HOUSTON — The Portland Trail Blazers gave up a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter Sunday night in Houston, eventually losing 118-113 in overtime to fall to 42-21 on the season.
The Trail Blazers were outscored 33-21 in the fourth quarter and went scoreless in the final 2:15 of overtime to drop their second-straight game in heartbreaking fashion.
“That was a tough loss,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “A game that, I thought we did a good job of controlling it for a good part of it. We had our opportunities to win it. They made some tough shots. I thought we we overcame some adversity and still put ourselves in a position to win, but we didn’t close it out.”
After getting off to a terrible start in Friday night’s road loss to the Mavericks, the Trail Blazers flipped the proverbial script versus the Rockets, getting off to a 10-0.
But like most good teams do, the Rockets looked to one of their superstars, in this case, James Harden, to settle the team down. Harden shot just 2 of 7 from the field in the first but made all six of his free throws to finish the quarter with 11 points while helping Houston pull to within two points by the end of the first quarter despite Dwight Howard having to sit after picking up two early fouls. Portland also helped Houston’s cause by turning the ball over seven times, which the Rockets turned into 11 points.
Portland would find their rhythm again in the second quarter. Through a combination of cutting down their turnovers and holding Houston to 32 percent shooting from the field, the Trail Blazers outscored the Rockets 24-19 in the second to take a 54-47 lead into the halftime intermission.
The Trail Blazers were able to build on their lead in the third quarter, thanks in large part to 11 points from Wesley Matthews, who shot 4 of 6 from the field and 3 of 4 from three while playing the entire quarter. Robin Lopez went 3 of 3 from the field and 2 of 2 from the line in the third for eight points, which helped Portland outscore Houston 31-26 to take a 12-point lead into the final quarter.
But that 13-point lead wouldn’t be enough. As was the case Friday night in Dallas, the Trail Blazers went through long stretches, particularly late in the fourth, in which they were unable to get shots to fall. Propelled almost entirely by the play of Harden, who shot 6 of 10 from the field and 4 of 5 from three in the final 12 minutes of regulation, the Rockets were able to steadily cut into Portland’s lead.
“They just made a great comeback,” said Damian Lillard. “James Harden made a bunch of tough shots and we missed a few free throws, turnovers. We were still in position to win the game. We had our opportunities. They just kept coming and they found a way to get it done.”
The Trail Blazers would go for over six minutes in the fourth without a field goal, though they did earn four trips to the free throw line during that stretch, Unfortunately, they shot 5 of 8 from the line during that stretch, opening the door up just enough for the Rockets to take their first lead of the night after a Jeremy Lin three-pointer with 1:25 to play in regulation put the home team up 102-101.
Lillard would score on the ensuing possession. Matthews would be the next player to score, hitting two free throws with 19 seconds to play in regulation to put Portland up three.
Lin would then earn a trip to the line, hitting one of two, to cut Portland’s lead to two. Matthews was fouled by Patrick Beverley on the ensuing possession, sending Matthews to the line with 12 seconds to play and a chance to make it a two-possession game. But Matthews would miss his only free throw of the night on the second attempt, which left the door open for the Rockets to tied.
And Houston did just that. Despite great defense from Matthews, Harden was able to connect on a three-pointer from the corner in front of Portland’s bench to tied the game with eight seconds to play.
Portland had one more chance to win the game in regulation after calling a timeout to advance the ball to halfcourt. Batum tried to find Lillard for a lob, but Lin made a play on the ball for the steal.
“Damian was coming wide open,” said Stotts of Portland’s last offensive play of regulation. “Jeremy Lin made a really good read, he left Mo open in the corner. Damian broke open, it was just Jeremy Lin made a really good read on it.”
After the steal, Lin got the ball to Beverley, whose last-second attempt rimmed out to send the game to overtime.
The Trail Blazers would draw first blood in the overtime on a Lillard three-pointer, but Portland would net just one more field goal in the overtime period while the Rockets get buckets from Lin, Harden and Chandler Parson to take the lead and eventually the game.
“We definitely had looks at the end,”said LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks, “but I think at times we try to play too fast and Houston made us play a little faster and at times we definitely fell into their trap. For the most part, we had looks and we just missed them.”
Portland was led by Matthews, who finished the night with 26 points, four rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block in 41 minutes. Robin Lopez had a double-double of 11 points, 11 rebounds while also blocking five shots. Lillard, who fouled out early in the overtime period, had 21 points, four assists and four rebounds but also turned the ball over seven times in 33 minutes.
Harden led all scorers with 41 points while also adding 10 rebounds, six assists and six steals.
“(Harden) played well,” said Matthews. “We know what he’s going to do with pick-and-rolls, and going to his left, and they were going to call fouls for him. He’s going to hit free throws. It’s easy to get a rhythm when you shoot a lot of free throws and he was able to do that. He hit a big shot from the corner to tie the game up. He’s playing good basketball.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers travel to Memphis to take on the Grizzlies Tuesday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 PM.
