One of the reasons the Portland Trail Blazers have been so successful this season is they beat the teams they’re supposed to beat. In years past, the Trail Blazers would seem to play at the level of their opponent, resulting in big wins against the best teams in the NBA one night, followed by perplexing losses to struggling teams at the bottom of the standings the next.
But that hadn’t been the case this season, at least not until Saturday night. Despite hosting the Philadelphia 76ers, a team playing the last of a six-game, ten-day road trip, the Trail Blazers loss 101-99 in front of a sellout crowd at the Moda Center.
“Every team in this league is talented,” said Wesley Matthews. “They can play. They have guys on that end that are hungry. They’re playing well. This is now their fourth straight that they’ve won on their road trip. They came in with some confidence; they came in with a chip from our first meeting. Any time you give a team a little bit of life, it’s going to be a game. Unfortunately, our offense couldn’t bail us out again.”
Portland turned the ball over 18 times and shot just 36 percent from the field and 14 percent from three after tying the franchise record for three-pointers in the previous game, a blowout win versus the Bobcats.
‘It was just one of those nights,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “We all had great looks. I had open looks all night. I missed shots. I thought guys had open looks, we just didn’t make shots tonight. You have nights like that. “
Factor in Philadelphia outscoring Portland in the paint 64-36 and it’s not hard to see why the Sixers, a team that entered the game with an 11-21 record, came away victorious.
It looked like the Trail Blazers might get blown out in the first quarter, with the Sixers jumping out to a 16-point early. Philadelphia finished the first quarter shooting nearly 60 percent from the field, taking a 13-point lead into the second quarter.
But Portland would climb out of the hole they dug for themselves, outscoring Philadelphia 31-21 to cut the lead to two before the half.
“After getting down early, I thought, defensively, we really competed,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I thought we had a lot of good looks offensively. We had our threes, we had shots in the paint, we had offensive rebounds, we had transitions. But it was one night I thought our offense kind of let us down.”
Even with their offense faltering, the Trail Blazers were still able to outscore the Sixers 26-17 in the third quarter. Portland shot just 39 percent in the third quarter but held Philadelphia to 29 percent shooting while outrebounding their opponent 18-10 to take a 76-69 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Sixers would slowly cut into Portland’s lead in the fourth, culminating with a 13-0 run that would give Philadelphia a 90-84 lead with 3:43 to play. The Trail Blazers, despite going almost eight minutes in the fourth quarter without a made field goal, would claw back into the game at the free throw line, tying the game at 94-94 after Robin Lopez hit two free throws with 54 seconds to play.
But while they would get back into the game at the line, free throw shooting proved to be their undoing as well.
Matthews, an 82 percent free throw shooter this season, missed what would have been a game-tying free throw with 23 seconds to play. On the ensuing possession, Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams would miss the second free throw after being fouled intentionally. The ball went out of bounds and was originally awarded to Portland, but the ball was awarded to the Sixers after review.
The Sixers would throw the ball to Spencer Hawes at midcourt on the inbounds. It looked as though Damian Lillard stole the pass from Hawes, but he was called for the foul, sending Hawes to the line for two free throws, which he made to the Philadelphia a 99-95 lead with 19 seconds to play.
But the Trail Blazers still had a chance to tie the game after Batum found Aldridge with a lob pass off the inbounds for an easy two-point with less than a second running off the clock. Evan Turner was fouled and made two free throws on the next possession with the Trail Blazers answering with a Lillard layup with seven seconds to play and Portland down 101-99.
Turner would try to inbound the ball to Carter-Williams on the next possession, but Lopez came up with a steal and was able to call a timeout with five seconds to play, giving Portland one more chance to at least tie the game.
Portland got the ball to Lillard, who has been so good in late game situations during his brief professional career, with a chance to send the game to overtime. Lillard was able to get past Carter-Williams for what looked like a relatively easy layup, but the ball rimmed out as time expired, resulting in Portland’s eighth loss of the season.
“We got the look that we wanted to get,” said Lillard, who shot six of 20 from the field to finish with 17 points. “I was able to get to the rim. I’ve got to make that. I missed a shot that I’ve got to make. That’s just the type of night it was.”
Aldridge, who carried the Trail Blazers through a miserable first quarter to finish with 29 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks and three assists.
Thaddeus Young and Turner led the Sixers with 30 and 23 points, respectively. Rookie point guard Carter-Williams, who missed the previous game between the two teams earlier in the season, finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
To compound the loss, Trail Blazers starting small forward Nicolas Batum suffered an avulsion fracture of his left middle finger late in the fourth quarter. Despite the injury, Batum is listed as probable for Tuesday night’s game in Sacramento against the Kings. Tipoff for that game is scheduled for 7 PM.
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.”