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.
Few thought the Portland Trail Blazers would make the make the playoffs when the NBA regular season started back in November. And even those who did believe that Portland could overcome significant roster turnover to make the postseason, it’s hard to imagine that even they figured the Trail Blazers would still be playing come the beginning of May.
Yet here they are.
After winning their first round, best-of-seven playoff series 4-2 versus what ended up being a significantly hobbled Los Angeles Clippers squad, the Trail Blazers now advance to the Western Conference semifinals to take on the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors, with Game One scheduled to tip off Sunday at 12:30 pm at Oracle Arena.
As was the case versus the Clippers, Portland’s matchup versus Golden State is the first time the two teams will have met in the postseason. The Warriors took the 2015-16 season series 3-1, with their wins coming by an average of 20.3 points. But on the plus side, the Trail Blazers handed Golden State one of their nine losses this season, blowing out the defending champs 137-105 in the first game back from the All-Star break.
And there’s also the matter of Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, who is expected to miss at least the first two games of the series with a sprained MCL in his right knee. The reigning MVP, who is expected to win the award again this season, averaged 32.5 points on 54 percent shooting from the field and 53 percent shooting from three, 6.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds versus the Trail Blazers this season, so the fact that he’s sitting out at least the first game of the season certainly helps Portland’s chances. However, the Warriors still managed to beat the Houston Rockets in the first round with Curry sidelined and the Trail Blazers struggled at times to eliminate a Clippers team playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, so even with Curry out, Golden State are still the heavy favorites, especially playing at Oracle Arena, where they’ve lost just twice during the regular season.
Before the series starts on Sunday, brush up on the matchup by perusing some of the pertinent details of the previous meetings this season
SECOND ROUND SCHEDULE
Game One — Sunday, May 1: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors at Oracle Arena, 12:30 pm on ABC, 620 AM and ESPN Radio
Game Two — Tuesday, May 3: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors at Oracle Arena, 7:30 pm on TNT and 620 AM
Game Three — Saturday, May 7: Warriors vs. Trail Blazers at Moda Center, 5:30 pm on ABC and 620 AM
Game Four — Monday, May 9: Warriors vs. Trail Blazers at Moda Center, 7:30 pm on TNT and 620 AM
Game Five* — Wednesday, May 11: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors at Oracle Arena, Time TBD on TNT and 620 AM
Game Six* — Friday, May 13: Warriors vs. Trail Blazers at Moda Center, Time TBD on ESPN and 620 AM
Game Seven* — Monday, May 16: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors at Oracle Arena, 6 pm on TNT and 620 AM
* if necessary
TRAIL BLAZERS TALK CLIPPERS
“We thought (the Clippers) was tough without (Chris Paul) and Blake (Griffin), but that’s a championship team. Even without Steph (Curry), they’re still a championship team. We’ve got to keep our mind right, compete and play together. We can’t be worried about who’s not out there because we just watched them beat Houston by 25 twice without Steph. We’ve just got to keep improving on the things we’ve done well and be locked in defensively.
Lillard on how they beat the Warriors during the regular season…
“To beat them we basically had to outscore them. Against a team like that, when you don’t get stops and you let them get rolling, if we weren’t making shots the way we were, we probably would have lost by 30. We can’t let them be that comfortable, as comfortable as they were that night. They’re going to make shots, we can’t be discouraged by that, but every possession matters when you’re playing against a team like that because they always one three away from running off on you. So we’ve just got to be ready for that.”
“They pose a lot of problems. Historically speaking, they had a really good year breaking the record for wins, losing one game at home I believe this year, so you know it’s going to be a tough environment. Offensively, even without Steph (Curry), they do a great job of moving the ball. Draymond (Green) is the head of the snake now that Steph’s out, and he moves the ball well. He’s the heart and soul of the team and he gets everybody involved. Klay (Thompson) will be a little bit more aggressive looking to score without Steph and Harrison Barnes and Shaun Livingston and the rest of the guys will be a lot more aggressive too.”
“We’re ready for them. Obviously you get so locked in to one team that you have to take a deep breath, step back and start watching the film. They’re the champs, so you’ve got to beat them. They aren’t going to have off nights, they’re going to be locked in and we’re ready for the challenge.”
“It’s a big challenge, but we’re up for it. We feel like we can compete with anybody in this league. We’re NBA players just like them. We know it’s going to be a big challenge, but I think it’s going to be exciting for us.”
