Streak Pushes To Eleven With Win Against The Knicks

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 years ago

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.”

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Disastrous Fourth Quarter Ruins Portland’s Chance Of Snatching Home Court From Golden State

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 days ago

OAKLAND — For the first three quarters, it looked as though the Portland Trail Blazers might actually beat the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena, something that only two teams have managed to do in the last seven months.

But unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, NBA games last four quarters. And Tuesday night in Oakland, the Warriors outscored the Trail Blazers 34-12 in the final 12 minutes to come away with a 110-99 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 in Game Two of the Western Conference semifinals.

“We played three really good quarters, and we showed that we can compete with them, and it got away from us in the fourth quarter, obviously,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “It was disappointing to lose a game that you’re competitive and you’re in a position to be in the fourth quarter. But we’ve got to close it out… It was an opportunity to get a win on the road, and we’ve got to learn from it and be ready to go get one in Game Three.”

The Warriors now lead the series 2-0.

“I think nights like tonight, they suck,” said Damian Lillard. “It hurts to go back in the locker room after you play so well for so long and you come back in there with the L. But it is a part of growth. The entire season has been growth for us. But nights like tonight, we have to close that out. We have to get that done. It was just a missed opportunity.”

The first half of Tuesday night’s game went about as well as the Trail Blazers could possible expect, with Portland taking a 17-point lead in the second quarter thanks to shooting 51 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. Though the Warriors would cut into the Trail Blazers lead thanks to an 18-3 run, Portland, as was the case for most of the night, always seemed to counter at just the right time to quiet the Oracle Arena crowd. That counter in at the end of the second quarter came courtesy of back-to-back threes from Al-Farouq Aminu and Damian Lillard to push the lead back to eight by the intermission.

Portland, thanks mostly to Lillard going 6-of-11 from the field and 4-of-5 from three in the third, extended their lead to 11 going into the fourth quarter before Golden State got white hot to finish out the game. The Warriors took their first lead of the night early in the fourth quarter and would go on to win by 11 after finishing out the game by shooting 11-of-18 in the final 12 minutes of regulation. The Trail Blazers also play right into the Warriors’ hands by turning the ball over five times while going 5-of-19 from the field.

“I think the last run, they were desperate,” said Lillard. “It got to the point where it was win or lose. There wasn’t another quarter after that. It wasn’t just stay with it. It was, ‘We’ve got to do it now.’ And they played desperate, and we just didn’t respond to it well enough to finish the game.”

The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who scored 17 in the third quarter before finishing with 25 points on 8-of-20 shooting from the field and 6-of-11 shooting from three, six assists and four rebounds in 40 minutes. CJ McCollum went 9-of-19 for 22 points, two rebounds and two assists in 41 minutes.

Aminu got off to a fast start, scoring 10 points in the first quarter before finishing with 14 to go along with six rebounds and two assists. Maurice Harkless would add 11 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes with Gerald Henderson coming off the bench to add 12.

As was the case in Game One, Klay Thompson would lead the Warriors with 27 points on 7-of-20 shooting from the field and 5-of-14 shooting from three. Draymond Green, who was the driving force along with Festus Ezeli in Golden State’s pivotal fourth quarter, was just shy of another triple-double with 17 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in 41 minutes while also blocking four shots.

“I think there came a point where me and Klay were trying to do too much,” said Green. “When we settled down and trusted everybody else, that’s when everything started to click for us. So as far as the way I’ve been playing with the exception of that one game, it’s playoff basketball. This is what we live for. You play the whole season to get to this point.”

Shaun Livingston and Harrison Barnes scored 14 and 13 points, respectively, with Andre Igoudala putting up 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting off the bench.

Next up, the series takes a three-day break before shifting to Portland for Game Three on Saturday at the Moda Center.

“We’ve been in bad positions time and time again, and we’ve never shied away,” said Lillard. “We’ve never not answered the call. I don’t see why this time it would be any different. In our last series against the Clippers, we were down 0-2. We went home, and the next two games they were pretty much full strength. They had their guys and we got it done those two games. Obviously, Golden State is a different monster, but we know the same thing can happen, and that’s what we’re going in there thinking and believing, and we’re back on our home floor. We’ve got to go out there and play a game like tonight and go finish it.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 pm on ABC and 620 AM.

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Shootaround Notes: Fewer Adjustments, Balancing Small Lineups And Lillard Feeling Better

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 days ago

The Trail Blazers held shootaround Tuesday morning at the Olympic Club in downtown San Fransisco in preparation for tonight’s Game Two of the Western Conference semifinal matchup versus the Warriors at Oracle Arena (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on TNT and 620 AM). Some notes from shootaround…

• The Trail Blazers, after losing badly in Game One of their first round series versus the Clippers, made a host of adjustments going into Game Two. Whether it was having Al-Farouq Aminu guard Chris Paul, using Mason Plumlee to initiate more of the offense or giving spot minutes to Chris Kaman, Terry Stotts and is staff came up with a number of ways to mitigate L.A.’s advantages, which ultimately helped the Trail Blazers go on to win the series in six games.

