The Portland Trail Blazers have played in, and ultimately won, numerous harrowing games during the course of their current win streak. And while that wouldn’t necessarily be the case Monday night against the Knicks, the final result was probably closer than the Trail Blazers would have liked.
Not that they weren’t satisfied with a 102-91 victory, their eleventh straight, against a struggling New York team that has lost five straight and eight of their last ten, but after leading by as many as 22 in the first half, head coach Terry Stotts probably would have liked like a nice, relaxing fourth quarter for his 55th birthday. Unfortunately, that would not be the case.
“I was really pleased with the way we set the tone in the first quarter, particularly at the defensive end, and we maintained that throughout the first half,” said Stotts. “I thought that was a great effort. We’re a little dissapointed we let them get back in it, but New York has a lot of talented scorers and three-point shooters and we made a few mistakes.”
The Knicks, lead by 34 points from Carmelo Anthony, stayed just close enough, cutting the lead to seven with 1:47 to play in the fourth quarter, to keep Portland’s starters in the game to preserve the win streak.
“I thought the first half was exceptional in what we did at both ends,” said Stotts. “We gave up 52 in the second half and didn’t win a quarter. They were 0 for 6 from three in the first half and 6 for 9 in the second half. We didn’t win the second half. So the first half no question was better. Learning to play with the lead, it’s difficult in this league. You see teams give up leads a lot.”
Which the Trail Blazers know all too well, inasmuch as they’ve been the team coming back from leads this season, most recently in victories against the Bulls and Warriors. Luckily they’ve been on the good side of those comebacks, but a time while come when those leads are insurmountable, which makes games like Monday’s against weaker competition the perfect chance to practice staving off a beatable opponent.
“We’ve got to get better playing with a lead,” said Wesley Matthews. “We’ve already proven that we can play down, we’ve proved we can play in close games, now we’ve got to get better at playing with a lead, because that’s what San Antonio does, that’s what the Heat do and that’s what OKC does. We’re not comparing ourselves to those teams, but those are the upper-echelon teams and if we want to be in that group, when we get you down, we’ve got to keep you down.”
But it was a wire-to-wire win nonetheless, made even more impressive considering Mo Williams’ absence due to suspension. And the fact that the Trail Blazers are in a position where their biggest complaint is their inability to take a double digit lead and keep it throughout a game is proof of how far they’ve come since finishing last season on a 13-game losing streak.
And really, how upset could they be? After all, their 11-game winning streak is now tied for fourth longest in a single season in franchise history and their 13 victories this month is tied for the most wins in November by a Blazers team. But for a team that has talked a lot recently about being “greedy” during this streak, it’s not entirely surprising to hear the coaches and players push themselves closer to perfect.
“I thought we did a great job controlling the game,” said Damian Lillard. “First half we came out and hit ’em hard, jumped on ’em. That third quarter we kind of had a rough patch where they got some good looks and we had some turnovers and didn’t execute as well as we would have liked to and they kind of made it a game. I felt like, for the most part, we had full control of the game.”
It was Nicolas Batum’s turn to come out on fire Monday night, scoring 23 points while adding seven rebounds, six assists, a block and a steam in 39 minutes. Batum, who joked that he had to be aggressive because Matthews, sitting just a few feet away, missed his first three shots, became just the third player in NBA history to log 200 points, 90 rebounds, 70 assists and 30 three-pointers through a team’s first 15 games.
Lillard picked up the slack in the second half, finishing the night with 23 points, six assists and four rebounds in 36 minutes. After a few rough nights from the field, Lillard finished a very respectable nine of 20.
LaMarcus Aldridge turned in a double double with 18 points and 14 rebounds to go with three assists and two blocks. Aldridge moved into ninth on the franchise all-time list in rebounds with 4,092.
Matthews rounded out the the double digit scoring starters with 17 points and six rebounds, though he shot “just” three of nine from the three, well below his season average of 53 percent. He did, however, get an all-time “shooters bounce,” befitting for a player on a hot streak as Matthews is, by banking in a three-pointer from the corner.
“That’s my first in my life,” said Matthews of the shot. “I thought that was so off. I thought that was going to skid and hit (team owner) Paul Allen.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers head to Phoenix to face the Suns on Wednesday. Tipoff is schedule for 6 PM.
“I think Phoenix is the team that gives us the most trouble right now, regular season and preseason, too. We know it won’t be easy against them but we need this game. We’re going to get this game.”
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.”