Damian Lillard, in his first game since being named a Western Conference All-Star for the first time in his career, hit a running go-ahead floater off the glass with 11.8 seconds to play to help lift the Trail Blazers to a 106-103 victory over the Raptors Saturday night at the Moda Center.
“I came up off a down screen and we went right into a mid pick and roll,” said Lillard of Portland’s final play on offense. “My first thought was to just try to turn the corner and attack as fast as I could so we could try to see if I could score or we’d have to foul and try to get another possession. I was able to get a pretty good look and make the floater.”
Despite Lillard’s heroics, the game would not be decided until the final seconds, with the Raptors having two chances to take the lead in their final possession.
Wesley Matthews, who struggled early with foul trouble, tied up DeMar DeRozan for a jump ball with less than eight seconds to play. The Raptors would control the tip and called a timeout with five seconds to play to set up what would have been a game-winner. But Matthews once again hounded DeRozan, poking away the ball with less than a second to play.
“The early foul trouble kind of set me back, took away some of my physical play on the defensive end,” said Matthews. “I was kind of holding on to that. At that point I just said, ‘Forget it. If I foul out, I foul out.’ We stepped up to the occasion.”
Nicolas Batum would grab the loose ball and was fouled with 0.1 seconds to play to effectively end the game.
“Those last two possessions, to get the jump ball, he stayed after it and then the last possession, he kept his left arm up and I thought he did a nice job of staying in front of him without fouling,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I think he was disappointed that DeRozan had gotten it going but he stepped up when we needed him.”
In the early going it didn’t look as though the Trail Blazers would need such heroics to come away with the victory. After suffering through slow starts in losses to the Grizzlies and Warriors, a well-rested Trail Blazers squad scored the game’s first seven points and led by as many as 13 in the first quarter while holding the Raptors, a team playing on the second night of a back-to-back, to just 33 percent shooting.
Portland would finish the quarter with a 31-19 lead thanks in large part to the play of LaMarcus Aldridge.
Aldridge came to play early in his first game since being named to the Western Conference All-Star roster, putting up a first quarter double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds. The 11 rebounds are a new career-high for Aldridge in a quarter and one short of the franchise record.
“I felt fresh in the first quarter,” said Aldridge. “I had energy, I was trying to run the floor, I was trying to be active. My teammates just found me for open shots and things like that.”
He would go on to finish the game with 27 points on eight of 22 shooting, 15 rebounds, two steals and one steals in 36 minutes.
Lillard, also playing for the first time since being named a Western Conference All-Star, albeit for the first time, picked up where Aldridge left off in the second quarter. The 6-3 point guard out of Weber State, whose shot has been inconsistent over the last 10 games, put up 12 of his 21 points in the second quarter on six of nine
“I did a lot of things similar tonight that I have been,” said Lillard when asked if being named an All-Star help break his slump. “I figured if I played well that would be what it would seem like. I’m just happy that I felt in more of a rhythm out there tonight.”
Lillard would finish eight of 15 from the field with, seven assists and six rebounds in 37 minutes. He is now 10 for 17 from the field this season in the final two minutes of games with the score within three points.
While Portland could seemingly do no wrong in the first half, they were far from perfect in the second half. They had a stretch from the 8:12 mark in the third quarter to the 0:33 mark in which they failed to make a shot from the field.
Led by 16 third quarter points from DeRozan, who finished with 36 points, 12 assists and was also named an All-Star for the first time in his career Thursday night, Toronto cut the lead to five while Portland struggled from the field. But back-to-back three-pointers from Lillard and Matthews late in the third gave the home team an 83-74 lead going into the fourth despite being outscored 34-26.
“When you don’t get stops, it takes a little bit of the flow out of the game,” said Stotts. “We’re better when we’re able to mix in our halfcourt offense and just kind of flowing, but you’ve got to get stops to do that.”
While the Trail Blazers would overcome a tough shooting stretch in the third by going 11 of 13 from the foul like, they would find no such luxury in the fourth. Portland went scoreless from the 5:01 mark of the fourth until Lillard’s go-ahead runner with 11 seconds to play. The Raptors would take a one-point lead in the process, only to have their comeback scuttled Lillard’s shot and Matthews’s defense.
“DeRozan is a hell of a player,” said Matthews, who finished with 21 points and three assists in 34 minutes. “He made tough plays, the rest of the team made tough plays, (Patrick) Patterson was making shots, (Kyle) Lowry was making shots. We just got the timely stops that we needed.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers begin a four-game road trip in our Nation’s Capitol against the Wizards. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 PM.
UPDATE: The team has officially announced that they have matched the Nets’ offer sheet to Allen Crabbe, though a “formal announcement” and Crabbe actually signing the contract will not occur until later in the week.
