After spending much of the last two days talking about the legacy of a coaching legend and the racist comments of the Clippers owner, it was nice to get back to talking about basketball at Portland’s shootaround this morning at the Toyota Center. After splitting Games 3 and 4 in Portland, the Trail Blazers return to Houston with a 3-1 series lead and a chance to close out the Rockets with a victory Wednesday night (tipoff at 6:30 PM on KGW, TNT and 620 AM).
Some notes from shootaround …
— LaMarcus Aldridge describes it as “unorthodox.” Nicolas Batum says it’s “old school.” And Joel Freeland just calls it “effective.”
They are all talking about Robin Lopez’s hook shot, of course. And if you’ve seen Lopez’s hook before, you know why there’s varying ways of describing the most recognizable move in his offensive repertoire, which he developed as a young lad in Fresno, CA.
“It just happened playing in the driveway with my brothers,” said Lopez of the origins of his hook shot.
Though calling it a “hook shot” might be a bit of a misnomer. After all, there’s very little “hook” involved in Lopez’s hook shot. It’s more of a full arm extension followed by a flick of the wrist than a hook.
“I just tried to develop it to where it’s pretty difficult to block,” said Lopez. “Just flip the ball in. People have called it kind of a slingshot or catapult kind of thing.”
According to NBA.com/stats, Lopez made 45 of his 96 hook shots this season, a 47 percent clip. His most effective move is the driving hook shot, with the center from Stanford hitting six of the seven such hooks he took this season. He shot 6 of 10 on jump hooks, 2 of 6 on running hooks and 6 of 16 on turnaround hooks.
“I’ve never studied it, but it works well for him because he’s so tall,” said Aldridge of RoLo’s hook. “I think he just works at getting up high where other bigs can’t get to it. I think it works out for him.”
“I think he’s the only one, other than Marc Gasol, to use this old school hook shot,” said Batum. “It’s working. That gave me a lot of assists!”
As for the postseason, NBA.com/stats has Lopez down for just four hook shots, with just one make, though both of those numbers seem low. Lopez is in no way looking for his own shot, but any chance he has to score plays a small role negating Howard’s production on the offensive end. Howard is one of the premier shot blockers in the league, so it would stand to reason that Lopez might have used his hook more times than the NBA has counted, though even Lopez himself doesn’t know when he’s going to break out his hook.
“I never try to make a conscious effort to use it,” said Lopez. “It just kind of happens.”
— Even though the Trail Blazers have three chances to get a win and move on to the second round for the first time since 2000, head coach Terry Stotts says that in no way alters their approach to Game 5 tonight in Houston.
“Our mindset really hasn’t changed from game to game,” said Stotts. “It’s a hard-fought series every possession. All the cliches you want. Our mindset hasn’t changed at all.”
The 1995 Houston Rockets were one of the few teams that have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series, so the fact that they’ve done it before, albeit nearly 20 years ago, is sure to keep both teams engaged. The Rockets can look to that team for inspiration, while the Trail Blazers can look to the Suns team that lose to the Rockets in 1995 as a cautionary tale.
“We know they’re going to come out and compete, they’re going to play hard,” said Damian Lillard of the Rockets. “Your back is kind of up against the wall because this could be it. As a team, we’ve got to understand where they are as far as their season being on the line, being on their home floor. Maybe they’re thinking we win one here, go steal one in Portland and we can come back home. We’ve got to do our best not to let that happen. It’s an uphill battle for them and we’ve got to make it as hard as possible.”
— With the as tight as the games between the Trail Blazers and Rockets have been in this Western Conference four/five first-round series, the importance of valuing every possession has taken on an added significance. That’s especially true for players like Thomas Robinson, Joel Freeland and Will Barton who haven’t seen a lot of playing time in this series.
“Whenever my name is called, just trying to be ready,” said Robinson, who finished his six minutes of playing time in Game 4
with a +3. “That’s all. Whether it’s five minutes, one minute, 30 minutes, try to go out there and give a real good effort, help my team out.”
For the starters and players like Mo Williams and Dorell Wright, guys who have received regular minutes thus far in the postseason, there’s usually multiple chances to have an impact on the outcome of the game. But for the little used players who might see less than a minute of game action, there’s no time to get acclimated. They need to be ready whenever their called and prepared to make a player fresh off the bench. In this series, that could very well be the difference between a win and a loss.
“I helped my team, even if I made one play,” said Robinson. “What I have noticed in the playoffs is every play really does count. All these games are coming down to overtime, one possession games, free throw misses. They’re coming down to the wire, so everything does matter. I’m doing anything I can do. I can make a play with a minute on the court. If I do that, I’ve helped my team.”
When the Western Conference first round series between the Trail Blazers and Clippers started, many assumed it would be a quick affair, with the Clippers eventually moving on to face the Golden State Warriors in the second round. And after Warriors point guard Stephen Curry suffered a knee injury that will keep the reigning MVP sidelined for the start of the second round, much of the conversation revolved around how that would improve the Clippers’ chances of beating the defending champs in the Western Conference semifinals. The fact that the Clippers still had to beat the Trail Blazers two more times didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
A few days later, that narrative has flipped. Leading the series 3-2 with a chance to clinch in Game Six tonight at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on KGW, ESPN and 620 AM), the Trail Blazers are now Golden State’s presumptive opponent, as injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have all but ended the Clippers’ playoff run.
But just as the Clippers still had to win four games to advance, so too do the Trail Blazers, which is a good reminder that there are no such thing as inevitability when it comes to sports. “That’s why the play the game,” might be trite, but it’s still as true as it ever was, something the Trail Blazers know as well as any team still alive in the postseason.
“We just go out there and play, we don’t really pay attention to what’s being said,” said CJ McCollum. “You can’t read into that too much. First we were supposed to get swept, first we were just happy to win a game, so you just go play. You don’t really worry about the other stuff, you just control what you can control, keep your mindset the same, understand that nothing is inevitable. You’ve got to go out there and play.”
Though the Trail Blazers were able to beat the Clippers 108-98 at Staples Center in Game Five sans Paul and Blake, a team led by JJ Redick, DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers still managed to take a five-point lead into the half and had the game tied at 71-71 going into the fourth quarter, so it’s not as if any team, including Portland, can just roll the ball out in a playoff game and expect to emerge with the victory. After all, if that were the case, the Clippers would already be in Oakland preparing for the Western Conference semifinals.
“We understand that they’re a good team,” said McCollum “Regardless of what’s happened, regardless of what injuries they’ve gone through, they’re still a good team and we’ve still got to go play the game.”
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.