“Obviously they’re a great team, got a lot of pieces. Steph (Curry) is out but it’s still a great team. Without Steph they probably still a boarder line 50-win team. It’s not like they can’t play or whatever, so it’s going to be a tough series for us, so we’re going to take it one game at a time… It’s going to be a tough series, they’re a great team, they’re defending champions, so you know they definitely have a lot to play for. It’s going to be a tough series for us.”
“It’s a team we’re familiar with, we played them five times this year including preseason, so we’re familiar with them. There’s no surprises as to what they do well, what they want to do. I don’t know how long Steph will be out — I haven’t actually got to watch them much in the playoffs without him — but it’s a little different with him out there. They still play the same style but having a player like that out… I guess would change things a bit.”
PORTLAND: Meyers Leonard is OUT for the series after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder on April 8, 2016.
Golden State: Stephen Curry (MCL sprain, right knee) and Kevon Looney (left hip surgery) are OUT for Game One.
Points per game: Trail Blazers 105.1 (6th), Warriors 114.9 (1st)
Points against per game: Trail Blazers 104.3 (20th), Warriors 104.4 (19th)
Point differential: Trail Blazers +0.8 (13th), Warriors +10.8 (1st)
Field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 45 percent (16th), Warriors 49 percent (1st)
Opponent field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 45 percent (16th), Warriors 43 percent (3rd)
Three-point field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 37 percent (4th), Warriors 42 percent (1st)
True shooting percentage: Trail Blazers 55 percent (10th), Warriors 59 percent (1st)
Rebounds per game: Trail Blazers 45.5 (5th), Warriors 46.2 (4th)
Offensive rebounds per game: Trail Blazers 11.6 (3rd), Warriors 10.0 (20th)
Rebound differential: Trail Blazers +1.8 (10th), Warriors +2.3 (8th)
Rebound percentage: Trail Blazers 51 percent (10th), Warriors 51 percent (8th)
Assists per game: Portland 21.3 (21st), Warriors 28.9 (1st)
Turnovers per game: Trail Blazers 14.1 (17th), Warriors 14.9 (25th)
Pace: Trail Blazers 98.31 (12th), Warriors 101.6 (2nd)
Offensive rating: Trail Blazers 106.1 (7th), Warriors 112.5 (1st)
Defensive rating: Trail Blazers 105.6 (20th), Warriors 100.9 (5th)
Net rating: Trail Blazers +0.6 (14th), Warriors +11.6 (2nd)
• October 9, 2015: Trail Blazers 118, Warriors 101 (preseason)
While it’s foolhardy to draw too many conclusions from two games, it’s hard not to get a little excited about how the Trail Blazers have fared during the preseason, particularly on the offensive end, after their performance Thursday night against the defending NBA champs.
Thanks to the Allen Crabbe’s shot, Damian Lillard’s ability to get to the free throw line, a yeoman debut performance from Al-Farouq Aminu and quality contributions up and down the roster, the Portland Trail Blazers got their first win of the preseason Thursday night against the Golden State Warriors with an impressive 118-101 victory in front of 19,303 at the Moda Center.
“It was a positive night,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I was pleased with the way we played. Obviously scoring 77 in the first half, I didn’t see that coming but I really liked the tempo of the game. I liked how we were getting our shots, we were moving the ball. Both halves were completely different. It was up and down first half and much more of a defensive game in the second half. I thought we had a lot of good performances. Obviously (Crabbe) had a night and that was good to see the rhythm. I thought for the most part offensively we helped each other get shots and that helps the ball go in a little bit.”
The Portland Trail Blazers had their entire squad available for Friday night’s game against the defending NBA Champion Golden State at the Moda Center. There were no injuries, no illnesses, no suspensions and no clerical errors to speak of, making Friday’s contest one of the first this season in which Terry Stotts had the entirety of the roster at his disposal.
It didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
The Warriors, as they’ve done more often than not to their competition this season, dominated the Trail Blazers whenever they seemed to put their minds to it and eventually came away with a wire-to-wire 128-108 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 20,035, many of whom came to support the road team.
“Well, it was pretty obvious Golden State’s a pretty good basketball team,” said Stotts. “They showed why they have the record they have. They shot the ball really well, they passed — 36 assists. I think one of the things they do best is their passing and their shooting sets up a lot of their passing, obviously. They’re a good team.”
