The Portland Trail Blazers ended a four games in five nights road trip with a 105-97 loss to the Thunder in Oklahoma City Tuesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“It was disappointing to lose the game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, “but, on the road against Oklahoma City, if you can put yourself in a position to win a game late in the fourth quarter, that’s what you want. I thought we played a very good game; I thought it was a good game overall for both teams. It came down to it and they made the plays they needed to.”
With the loss, the Trail Blazers finish the road trip 2-2. With the win, the Thunder passed the Trail Blazers for the second-best record in the Western Conference behind the San Antonio Spurs.
“Definitely not happy about it,” said LaMarcus Aldridge of the road trip. “We put ourselves in position to at least win this one tonight. We didn’t close it out, going 2-2 on a road trip isn’t bad but it’s not great for us.”
Unlike Monday night in Houston, the Trail Blazers got off to a great start offensively in the first quarter in Oklahoma City, hitting five of their first eight shots to take an early 11-2 lead.
But those kind of early leads never last in the NBA, especially not on the road against a team lucky enough to have Kevin Durant on their roster. The perennial MVP candidate would score nine points in just over two and a half minutes to steady the Thunder and get the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd into the game. Durant would net 15 points on six of eight shooting by the end of the first quarter to cut Portland’s lead to 27-21 going into the second quarter.
“You guard him in the game and sometimes you’re right there and you’ve got two guys on him and he make the shot anyway,” said Nicolas Batum, who played 35 minutes despite aggravating his broken left middle finger the night before in the loss to the Rockets. “He’s the MVP.”
The Thunder would all but erase the lead in the next 12 minutes, though they would do so with much more balanced scoring than in the first quarter with both Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson scoring six points in the second quarter.
The Trail Blazers would get their own contributions from Wesley Matthews and Mo Williams, who would finish with 10 and 13 points, respectively, by the halftime break. But despite that, Portland would take just a one-point lead into the intermission.
And just as they did in the first quarter, the Trail Blazers would seize momentum in the third quarter. Portland led by as many as nine after a 13-4 run that would be capped by two free throws from Lillard with 2:34 to play in the third. But the Thunder, thanks mostly to Durant’s shooting and three Portland turnovers, would answer back with an 11-0 run to take a 77-75 lead into the fourth.
It would be a back-and-fourth battle to start the final quarter with both teams trading baskets and control of the lead.
And then, Durant struck again.
After receiving a technical foul for slamming his hand into the scorer’s table, Durant responded with a made layup followed by a three-pointer to tie the game at 95-95. Then he hit a three-pointer. And then another. And another.
“MVP performance,” said Stotts of Durant. “To score 46 points on 25 shots, six of seven from threes, and I think he got a couple of his shots blocked. It was a remarkable performance. He made shots when they mattered. He took his time and didn’t force it. He took what was there, and he made some great shots.”
Add in both Jackson and Kendrick Perkins hitting timely jumpers and the result was a 15-0 Thunder run to end the game.
“We gave ourselves a chance down the stretch,” said Lillard. “We missed a lot of shots that we’ve been making. It’s been a tough trip so when it came down to it, time to win the game, they made shots and we missed a few opportunities. “
Portland would get 29 points from Aldridge, though he missed his last five shots at a time when the Trail Blazers needed something to stop Oklahoma City’s momentum.
“They went to me late in the game and I missed shots,” said Aldridge, who also added 16 rebounds. “Part of this is on me. I have to make shots down the stretch. That’s my job on this team and tonight I didn’t do it.”
Matthews finished with 21 points on seven of 15 shooting, four assists and four rebounds in 35 minutes. Robin Lopez tallied yet another double-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds.
Lillard would add 14 points and Williams would finish with a game-high nine assists.
With the trip completed, the Trail Blazers return home to host yet another Northwest Division Rival, the Denver Nuggets, on Thursday at the Moda Center.
“We didn’t go 0-4,” said Damian Lillard of the trip. “We got two wins out of it, we would have liked to played a better game (Monday night), we had a chance tonight. We’ve got another one coming up so we’ve got to take what we can from it and move on.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.
MEMPHIS — The Portland Trail Blazers haven’t had much luck in Memphis over the last few years, be it in the regular season or playoffs. But their fortunes in the River City changed Monday night, as the Trail Blazers overcame a five-point deficit in the final 90 seconds of regulation, were the beneficiaries of basketball’s version of an own goal to force overtime and then proceeded to allow just four points in the extra period on the way to defeating the Grizzlies 112-106 in front of 15,892 at FedExForum.
