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.
Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is currently holding his annual youth basketball camp in Beaverton, and unlike some of these events put on by other players, Lillard is there actually there working with the kids every day. If you send your child to the Damian Lillard Basketball Camp, he or she is going to meet Damian Lillard.
But even though the focus is on the kids, Lillard took a few minutes to take questions from the media about the camp, his recent trip to Asia, working with Special Olympics, the upcoming free agent signing period on his involvement with recruiting and why he declined to to play for Team USA.
Regarding the Damian Lillard Basketball Camp experience…
“When I get up there and speak, I tell them ‘Make sure you thank your parents, make sure you listen to the coaches, follow their instructions, be coachable, work hard.’ Just simple things like that, a lot of basic things that could teach them a lot more than how simple it is, things like that. Just being here and having a presence is the biggest thing. The session that you guys just watched, it’s something that I’ve enjoyed because it allows me to kind of break apart the game for the kids. For them it might be a little bit boring, but it’s 10 minutes of the day where they get to listen and see what’s going on, that it’s deeper than just a pass and a shot. Some of them are probably too young to follow it as well as the older ones, but I think it’s something that you can really teach them at a young age.”
On his relationship with Special Olympics…
“When I was 17, when I first got on campus at Weber State, it was a mandatory thing, we did a one day camp with Special Olympics. The first day I kind of just went in there, I didn’t really know much about it. But then I saw that some of them, they wanted to play against us and they could actually play. They had as much passion with the game as I did, they really enjoyed our company. I’ll never forget, it was a random day like months after the Special Olympics event and there was a kid — I’ll never forget his name — Jason Depper. I was at the mall and he walked up to me at the mall like ‘Remember I made that shot on you?’ and I was just like ‘That’s funny.’ It had that type of impact on him. I’ve been involved ever since.”
On his recent trip through Asia with adidas…
“It was fun, did some pop-ups at stores. I went to some 3-on-3 tournaments, watched a lot of kids play. They’re playing so they can all make it to Beijing and it’s like a super tournament over there right now. I did some promotion for my shoes and things like that, I went back to a store that I opened up after my rookie year in Taipei, I went back to Manila. We did a huge event there, I got to get in the three-point shootout, they let me perform a couple times over there. It was kind of on the spot performances, but I had a lot of fun.”
Why he decided not to be a part of the 2016 Olympic team…
“It was simple: the last three months of the season I played with plantar fasciitis and it really bothered me. There was days the games seemed like the only time I could play, and that was adrenaline and two hours of treatment before the game. I didn’t want to go into next season dealing with it. I actually really wanted to play and I was really close to saying ‘Just forget it, I’m going to go’ but I didn’t want to go to Rio and come back a month before training camp and my foot still be bothering me, then I can’t give what I want to give to my team. That was just more important to me.”
On free agency…
“I think there’s some guys out there that can really help take our team to the next level. I really like the guys we have, too. I’m a strong believer that if guys go home and get better over the summer, we come back, we’ll be that much better. We’ll continue to get better. But my job is to make sure that I’m prepared and when I’m asked about a player that can help us, I’m going to give my honest opinion. That’s my duty to our team.”
His thoughts on Portland’s free agency plan…
“I’m excited, because it’s not hard to see… Our whole roster could look at free agency and say ‘This guy could help us, this guy could help us.’ It’s just a matter of how bad they want to be here, what we have to offer compared to what they would like. We’ll see where it goes. I have no doubt that our team is going to be ready regardless of who we bring in, who we don’t bring in. We’ll come back ready.”
Whether he’s going to help recruit free agents in person…
“Maybe. Maaaaaaybe… I might. To help our team, of course.”
Greetings fans of NBA offseason news. With the 2106 Draft now completed and the free agent moratorium less than 48 away, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
This week, Trail Blazers power forward Meyers Leonard joins the show to discuss his travels around Oregon this offseason, rehabbing from the shoulder surgery that prematurely ended his 2015-16 season, “sprint mechanics” and his upcoming restricted free agency. As for the rest of the show, we briefly recap Portland’s draft night, which netted the team Maryland forward Jake Layman, discuss what we know about the negotiations regarding the team’s television rights and discuss the unpredictability that is free agency.
The relationship between Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver predates both of their current occupations. When the two first sat down for a interview back in 2010, McCollum had not yet been drafted by the Trail Blazers with the 10th overall pick of the 2012 Draft (though that would happen later that night) and Silver, while already tabbed to take over for outgoing commissioner David Stern, was still pulling duty as deputy commissioner.
Every year since then, McCollum and Silver have met up in New York City after the end of the season to discuss topics pertaining to the NBA and society in general. In 2014, they discussed the situation with the previous Los Angeles Clippers ownership, the age limit, emerging technologies, Silver’s first year as the NBA’s head honcho and their favorite Jay-Z tracks. In 2015, McCollum, armed with a few seasons of experience and a new job at The Players’ Tribune, followed up on some of the questions from the year before regarding the age limit while also bringing up issues such as ads on jerseys, transparency in officiating and head injuries.
And in their fourth annual interview, released on The Players’ Tribune as a part of McCollum’s summer internship with the athlete-owned website, the two discuss how far they’ve come (or in CJ’s case, how much weight he’s lost) since their first meeting in 2012, Silver’s handshakes, whether the NBA would have their All-Star Weekend at “remote locations” like the NFL, whether the league is considering moving the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, the 2016 NBA Finals and the suspension of Draymond Green and recent efforts to increase diversity in NBA front offices. You can watch an excerpt of the interview in the above video, or read the entire Q&A over at The Players’ Tribune.