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.
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”