games.”
Which Lillard has done an excellent job of his season. He’s the only player to rank in the top-6 in both scoring (24.3 points per game) and assists (7.3 assist per game) this season and has led the Trail Blazers to a 27-27 record this season, vastly outperforming preseason expectations, despite being the only holdover from last season’s starting five.
Though he’s had plenty of help this season from the likes of CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis, Lillard’s performance through 54 games is the the primary reason that the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in seventh place in the Western Conference. Roy, a three-time All-Star, was a fantastic player in his own right, a player whose peak performances are still the stuff of legend in Portland, but even he never carried the load that Lillard has this season. And of course, Lillard has already helped the Trail Blazer win a playoff series in his first four season in Portland, something Roy never accomplished.
“He’s been pretty good in a short amount of time,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of Lillard. “I mean, Brandon Roy, I wasn’t here for that, but I know what an imprint he made on the city and the franchise and how important he was to the Blazers. The fact that Damian has passed him this early in his career really says something because I know how good Brandon was. I know his career was cut short but everybody here holds him in high regard.”
Assuming Lillard experiences relatively good health — the seven games he missed this season due to plantar fascitiis are the only games he’s missed in his profession career thus far — there’s no reason to think that he won’t replace Roy as the best guard to play in Portland since Clyde Drexler, if he hasn’t taken that mantel already. But Roy can take some satisfaction in knowing that at least some of the success Lillard has had as a Trail Blazer was accomplished in part due to emulating the example he set on and off the court.
“When (Roy) got to Portland, a lot of the stuff he did, it brought excitement,” said Lillard. “I think the city really embraced him, they liked who he was as a person along with what he did as a player, obviously. I think because I kind of came and did the same thing, did some of the same things he did, I think he respects that… He was well respected, people appreciated the kind of person he was and he got it done on the floor. I think I can say the same for myself.”
PORTLAND — What a nice way to go into the All-Star break.
For the second time in five days, the Trail Blazers built a large third-quarter lead against the Rockets, then allowed them to make a comeback, only to make a final push to come away with the double-digit victory, this time to the tune of a 116-103 win in front of a sellout crowd of 19,393 at the Moda Center.
“I really like the way we’re playing right now,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Defensively, we’ve been really good the last two or three weeks. Our aggressiveness has been good, our alertness has been very good and I thought we did that for most of the night tonight. It’s good to go into the break on a win streak and playing well.”
The Trail Blazers are now 27-27 overall and 16-11 at the Moda Center this season. With the win, Portland is .500 for the first time since the team was 4-4 on November 9, 2015, have won eight of their last 10 games at home and 12 of their last 15 games overall, regardless of venue. Thanks to that streak, the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings while the Rockets, a team that started the game in seventh place, drop to ninth.
“We dug ourselves a hole to start the season, giving up some games late, but we stuck with it, we kept going, we kept working,” said Damian Lillard. “We didn’t get too high or low. We were able to close in and get to .500 going into the break. Our team has done a great job of sticking to the grind, working every day in practice and staying together. That’s gotten us to where we are now.”
After ending the first quarter tied 29-29, the Trail Blazers used a 18-3 run in the second quarter to build a 12-point lead. Portland would expand their lead to 21, only to see the Rockets cut the deficit to five with 9:31 to play in the fourth. But the Trail Blazers would close out the game by outscoring the Rockets 23-15 to come away with the 13-point victory.
Portland won Tuesday’s contest despite shooting worse percentage than the Rockets from the field and the three-point line, but making eight more free throws despite having the same number of attempts and turning 20 Rockets turnovers in to 31 points more than made up for their so-so field goal percentages.
“I like the fact that we’re doing it within the context of our defense rather than gambling and extending our defense,” said Stotts of forcing turnovers. “We’re being aggressive on the ball, we’re alert on the weak side, so I think those two things combined help create those turnovers.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who went 9-of-22 from the field, 4-of-11 from three and 9-of-11 from the free throw line for 31 points to go along with nine assists, three rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes.
Maurice Harkless remained in the starting lineup, despite Noah Vonleh being on the active list for the first time in the last two games, and responded with his best game as a Trail Blazers with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 13 rebounds and two steals in 28 minutes.
“I liked his defense on Harden, he finished around the basket, he got rebounds, he ran the floor well,” said Stotts of Harkless. “He did a little bit of everything in a kind of understated way.”
Meyers Leonard went 6-of-9 from the field for 14 points while grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Al-Farouq Aminu shot just under 50 percent to finish with 11 points and five rebounds and Ed Davis grabbed 13 rebounds in 21 minutes. Gerald Henderson went just 3-of-10 from the field but made up for it by going 7-of-10 from the line to finish with 13 points.
The Rockets were led by James Harden, who finished with 34 points, and Dwight Howard, who added 28 points and 13 rebounds in 35 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers have more than a week off before hosting the Golden State Warriors on February 19.
“We’re playing well and hopefully when we get back we pick up where we left off,” said Stotts, “but everybody could use a break.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm.