Late-Game Performances from Lillard, Matthews Help Trail Blazers Sneak By Raptors

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 years ago

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

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shooting.

“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.

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Podcast: Rip City Report, Game Five Edition

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
3 hours ago

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.

You can find the Rip City Report on SoundcloudiTunes and Stitcher. And since we recently surpassed 100 reviews on iTunes, I’ll refrain from asking for reviews for at least the new few days.

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VIDEO: Barkley Says Lillard and McCollum Are The Second-Best Backcourt In The NBA

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
7 hours ago

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.

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Lillard ‘Comes Up Big’ In Game Five Like He Always Believed He Would

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
17 hours ago

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.”

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