So after the Trail Blazers lost 118-106 to the the Warriors in Game One of their second round series on Sunday afternoon, one might have assumed that Portland would once again make wholesale changes in time for Game Two Tuesday night at Oracle Arena. Turns out, that isn’t necessarily the case. While the Trail Blazers are sure to try a few different things, their adjustments will likely be a change of approach rather than tactics.

“The short answer to that is a little bit less only because it’s such a different style,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of whether he’d be make more or less adjustments versus the Warriors. “So the adjustments that we’re making for this series is just trying to adjust from playing a team that’s so different than the team that we just played six games. Clippers play a different style of game, and that’s the adjustment we have to make.”

That difference in styles between the Clippers and Warriors makes Portland’s preparation for Game Two a bit more abstract than it was in the last series. The Warriors tend to play more of a freewheeling brand of basketball than the Clippers, which requires more nuanced adjustments on Portland’s end.

“I would say fewer adjustments for sure, because they play basketball,” said Mason Plumlee. “There aren’t a whole lot of plays, they exploit what they see as their playing the game. So it’s not a whole lot of scouting of plays, it’s more tendencies and personnel.”

The changes that worked versus the Clippers not necessarily working versus the Warriors is more proof of the individuality of every playoff series. The situations might be somewhat similar, but that doesn’t mean the solutions are the same.

“Everybody keeps drawing comparisons; you’ve got to let that last series go,” said Plumlee. “Every series is new, they’re a better team. This series is completely different so we have to make a point to come out and win this next game. I don’t think you can count on them getting up 2-0 and then giving you four-straight, so this next game is a big one.”

• When the Warriors went to their small lineups in Game One, the Trail Blazers countered by doing the same, with varying degrees of success. Portland played multiple lineups during the course of Sunday afternoon’s loss that have rarely been on the court together this season, if at all, including a five-man group that featured Maurice Harkless at “center” surrounded by four guards.

But Golden State has extensive experience utilizing small lineups, at least relative to Portland, and with the personnel on their roster reflecting that reality. So it’s debatable just how much the Trail Blazers should try to match those units rather than trying to take advantage of a size advantage.

“I’ll be dating myself, but when Seattle beat Golden State back in ’92, ’93, something like that, and (Don Nelson) was playing small ball and George (Karl) stayed big with Benoit Benjamin and Derrick McKey and Shawn Kemp. So (Seattle) beat (Golden State) playing to their strengths. I think the important thing is that you play to your strengths more than anything else.”

Stotts will likely continue to give some nontraditional lineups a try when the Warriors go small, but it’ll be just as important for their standard lineups to fare better than they did in Game One, particularly after giving up 16 offensive rebounds, which led to 17 second-chance points.

Said Mason Plumlee: “I think a way to punish them when they go small is to own the glass, get second-chance points and finish everything inside.”

• Though no one in the media knew about it until he answered questions in a decidedly raspy voice after Game One, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has been battling a significant chest cold for roughly the last week. While it stands to reason that an athlete, especially one playing at the highest level, would be affected negatively by such an illness, Lillard refused to blame the infirmaty for his less-than-stellar performance Sunday afternoon at Oracle Arena.

“I actually felt pretty good,” said Lillard. “Obviously being clogged up inside, it has you a little bit more winded than usual. There’s no excuses. The bottom line is my team needs me to perform better than I did.”

And it sounds, literally, like Lillard’s lungs won’t be as much of an issue in Game Two. The 6-3 point guard in his fourth season out of Weber State didn’t exactly sound like his normal self prior to Tuesday morning’s shootaround, but he said he’s making progress toward feeling better and didn’t sound as though his chest was on fire when making said proclamation.

“I feel better,” said Lillard. “Obviously still trying to shake it. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing the last two days, just trying to do different stuff to make myself feel better for tonight.”

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Podcast: Rip City Report, Second Round, Game One Edition

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
3 days ago

Greetings from San Fransisco. After the Trail Blazers lost 118-106 to the Warriors in Game One of their Western Conference semifinal series, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, grabbed a couple mics to record the first second round edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which is now available for your afternoon listening…

On this edition, we discuss Sunday afternoon’s loss, Portland’s tough start and whether there’s anything positive to be taken from the last three quarters, dealing with Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, the eventual return of Stephen Curry and if there any similarities between Sunday’s game and Game One versus the Clippers. We also answer a host of questions about Allen Crabbe, the enthusiasm at Oracle Arena, the quick turnaround from Game Six to the second Game One and give some tips on packing for regular business travel. And we also start the show off with some bad Mike Meyers impersonations. Sorry about that.

You can find the Rip City Report on SoundcloudiTunes and Stitcher. We’ll talk again after Game Two.

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