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.
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.
Damian Lillard was having one of his worst shooting nights of the season through the first three 36 minutes of Portland’s 108-98 victory versus the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Five of their first round playoff series Wednesday night at Staples Center. Though he no longer had to deal with being defended by guard Chris Paul, who is out of the series after breaking a bone in his right hand during Game Four, the Clippers continued their series-long tactic of throwing constant double teams and traps at Lillard, pestering the 6-3 point guard to go just 1-of-10 from the field through the first three quarters.
“It wasn’t even so much missing the shots that was bothering me, it was just I couldn’t get any attempts because they were so aggressive,” said Lillard. “They played a smaller lineup more often than they did the first couple games, but everything that I did, they were just as aggressive. It was obvious that they wanted me to get rid of the ball just like it was in the first four games.”
And for most of the night, the strategy worked. Despite being being without Paul and Blake Griffin, who is also out for the series with a left quad injury, the Clippers took a five-point lead into the intermission. Even when CJ McCollum got his shot going in the third quarter, scoring 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, Los Angeles was still able to go into the fourth quarter tied at 71-71.
But even though Lillard was struggling, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts decided to leave his point guard in the game to start the fourth quarter. Stotts said after the game that he changed up that rotation in order to get McCollum some extra rest, though it ultimately had another benefit.
“I usually play the third and then I sit the first couple minutes of the fourth,” said Lillard. “But I hadn’t gotten it going, and Coach Stotts knew that it was a game that we needed to win. It was a huge game for us. I think he left me out there just so I could get it going.”
Which he did. Lillard made his first attempt of the fourth quarter, a 26-foot pullup three-pointer, after just 15 seconds had elapsed in the fourth. Less than two minutes later, he made another pullup three. He stripped Clippers guard Pablo Prigioni on the ensuing possession and then converted the turnover into a fastbreak dunk, which gave Lillard eight points roughly two minutes.
“I’ve always been able to put the first three quarters behind me and come up big when my team has needed it,” said Lillard. “All my teammates throughout the game, they just kept saying, keep shooting, stay with it, stay aggressive, keep your mind right. I would have been doing that all along, but it felt good to have that encouragement and that support, especially with them trapping so high out. I had to trust the right play, hitting the guy in the middle and allowing him to make the next play to the weak side. I just had to be patient.”
But Lillard wasn’t done just yet. He left the game with just over nine minutes to play in order to get the rest that he’d usually get at the start of the quarter before returning at the 6:25 mark to presumably play the remainder of regulation.
And from there, it was Lillard Time.
He’s go on to make a 16-foot jumper and two three-pointers over the course of a two-minute span that saw the Trail Blazers extend their lead from 10 to 17 while effectively putting the game out of reach with 3:38 to play. By time Lillard subbed out with just under a minute to play, he had put up 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from three in eight and a half fourth-quarter minutes, helping Portland take a 3-2 series lead with what could be a deciding Game Six scheduled for Friday at the Moda Center.
Some players might have chosen, either subconsciously or otherwise, to defer exclusively to his teammates or find reasons not to shoot after struggling through the first three quarters like Lillard did. But that’s not how he got to where he’s at, and it certainly wouldn’t get the Trail Blazers to where they want to go. Regardless of how the game starts, Lillard is always out to finish thanks to a firm belief that the next shot, and the one after that, and the one after that, is going to find the bottom of the net.
“Regardless of how I play in the first three quarters, always in my mind I tell myself, ‘You going to come up big,’” said Lillard. “Even if it comes down to one possession, if I’ve got one point and there’s one possession left in the game, I always tell myself, ‘You’re going to come up big.’ So I was counting on that. That was it. It’s just the mindset, confidence.”