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.
There’s no better time to ponder the future of an NBA team than the period of the offseason before the draft and free agency. There are nothing but possibilities. Every free agent is a potential target who could change the direction of a franchise, every draft pick a presumptive superstar in the making who could eventually lead your team to glory.
Of course, the Trail Blazers don’t have a draft pick this year and attracting big-name free agents to Portland has always been a challenge, but when you’re the third-youngest team in the NBA, the future isn’t primarily defined by potential additions. And that’s especially true for a team coming off a 44-win season and their second playoff series victory in the last 16 years. While signing a all-star caliber free agent or obtaining a pick in the 2016 Draft would certainly help going forward, Portland’s fortunes are dependent on variables such as Allen Crabbe stepping into a bigger role, Al-Farouq Aminu building on a career season, CJ McCollum making the jump from very good to great and Damian Lillard becoming to bona fide Top 10 player in the league.
So while it never hurts to be optimistic about the opportunity for adding new talent, the Trail Blazers already have a strong footing going forward after rebuilding their roster just under a year ago during the 2015 offseason. That’s probably the main reason Portland jumped 10 spots to No. 8 in ESPN’s most recent Future Power Rankings. Here’s what ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton had to say about the ranking…
While we were relatively optimistic about the Trail Blazers in September, they’ve still tied for the largest jump since then. Portland moved back into the top 10 after not only defying expectations by making the playoffs but winning a series (albeit aided by the Clippers’ injuries) and competing with the Warriors in the second round.
Now, the Blazers have the opportunity to clear max space while retaining their young core, led by the dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. That’s possible because GM Neil Olshey locked up young free agents Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis to contracts that look like enormous bargains.
To threaten the West’s upper crust, Portland still must hold off younger teams rising out of the lottery. But a strong management team of Olshey and newly extended coach of the year runner-up Terry Stotts gives reason to believe in the Blazers.
Portland’s best rankings come in management (5th) and players (9th) while their worst score comes in money (19th), which is somewhat ironic considering one of the wealthiest people in the world owns the team, though this ranking is surely more reflective of their salary cap situation than an unwillingness to spend.
The Northwest Division does well in the future rankings, with the Utah Jazz just ahead of the Trail Blazers at No. 7 and the Minnesota Timberwolves just behind at No. 9.
With Portland’s playoff run now over, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard now has some free time on his hands to pursue his off-court interests. He’s already hit up Oak’s Park for some late-night rollerskating, attended a Portland Thorns game at Providence Park and welcomed his old buddy Tim Frazier back to town. And today, we know he’s back in the studio making music.
In a re-launch of the “Music Monday” feature that he started last offseason on his Soundcloud page, Lillard, or to be most specific, “Dame DOLLA,” has posted a new track entitled “Talk To Em” featuring V.I.P and Bozzle (who I think are Lillard’s cousins)…
One of Dame’s verses…
They glorifying goofballs, I’m salty as Utah
When you real they uncomfortable, plotting for you to fall
Man I’m changing up the game, forget about the politics
I stick my neck out for my loved ones, I’m like an ostrich
A lot of love around me you haters keep doing opposite
I’m really incompetent to taking many compliments
That sounds about right. Previous “Music Monday” releases from last year include “Soldier In The Game,” “Full Stomach,” “Why?” “Free Bands” and “The Villains.” Then there’s non-Music Monday releases such as “I Wish I Could Tell You,” “Heatwave,” and “They Sleep,” which, like “Talk To Em” was produced by Jahlil Beats, who also produced, among other things, the Rick Ross/Meek Mill hit “Ima Boss” and that Bobby Shmurda song whose name I can’t put on this blog. And of course, there’s “Bigger Than Us,” the video for which currently has roughly 750,000 views on YouTube.
A happy Friday the 13th to all of you loyal podcast listeners. Before everyone goes their separate ways now that the offseason is here, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net and TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio one last time to record a season-ending edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we attempt recap the series versus the Warriors, which ended in five games with a 125-121 loss at Oracle Arena Wednesday night, and the season in general, discuss the lasting effects of the playoff run and the respect that they earned from around the league due to their performance and look forward to some of the questions the Blazers will have to answer in the offseason, particularly in regard to free agency. And as always, we finish up by answering your Twitter-submitted questions on topics such as the culture the Trail Blazers have developed, (more) free agency, exit interviews and favorite moments from the just-completed season. It’s been a fun one.