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.
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.”