The Portland Trail Blazers entered the All-Star break playing their best basketball of the season, so there might have been some concern that a week off might have threatened their momentum.
But as Damian Lillard often says these days, don’t let that worry you.
Despite playing the Golden State Warriors, a juggernaut of a team that had lost just four games this season going into Friday night’s game, the Trail Blazers picked up right where they left off, blowing out the defending champs 137-105 in front of a sellout crowd at the Moda Center.
“It’s an understatement: we played very well,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I like the way we kept our composure. Offensively, we were terrific all night moving the ball. Dame had it going early, had it going late. After giving up some easy baskets in the fist quarter, I thought our defense was pretty solid the rest of the night. It was a great way to start after the break.”
The Portland Trail Blazers set out to do two things that no other NBA team had done this season: defeat the Golden State Warriors twice and hand the defending NBA champions their first loss on their home court since 2015.
They succeeded in neither.
The Warriors built a 15-point lead in the first quarter, which they extended to 23 in the second quarter on the way to scoring 81 points in the first half to eventually beat the Trail Blazers 128-112 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 at Oracle Arena Friday night in Oakland.
“They’re a championship team and they played like it,” said Damian Lillard. “I thought we came out and we had a pretty decent start. They’re great shooters, they see the ball go in and there’s not a whole lot you can do after that… They played a much better game than we did.”
On Friday, the Boston Celtics, a day after losing to the Trail Blazers at the Moda Center, became the first team this season to beat the Golden State Warriors on their home court this season, proving that the reigning NBA champions were not actually invincible at Oracle Arena.
But while that might be good news for the rest of the league, it didn’t do the Trail Blazers any favors Sunday afternoon in Oakland. Behind yet another ridiculous shooting night from reigning MVP Stephen Curry, a Warriors team determined to avoid suffering consecutive home losses for the first time since January 2014 bested the Trail Blazers 136-111 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596.
“We played much better than we did last time (in Oakland),” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They jumped on us early and we were never really in the game the last time. At least this game we were competitive for two, almost three quarters. It’s hard to look at the score and feel that, but we certainly played better than last time.”
PORTLAND — It wasn’t easy, but usually that’s the way things go in an elimination game.
Though it came down to the final seconds, the Portland Trail Blazers were able to defeat an undermanned Clippers team 106-103 Friday night at the Moda Center in Game Six of their first round playoff series. With the win, the Trail Blazers take the series 4-2 and move on to face the Golden State Warriors, the reigning NBA champions, in the Western Conference semifinals.
“Hey, 106-103 is beautiful,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, who become just the fourth Portland head coach to get his team out of the first round more than once. “Look, it was a grind it out game. They have some players who can put the ball in the basket and play off the dribble. Honestly, we lost so many of these type of games early in the season, to keep our composure and make the plays, get a rebound, make some free throws, trust your teammates. It’s not going to be a beautiful 48 minutes. But what I have a problem with is that when you don’t score, it’s considered ugly basketball – when two teams are really competing and playing hard and defending, to me, that’s a thing of beauty as well.”
With the win, the Trail Blazers improve to 10-0 all-time at home potential playoff series-clinching games. The Trail Blazers are the first team since 2000 to win four-consecutive playoff games in the same series. What’s more, the Trail Blazers are just the 16th team in NBA history to win a series after starting off losing the first two games.
And after failing to win a playoff series for 14-straight season, the Trail Blazers have now advanced to the second round in two of the last three seasons.
The Trail Blazers, as was the case in Game Five at Staples Center, were never able to put the Clippers away in the first three quarters, with the visitors, playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, taking an 82-80 lead into the fourth quarter. Portland would erase that slim deficit and take a seven-point lead of their own late in the fourth, but the Clippers never relented, tying the game at 103-103 with 32.1 seconds to play.
But Mason Plumlee would save the day, as he’s done on multiple occasions in the first round, by securing an offense rebound and getting fouled while attempting a putback with 14.7 seconds to play. He’d make both free throws, and would go 1-of-2 from the line on the next possession, to secure the three-point win.
“It feels great,” said Plumlee, who became the first Trail Blazer since 1977 to record at least 10 rebounds in five-straight playoff games. “There’s no easy playoff wins, there’s no easy series. Our guys were resilient, they really played well. We’re ready for the next round.
The Trail Blazers were led by Damian Lillard, who went 9-of-21 from the field for 28 points to go with seven assists and five rebounds in 38 minutes. CJ McCollum went 7-of-16 from the field and 2-of-3 from three to add 20 points.