After finishing up their pursuit of new free agents, the Trail Blazers have wasted little time in turning their attention to the free agents on their own roster. After reportedly signing restricted free agent power forward Meyers Leonard to a four-year deal, the Trail Blazers, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, have matched the four-year, $75 million offer sheet the Brooklyn Nets tendered to third-year guard/forward Allen Crabbe, ensuring that the former Cal Bear will be back in Portland next season…
The Portland Trail Blazers have matched Allen Crabbe’s four-year, $75M offer sheet with Brooklyn, league source tells @TheVertical.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 10, 2016
Nets bid on Crabbe has been thwarted — and Crabbe returns to Blazers on four-year, $75M contract. Now, Nets wait on Tyler Johnson sheet.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 10, 2016
The message out of Portland ownership and management is clear: Blazers trying to win this year and beyond — loading up on this roster.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 10, 2016
As is often the case when it comes to restricted free agents, the Nets offer to Crabbe, who has averaged 7.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game through three season, was considerably larger than many assumed the 6-6 wing would receive in an effort to discourage the Trail Blazers from matching. And after the Trail Blazers signed free agent guard/forward Evan Turner to a four-year deal, some assumed that combined with the size of the Nets offer might result in Trail Blazers letting Crabbe walk.
But that would not be the case. Crabbe has been a favorite of the front office and coaching staff since the team acquired former Pac-12 Player of the Year via trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2012 Draft. And though he played sparingly in his first two seasons, he saw his minutes increase dramatically in 2015-16, as he appeared in 81 games and responded with averages of 10.8 points on 44 percent shooting and 39 percent shooting from three, 2.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists while serving as one of the team’s best perimeter defenders.
There were rumors that outside of the money and years, Crabbe, who has typically come off the bench for the Trail Blazers, was intrigued by the opportunity to start and play a larger role with the Nets. But for his part, Crabbe seemed more than satisfied that he would be returning to Portland…
— Allen Crabbe (@allencrabbe) July 10, 2016
With Crabbe now signed, forward Maurice Harkless is the last Blazer still available on the free agent market. Like Crabbe, Harkless is a restricted free agent, which gives the Trail Blazers the right to match any offer he receives from another team. It is also possible for the Trail Blazers to sign Harkless even if he doesn’t receive an offer sheet from another team, as they have reportedly did Sunday with restricted free agent power forward Meyers Leonard.
UPDATE: The team has officially announce that they have signed Meyers Leonard to a new contract. From the press release…
“Meyers is a core member of our organization and continues to show the promise and potential we anticipated when we drafted him,” said Olshey.
Leonard averaged career-highs with 8.4 points (44.8% FG, 37.7% 3-PT76.1% FT), 5.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 21.9 minutes in 61 games (10 starts) in 2015-16. He missed the final 14 games of the regular season due to an injured left shoulder.
“Today is a day which is hard to describe. I’m overcome with happiness and joy,” said Leonard. “I’m thankful for the people who have remained loyal and loving in my life. This is the product of a lot of hard work and time. I feel like I have found a new gear mentally and physically and really am excited for the next four years. The future is going to be bright with this team.”
The Trail Blazers and Meyers Leonard sat down at the negotiating table prior to the start of the 2015-16 season in an effort to hammer out a new contract in an effort to keep the 7-1 power forward from hitting the (restricted) free agent market. Despite mutual interest, the two sides were unable to strike a deal, though considering the Trail Blazers had the right to match any offer Leonard received as a free agent, it always seemed likely he’d be back even if terms on an extension couldn’t be reached.
As it turns out, an offer sheet from another team wasn’t needed for both sides to ultimately come to an agreement.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, Leonard and the Trail Blazers have agreed on a new four-year deal worth $41 million…
Leonard, a restricted free agent, has built his value as a stretch four with an ability to spread the floor and deliver a presence on the defensive boards.
Leonard is part of a core expected to compete for 50 victories in the Western Conference this season.
Leonard, 24, missed the final 20 regular-season games with a left shoulder surgery in 2015-16, but has shown steady improvement in the past two years after being selected at No. 11 overall in the 2012 NBA draft.
The reported four-year deal is roughly the same as the offer the Trail Blazers reportedly extended to Leonard prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. At the time, it was reasonable to assume Leonard might receive a larger offer from another team, as his combination of size, athleticism and shooting are highly sought after in today’s NBA. But missing the final 20 games of the regular season and the entirety of the playoffs after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder, not to mention the widely-held assumption that the Blazers would match any reasonable offer for Leonard, likely cooled interest from other teams. And though he didn’t say it explicitly, it always seemed as though Leonard’s preference was to continue his career in Portland after being selected by the Trail Blazers with the 11th overall pick of the 2012 Draft.