“I was really pleased with our perseverance in that game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We just kept after it. We did a lot of good things, enough to win the game, but a lot of good contributions by a lot of guys and showed a lot of heart to win that game on the road.”
Portland is now 26-27 overall, which is a half game back from the Utah Jazz for eighth place in the Western Conference, and 11-16 on the road this season. The win is Portland’s first in Memphis since January 4, 2013, snapping a streak of eight-straight losses, including playoffs, and their 15th overtime victory since the start or the 2012-13 season. The Trail Blazers have won 11 of their last 14 games, with four of those occurring on the road.
Monday night’s game seemed destined to go to overtime, as evidenced by three of the four quarters ending with a buzzer-beating field goal. Between 17 lead changes, none of which were by more than six points, and 18 ties and it only seemed fair that Monday’s contest would last longer than the traditional 48 minutes.
Though the end of regulation probably didn’t feel all that fair to the Grizzlies or their supporters. Tony Allen’s free throw with 7.6 seconds to play in the fourth quarter gave Memphis a 102-100, a lead that survived a Damian Lillard three-point attempt with roughly 2.0 seconds to play and a would-be CJ McCollum putback. Both Allen Crabbe and Gerald Henderson would make contact with the loose ball as it bounced off the rim, but replays would show that it was actually Grizzlies forward Jeff Green who touched the ball last before it passed through the net as time expired. It wasn’t entirely clear what the call on the floor was initially, but in the end, Crabbe was credited with the basket, even though Henderson seemed to be the last Blazer to touch the ball, and the game went to overtime.
“I tried to make a play on the ball and it went in so they gave me the two points so I’m going to take credit for the tip-in,” said Crabbe. “I feel like I had a piece of the ball. I don’t want to lie, I saw the ball come out and I was down there. We can all just go back to the footage really and check it out. Like I said, they gave me the two points so I tipped it in.”
After going 4-of-12 from the field in the first three quarters, McCollum scored the first six points of the overtime to give the Trail Blazers a 108-102 lead with under two minutes to play.
“CJ McCollum was struggling, but over time late in the fourth into overtime, it was good to see him,” said Stotts. We needed every one of (his points). But he got on track, he got his rhythm on his jump shot and for him to fight through some of the frustration he was having throughout the game and coming out strong late was really a good sign.”
As was Portland’s play on the defensive end in the overtime. The Trail Blazers held the Grizzlies to 2-of-13 shooting, blocked two shots and forced two turnovers in the overtime period, with the play of the game coming with 10 seconds to play and the Blazers clinging to a 108-106 lead. McCollum had a jumper blocked by Green, which Zach Randolph securing the rebound before finding a streaking Allen for what looked like an easy game-tying layin. But the Blazers gave chase rather than giving up on the play, prompting Allen to flub the layup.
“I thought we played with a lot of grit and defensively we have really picked it up, getting key stops,” said Stotts. “I thought the play of the game was the runback by Damian Lillard and Allen Crabbe and Ed Davis and Gerald Henderson on the layup, that could have gone either way. That was a big time hustle play and it was a winning play, and I think we really locked in on doing those type of things.”
Green’s putback attempt would also miss the mark, Davis would grab the rebound and all that would be left is for the Blazers to make their free throws, which they did, on the way to the four-point victory. In a season that has seen the Trail Blazers blow leads for losses on numerous occasions, winning a close game after trailing in the fourth quarter seemed to be a demonstrable sign of growth for a team that feels they’ve left a few wins on the table.
“We know how to close games out now,” said Crabbe, who finished with 13 points, four rebounds and three steals after missing Saturday’s game in Houston with a bout of gastritis. “We know what it takes now. Everybody is digging down defensively to get the stops we need. I think everybody’s game has taken that next step. As the season goes along, I just feel like we know how many wins we can get at home, winning in these situations and we need to make sure we get these wins. I think everybody is just on the same page and we’re just playing hard.”
The Blazers were led by Lillard, who score 20 points in the first half and went on to finish 9-of-22 from the field, 5-of-13 from three and 10-of-12 from the free throw line for 33 points in 43 minutes. It is the 12th time this season that the 6-3 point guard out of Weber State has scored at least 30 points.
