Kent Bazemore found Wesley Johnson at the rim with an inbounds pass for a layup with six seconds to play to give the Lakers a 107-106 victory against the Trail Blazers Monday at the Moda Center.
“It’s a disappointing loss. I thought the Lakers played really well,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They kept the pressure on us the whole game. They came out with more energy to start with and they sustained it throughout the whole game. In the second half, we did a good job defensively but couldn’t quite get over the hump. We just weren’t good enough tonight.”
The loss broke a five-game winning streak for the Trail Blazers while evening the season series between the two teams at 1-1. The series wraps up on April 1 in Los Angeles.
The Trail Blazers now sit at 41-19 on the season, good enough for third in the Western Conference, and are 23-8 on their home court.
The Trail Blazers turned in one of their worst first quarters in recent memory despite shooting 47 percent from the field. After having played some of their best defense of the season in their last five games, the Trail Blazers looked outmatched against the Lakers’ fast-paced offense. Both Johnson and Pau Gasol would go four of seven from the field for eight points in the first quarter and Jodie Meeks and Kent Bazemore scored six apiece while the Blazers offered only token resistance.
The Trail Blazers might have been able to overcome a poor defensive performance, but eight first-quarter turnovers and being beaten 17-10 on the glass ensured they’d enter the second quarter down big. Turns out, they’d trail 33-20 after 12 minutes.
“They were making shots,” said Wesley Matthews. “They were making their jumpers. I think we were deflated all the way around. Their energy was a little bit higher than ours. We were missing free throws, which is uncharacteristic of us. As of late, we haven’t been giving up any transition points and we gave up 13 or something like that in the first quarter, so we were a little off of who we normally are.”
The good thing about Portland getting off to such a poor start is they had nowhere to go but up in the second quarter. While the defense wasn’t much improved — the Lakers shot 46 percent from the field and 40 percent from three in the second — Portland turned the ball over just once allowed just one offensive rebound after giving up eight in the first quarter.
Add in both LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez scoring nine points apiece and Portland as a whole shooting 54 percent from the field, and the Trail Blazers were able to cut the Lakers lead to 63-56 by the halftime intermission.
Portland shot under 40 percent in the third, but managed to chip away at the L.A.’s lead thanks to 10 turnovers by the visiting team, a 7-1 advantage on the offensive boards and Damian Lillard scoring nine of his 20 points in the quarter. Dorell Wright added eight points in the quarter to help Portland cut the lead to three going into the fourth.
The Lakers would start the fourth on a 7-2 run to take an 11-point lead with 7:33 to play in regulation. And while it wouldn’t be pretty, Portland would respond with a 19-8 run in the next six minutes to tie the game at 105-105 after a 13-foot jumper by Wesley Matthews with 1:09 to play.
Lillard would earn a trip to the foul line on Portland’s next possession,. He’s make the first to give the Trail Blazers their first lead since the first quarter, but missed the second, though he corralled his own rebound with 33 second to play. Wesley Matthews, who shot three of 12 on the night, missed a three-pointer on the ensuing play, with the Lakers controlling the rebound that set up their game-winning play.
The Trail Blazers would have a chance to tie or win the game with six second to play, but Lillard wasn’t able to free himself for an open look, and was forced to put up a contest three-pointer which missed the mark as time expired.
“They started in fifth gear and we kind of started in third gear,” said Stotts. “Eventually we caught up, but you know, we made a great comeback, take the lead – that’s what you want. You want to be in a position to win the game. If you look at the whole game, the fact that we were ahead with under a minute… we were in a good position to win the game, but we didn’t quite have enough.”
Nicolas Batum came one rebound short of tying his career-high in rebounds, which he set the game before against the Nuggets, with 15 to go along with 17 points, five assists, two steals and a block.
Lopez finished with another double of 19 points and 16 rebounds in 34 minutes. Lopez was the only Trail Blazer who seemed to play with any urgency in the first half and had numerous highlight-quality dunks.
Aldridge, in his second game back since missing five games with a left groin strain, finished with 21 points, six rebounds, two steals and an assist.
Gasol lead the Lakers with 22 points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes. Meeks scored 21 points on 16 shots and both Johnson and Bazemore finished with 14.
Next up, the Trail Blazes conclude a four-game homestand versus the Hawks on Wednesday in a nationally-televised game on ESPN. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 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.”