“I was drafted here, I’ve been with Terry (Stotts) the entire time, Neil (Olshey) obviously drafted me, being here with now our franchise player Damian (Lillard),” said Leonard back in March. “So the future is bright here and I truly hope that I can be a big part of it.”
Leonard returns to a big man rotation that features Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh and Festus Ezeli, who signed with Portland as a free agent on Friday.
While Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey said the team is done chasing new free agents for the year, whether restricted free agents Maurice Harkless and Allen Crabbe, who received an offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets worth reportedly $75 million over four years on Thursday, return to Portland next season is still to be determined. The team has until 9 pm Sunday night to decide whether or not to match the offer made to Crabbe.
Typically in NBA free agency, it’s the duty of the team to woo the player they’re interested in signing. Seeing as how there are only so many free agents to go around every year, the competition between teams to acquire their preferred players can often times be intense. The Clippers all but locking center DeAndre Jordan in a house last year in order to prevent him from signing with the Mavericks being the most recent example of the lengths teams will go to in order to obtain or retain their respective free agent targets.
But some free agents are easier to convince than others. And sometimes, they don’t need any convincing. Such was the case with center Festus Ezeli, who signed a two-year deal reported to be worth $18 million, widely considered a ridiculous bargain in the 2016 free agent market, Thursday night. While the interest between Ezeli and the Trail Blazers was obviously mutual — shoring up the team’s interior defense was one of the main goals going into the offseason — it sounds like in this case, it was the player who initiated the negotiations, something that is a rarity in the era in which some free agents seem to relish the opportunity to be wined and dined by teams desperate to secure their services.
“My agent contacted and I said ‘I want to be a part of this franchise’ because, like I said, I see a bright future of this team,” said Ezeli Friday morning during his introductory press conference at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin. “It doesn’t come very often when you have such talented guards like CJ (McCollum) and Damian (Lillard) and such a complete team with everybody else. I know Al-Farouq (Aminu) just from playing with Nigeria, being around with the African scene, the African community works, I’ve known him through that. But I know that this team is full of high character guys and that’s a great start in itself, work ethic and all those things. I see good things happening here, I want to be a part of it.”
Having played for the Golden State Warriors during his first three seasons after being selected with the 30th overall pick of the 2012 Draft, Ezeli knows a little something about what a team needs to be successful. And having matched up against the Trail Blazers on numerous occasions, the most recent being the series between his former and current teams during the 2016 Western Conference playoffs, and seeing how they performed, competed and the way they were supported, Ezeli entered his own free agency thinking Portland might be the place for him.
“First of all, this organization is first class,” said Ezeli. “We played them in the playoffs so I’m pretty familiar with them playing in the West as well. I got to see a lot about the team’s character in those moments in battle on the court and that’s where you get to know the other team’s strengths and weaknesses. Their chemistry was something I really admired on the court. Second thing, the fans. I noticed when we came out here the fans were unbelievable. We take pride in our fans and as a basketball player you love your fans so when I saw that, saw the energy, I wanted to be a part of that. Great team, great coach, great fans. What more could you ask for from an organization?”
For the Trail Blazers, a team that has historically had a difficult time luring free agents, acquiring a player so enthusiastic about coming to Portland must have been a welcomed surprise, but it’s not as if a willingness to sign on was enough. There still had to be a need on the roster, which was luckily for both Ezeli and the Trail Blazers.
“He’s coming from a very good defensive system in Golden State,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “His defensive rating in Golden State on an exceptional defensive team was outstanding, one of the best on the team. So he’s going to have an impact for our team, whether it’s in pick-and-roll, whether it’s defensive rebounding, whether it’s altering shots at the rim. He’s athletic, he has a long wingspan. In today’s NBA, particularly with the plan of playing Farouq (Aminu) more at four, he’s going to give us the ability to play a smaller lineup and still have a defensive component to it… I think his presence in the paint on the offensive end is going to cause problems as well. Team’s won’t be able to switch pick-and-rolls. So I think he’s going to have a positive impact on both ends of the court.”
Much like the rest of Portland’s roster, Ezeli still has room to grow, especially considering he didn’t even pick up basketball until he was well into his teens. And he has had surgeries on both knees in the last two years, which is likely to give some pause (especially considering the history of the franchise) despite Ezeli saying he’s “100 percent healthy and ready to go.” But to acquire a player with Ezeli’s experience and skill set on a great value contract who also seems legitimately excited to play in Portland seems like an unmitigated success.
“I have to go home and kind of sit with my family and try to figure some things out, decompress a little bit, but I’m excited,” said Ezeli. “I love this city, I love the people so far and I hear there’s a lot of great food over here, so I can’t wait to get to that. I’ll be back later this summer, I’ve got to go figure out the whole moving situation, but I’m excited.”