OAKLAND — After ending the 2012-13 regular season on a 13-game losing streak, the Portland Trail Blazers will begin their 2013-14 campaign riding a five-game preseason winning streak thanks to defeating the Golden State Warriors 90-74 Thursday night at Oracle Arena.
The Trail Blazers entered the second half down 48-41, but a 22-0 run that started early in the third quarter, which featured lockdown defense from the Blazers and a cottage worth of bricks from the Warriors, allowed Portland to take control of the game.
“I thought we played an exceptional defensive half in the second half, particularly the third quarter,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We had it marked as 17 consecutive stops, something like that … We rebounded the ball well, we took a lot of pride in our defense and on a night when offense wasn’t very good, we were able to pull away because of our defense.”
Damian Lillard, who was described by the public address announcer as “the pride of Oakland” during pregame warmups, lead the Trail Blazers in scoring with 21 points on 7-of-16 shooting while playing in front of family and friends at Oracle Arena, a place that Lillard said was a ten minute walk from the house he grew up in.
“It’s home, so every time I come here I get a different feeling than any other arena that I play in,” said Lillard. “I know there’s a lot of family members out there, I know there’s a lot of friends I grew up (with), a bunch of familiar faces. It’s an honor for me to be able to come back and play in an NBA game in front of them.”
Lillard performance was quality in it’s own right, but getting the better of the point guard battle against Stephen Curry (17 points on 7-of-22 shooting), made Lillard’s performance that much more impressive.
“He’s a great shooter,” said Lillard of Stephen Curry. “Sometimes he’ll make a shot where you’re right in his face. You might foul him and he’ll still make it but we just wanted to let the percentages win it over. There’s not too many guys on this planet that’s gonna make every shot with you in their face constantly. I’m quick enough to be up into him and stay attached to him. I think I did a good job of that.”
Nicolas Batum turned in one of his most effective rebounding games of his career with 15 boards while helping the Trail Blazers out-rebound Golden State 58-47. Batum, who also spent much of the second half making life miserable on the offensive end for Stephen Curry, scored 10 points, handed out three steals and logged a block while finishing a ridiculous +22 while on the floor.
“I know (Curry) is one of the best point guards in the league, one of the most valuable players in the league, so just try to put some length on him,” said Batum. “We tried to just deny him. He’s one of the better shooters in the game right now, maybe the world, so just tried to deny him, put some length on him and make him drive, make him put the ball on the floor.”
“Nic has the ability to impact a game in a lot of different ways,” said Stotts. “Tonight you saw his rebounding and defense. Obviously he can score, he can pass. One of the things we’ve talked about is, on a given night, it’s going to be one thing, it’s going to be another and embracing that challenge every night, to have an impact on the game but not necessarily knowing how that impact is going to play out. Tonight it was pretty obvious: his rebounding and defense were terrific.”
LaMarcus Aldridge struggled from the field, going 4-of-15, but still managed a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds. He also added three assists, three blocks and heaped more praise on Joel Freeland, who played 15 minutes off the bench and seems to have to taken hold of the backup big man role in Stotts’ rotation.
“He’s buying into that role and I love it because I feel like great teams have guys who know who they are and they know their role and they want to do it to the best of their ability,” said Aldridge of Freeland. “I feel like him buying into like ‘I’m going to come in and if I get five (minutes) or I get eight or 12, I’m going to play it hard. I’m going to block shots, I’m going to clog the paint, I’m not worried about touches. If I get shots, I’ll take it.’ I feel like that’s what we need to be one of the top teams. I feel like that’s big for us.
The Warriors played without David Lee, who sat out Thursday’s game with a tooth issue. The Trail Blazers were without starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews, who remained in Portland after experiencing an irregular heartbeat during the team’s practice on Wednesday.
The Trail Blazers now return to Portland before traveling to Phoenix for the regular season opener on October 30.
“We’re not a finished product,” said Stotts. “We still need to maintain a consistency, our offense needs to improve, our turnovers have to go down, but on the whole, you win five in a row and improve in the areas that we needed to improve on going into the season. That’s the positive that I take (from preseason).”