“(Lillard) was really good all game obviously, but Memphis did a good job defensively in the second half,” said Stotts. “They went small pick-and-rolls, they did a good job defending the pick-and-rolls… But Damian certainly had it rolling in the first half.”
Lillard also added five assists, four rebounds, a steal and a block.
“I think our team was excited because our last time in Houston, we let the game slip at the end,” said Lillard. “Our last time (in Memphis) we lost the game with 0.6 seconds left. We’ve been playing a lot better since then. We handled our business in Houston, we came out tonight, we grinded it out, we had a lot of things not go our way, but we stayed the course, we stayed together, we trusted each other on the defensive end of the floor — I think that’s what it came down to.”
McC0llum late-game flurry helped the starting shooting guard shake off a tough start to finish with 21 points and six assists in 38 minutes. Gerald Henderson continued a streak of strong play to finish with 16 points and three rebounds in 35 minutes. Henderson, Crabbe, Davis and Maurice Harkless combined to score 47 points on 63 percent shooting off the bench in Monday’s victory.
Meyers Leonard started in place of Noah Vonleh, who missed his second-straight start with a sprained left ankle, and finished with three points in 13 minutes. Stotts opted to use a small lineup for most of the game after Grizzlies center Marc Gasol left the game in the first quarter with a right foot injury.
The Grizzlies were led by 27 points from Mike Conley, with Zach Randolph right behind him with 26 points on 12-of-19 shooting. Both Green and Mario Chalmers scored 12 points off the bench.
Next up, the Trail Blazers return home to host the Houston Rockets, a team they beat to start the now-completed two-game road trip on Saturday, with a chance to get back to .500 before the All-Star break. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm.
The 2015-16 NFL season comes to a close Sunday with the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers facing off at Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, CA. And after having an official rooting interest the last two years by way of the Seattle Seahawks, a team owned by Paul Allen, making the Super Bowl in consecutive seasons, the Trail Blazers seem fairly ambivalent about the result this time around. Various player on Portland’s roster have acquaintances on both the Broncos and Panthers, and Gerald Henderson is probably pulling slightly for Carolina considering he spent his first six NBA seasons in Charlotte while playing for the Bobcats/Hornets, but outside of those casual ties, the preference among most of the Trail Blazers is to simply see a good game regardless of which team wins.
Outside of Terry Stotts, that is. While he’s not taking the game too seriously, if at all, Portland’s head coach would like to see the Broncos win the Super Bowl for one reason: he looks a bit like Denver quarterback and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Despite being almost 20 years older and roughly five inches taller, it’s not uncommon for Stotts to be mistaken for Manning, at least outside of Portland.
“I was sitting in Starbucks in a Vegas and a guy kept looking at me while I was drinking my Starbucks,” recalled Stotts. “As I was leaving he showed me a picture on his phone and he goes ‘Is this you?’ and it was a picture of Peyton Manning. I said ‘No, wrong guy’… And last summer I was up in Canada and somebody thought I was Peyton Manning up there, too.”
It’s not hard to see the resemblance. They share similar complexions, similar builds and just have the somewhat difficult to pinpoint look of men who have played contact sports at their highest levels for extended periods of time. Putting your body through that kind of rigor obviously takes a toll, one that can be seen in both Stotts and Manning, the most obvious example being the long, thin nose rendered permanently crooked by countless hits and multiple breaks that both men share.
But on a more obvious and less esoteric level, the two share some easy to distinguish features that make for apt comparisons. They both have narrow jaws, long faces, large foreheads and closely cropped, slightly thinning brown hair parted from left to right. Then there’s the shared facial expressions that fluctuate between aw-shucks when content and red-faced, about-to-blow when angered. Whatever is, Stotts looks enough like a Manning to get mistaken for Peyton on the regular while somehow avoiding comparisons to his younger brother Eli, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants.
One might assume Stotts would take offense at being mistaken for a Manning considering he’s built an impressive pro sports resume of his own, but apparently the flattery of the comparison more than outweighs the annoyance of being lesser known.
Said Stotts: “Saying that I look like someone who is 20 years younger than me is totally okay.”