Plumlee finished with nine points, 14 rebounds, four assists and a steal in 31 minutes. Maurice Harkless scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half to go with three rebounds in 29 minutes. Allen Crabbe went 5-of-9 to add 13 points and five rebounds in 31 minutes.
The Clippers had five players score in double figures led by Jamal Crawford, who went 10-of-25 from the field for a game-high 32 points. Austin Rivers, who was bloodied in the first quarter after catching an elbow from Al-Farouq Aminu, causing a gash that required 11 stitches, finished with 21 points, eight assists and six rebounds in 31 minutes.
The Trail Blazers now move on to face a Golden State Warriors team that set the NBA record for wins in a season with 73 after winning the 2015 NBA Championship. Reigning MVP Stephen Curry is currently sidelined with an MCL sprain and is not expected to be available for the first two games of the series, though Golden State still managed to advance to the second round nonetheless.
“We thought this team was tough without CP and Blake, but (the Warriors are) a championship team,” said Lillard. “Even without Steph, they’re still a championship team. We’ve got to keep our mind right, compete and play together. We can’t be worried about who’s not out there because we just watched them beat Houston by 25 twice without Steph. We’ve just got to keep improving on the things we’ve done well and be locked in defensively.”
On the plus side, the Trail Blazers were one of the few teams to best the Warriors this season, blowing out the defending champs 137-105 on February 19. However, Golden State took the other three games of the season series by an average of 20.3 points.
“They pose a lot of problems,” said McCollum. “Historically speaking, they had a really good year breaking the record for wins, losing one game at home I believe this year, so you know it’s going to be a tough environment. Offensively, even without Steph, they do a great job of moving the ball. Draymond is the head of the snake now that Steph’s out, and he moves the ball well. He’s the heart and soul of the team and he gets everybody involved. Klay will be a little bit more aggressive looking to score without Steph and Harrison Barnes and Shaun Livingston and the rest of the guys will be a lot more aggressive too.”
The Trail Blazers will now fly to the bay area for Game One, which is scheduled for Sunday at Oracle Arena in Oakland.
“As the series goes along, both teams will make adjustments,” said Stotts. “They’ve had some time to think about us. It’s going to be a challenge obviously, but we’ll watch a lot of video tonight and tomorrow, have a meeting tomorrow, and be ready to tip it up on Sunday.”
Tipoff is set for 7:30 pm on ABC and 620 AM.
When the Western Conference first round series between the Trail Blazers and Clippers started, many assumed it would be a quick affair, with the Clippers eventually moving on to face the Golden State Warriors in the second round. And after Warriors point guard Stephen Curry suffered a knee injury that will keep the reigning MVP sidelined for the start of the second round, much of the conversation revolved around how that would improve the Clippers’ chances of beating the defending champs in the Western Conference semifinals. The fact that the Clippers still had to beat the Trail Blazers two more times didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
A few days later, that narrative has flipped. Leading the series 3-2 with a chance to clinch in Game Six tonight at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on KGW, ESPN and 620 AM), the Trail Blazers are now Golden State’s presumptive opponent, as injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have all but ended the Clippers’ playoff run.
But just as the Clippers still had to win four games to advance, so too do the Trail Blazers, which is a good reminder that there are no such thing as inevitability when it comes to sports. “That’s why the play the game,” might be trite, but it’s still as true as it ever was, something the Trail Blazers know as well as any team still alive in the postseason.
“We just go out there and play, we don’t really pay attention to what’s being said,” said CJ McCollum. “You can’t read into that too much. First we were supposed to get swept, first we were just happy to win a game, so you just go play. You don’t really worry about the other stuff, you just control what you can control, keep your mindset the same, understand that nothing is inevitable. You’ve got to go out there and play.”
Though the Trail Blazers were able to beat the Clippers 108-98 at Staples Center in Game Five sans Paul and Blake, a team led by JJ Redick, DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers still managed to take a five-point lead into the half and had the game tied at 71-71 going into the fourth quarter, so it’s not as if any team, including Portland, can just roll the ball out in a playoff game and expect to emerge with the victory. After all, if that were the case, the Clippers would already be in Oakland preparing for the Western Conference semifinals.
“We understand that they’re a good team,” said McCollum “Regardless of what’s happened, regardless of what injuries they’ve gone through, they’re still a good team and we’ve still got to go play the game.”