It’s been a bit of an up and down year for both Maurice Harkless and Gerald Henderson in their first seasons as Trail Blazers since being acquired via separate trades during the 2015 offseason,
Henderson missed all of training camp, preseason and the first eight games of the regular season, a difficult hurdle for a new player to clear, even for one entering his seventh NBA season, after undergoing a minor hip surgery in the offseason. As for Harkless, he’s already appeared in more games this season with the Trail Blazers as he did during the entirety of his last season with the Orlando Magic, though he’s seen most of his statistics, from minutes to points to rebounds, diminish every month as the year has played out.
For much of the season, Harkless and Henderson have been in a competition for playing time, with head coach Terry Stotts playing both roughly equal minutes in the first half of games, with the second-half minutes going to whoever played the best in the first. That went on for the first half of the season until Stotts opted to cut his rotation from 10 players to nine, which resulted in Henderson’s minutes increasing considerably while Harkless was relegated to playing mop-up minutes or simply drawing DNPs.
But Saturday night in Houston, Stotts would need both Harkless and Henderson with starting power forward Noah Vonleh out with a sprained left ankle and Allen Crabbe, Portland’s top sixth man this season, sidelined with a bout of gastritis. They responded by combining for 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting while taking turns checking Rockets All-Star shooting guard James Harden as Portland defeated Houston 96-79 at the Toyota Center. It was arguably the first game in which both players exceeded the high hopes Trail Blazers fans had for the two athletic wings, a game in which they were menaces on the defensive end while managing to take advantage of the opportunities provided by playing alongside the likes of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the offensive end.
“I (Harkless) he was very consistent with (Harden),” said Stotts. “He had good length, he was really in tune every possession. Harden is a great player, he’s going to get shots and you’re not going to completely stop him but I thought he worked really hard on him.”
Harden finished with 33 points, but needed 18 shots from both the field and free throw line while committing a career-high 10 turnovers, due in large part to the effort Henderson and Harkless put in.
“Gerald had a lot of bounce,” said Stotts. “He’s been on a roll, he’s feeling very comfortable out there. I thought defensively, he was good as well, he had his stint on Harden.”
As noted by his head coach, Henderson played easily his best basketball of the season since the middle of January, which has coincided with the Trail Blazers winning 10 of their last 13 games. Whether it’s due to being completely fit after missing the start of the season or knowing he’s going to second-half minutes — or a combination of both — Henderson has looked more like the player who started 292 games over six season with the Hornets.
“I feel good. I think that’s how I’m used to playing. I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor. I think that helped us win tonight.
“I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor,” said Henderson. “I think that helped us win tonight.”
While Henderson’s production has become somewhat expected over the last month of the season, seeing Harkless go from playing seven minutes combined in the five games prior to starting the last two games in place of Vonleh has been a surprise. Harkless himself said he was a bit taken aback by his promotion, though it was something he had prepared himself for, even when he was only playing fourth-quarter blowout minutes.
“I just stayed locked in the whole time,” said Harkless. “Even when I wasn’t playing at all, just stayed locked in, stayed ready, just kept working every day. I knew it would come back around.”
He only got 16 minutes in his first start of the season versus the Raptors, taking just one shot and scoring just two points in the loss. But on Saturday, Harkless almost doubled his playing time to 30 minutes and made a much larger impression in the process, going 2-of-3 from three in the first quarter and 6-of-13 from the field for the game while grabbing six rebounds and tallying two steals.
“I definitely think I just played better tonight,” said Harkless. “Last game, I hadn’t played in six games or something like that, it kind of caught me off guard when (Stotts) told me I was starting. So I think a little bit of it was rust but tonight I just went out there and just played. Making those first two shots, that was big for me as well.”
“For a guy to go games without even checking on sometimes or getting in for the last few minutes of blowouts, he could have easily been in his feelings and checked out on us, but he’s stayed locked in,” said Damian Lillard of Harkless. “At practice when they get out there and play three-on-three, he’s playing hard, he’s competitive, he’s positive. He’s been himself. I talked to him, I told him ‘You’ve just got to stick with it. You’re a huge part of what we’re gonna do. Just keep your mind right and be ready because you never know.’ We had a few guys do down and now he’s playing really well for us. I was happy with the way he played tonight.”
It’s hard to tell what will happen to Harkless’ and, to a lesser extent, Henderson’s minutes once the Trail Blazers are back to full strength. But for the first time this season, the full potential of both players was a welcomed sight.