Of all the adjectives one could use to describe the 2015-16 Portland Trail Blazers, “resilient” might be the most applicable. Despite being the third-youngest team in the NBA this season, the Trail Blazers have been remarkably adept at bouncing back. Whether it was replacing four of five starters from the season before, enduring two losing streaks of at least five games or finishing the season by going 33-18 after starting the year 11-20 to make the postseason and finish fifth in the Western Conference, the Trail Blazers, under Terry Stotts’ steady hand, have shown a level of maturity with regard to the way they’ve dealt with disappointment that belies their relative youth and inexperience.
Which is good, because they’re going to need every last bit of fortitude they can muster to get over their fourth-quarter performance at Oracle Arena in their 110-99 loss to the Warriors in Game Two of the Western Conference semifinals. Despite leading by as much as 17 in the game and 11 in the fourth quarter, the Trail Blazers were outscored 34-12 in the final 12 minutes, resulting in an 11-point loss and a 2-0 series deficit.
“They’re not a young team, they’ve got a lot of guys that have been around, they’re very smart,” said Damian Lillard of the Warriors. “They see slippage and they go after it. If they see something that they can take advantage of, they take advantage of it. In that last five minutes (of Game Two), we just let our foot off the gas a little bit. I don’t know if it was fatigue mentally but we had some mental mistakes. One or two plays got them going, they got into it and the better they played offensively, they just got sharper defensively. That hurt us.”
While every loss stings, Portland’s loss in Game Two seemed to be more painful than most, for multiple reasons. First, the Warriors have lost at Oracle Arena just twice during the regular season, setting the NBA record for most consecutive home victories in the process, making the unfulfilled opportunity of beating the defending champs on their home court, and in a playoff game no less, a rather bitter pill to swallow, especially after leading for all but the last five minutes of the game. The Trail Blazers will have to beat the Warriors at least once at Oracle to move on to the Western Conference Finals, and one could argue that they won’t get a better chance to do so than they had Tuesday night.
“After that game, I was pretty hot about that one,” said Lillard. “Just because not only was it a great opportunity, but we had it. It was right there, all we had to do was four and a half, five minutes where we just got to be as sharp as possible. That was the challenge for us, just lock in even more, take it to a new level. Instead of that, we went a little bit downhill and they picked it up the way we needed to pick it up. We just wasn’t able to finish it. It sucked man. I was pretty hot about that one.”
And then there’s the matter of soon-to-be two-time MVP Stephen Curry, who has sat out the last two games with a sprained MCL in his right knee. While the Trail Blazers are in no way rooting for Curry to remain sidelined, the simple fact is they have a much better chance of beating the Warriors when the best player in the NBA is in street clothes. Golden State head coach Steve Kerr said the Curry would probably sit out Game Three as well, though it seems very unlikely he misses another game this series at Oracle, which, once again, makes the loss in Game Two that much more disappointing.
“I can’t speak on behalf of (the rest of the team), I don’t know how they feel personally, but it’s a game we should have won,” said CJ McCollum. “It’s unfortunate that we let it slip away. That’s what good teams do, they hang around and they finish off games at home. We’ve got to be better than that and I think we will be better. Got to move forward now and take advantage of Game Three.”
Luckily, the Trail Blazers have a bit of extra time to put Game Two behind them. While they have shown an ability to learn from their mistakes and move on this season, some players admitted that Game Two going down the way it did was lingering a bit. And in those situations, sometimes the best solution is playing another game as soon as possible, though that might not be the case this time around.
“Yesterday, I didn’t even want to see a basketball,” said Lillard. “I wasn’t even going to watch the playoff game yesterday until I heard Cleveland was hitting a bunch of threes, so I wanted to see for myself. But I didn’t even want to have nothing to do with basketball yesterday after that game.”
But after a day away from the game, Lillard and the rest of the Trail Blazers returned to their facility in Tualatin to prepare for Game Three at the Moda Center. If they’re able to make the improvements and adjustments necessary to get their first victory of the series Saturday night in Portland, they might truly be able to move on from what happened Tuesday night in Oakland.
“Ain’t nothing I can do about it now. In my mind, it’s over,” said McCollum. “It’s unfortunate that it had to happen but we can learn from it. We can’t sulk and moan and act like it’s the end of the world. We’re down 0-2 against a very good team. Now we’re at home, now we have a very good opportunity to take advantage of two home games and learn from mistakes in the first two games.”
Now back in Portland for games Three and Four of the second round series versus the Golden State Warriors, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio to record a Game Two recap edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this latest edition we discuss Portland’s collapse in the fourth quarter of Game Two that turned what looked like a rare road win at Oracle Arena into an 11-point loss, how the Trail Blazers go about putting that game behind them before Game Three at the Moda Center, the reports of Stephen Curry sitting out Game Three, Maurice Harkless’ defense on Klay Thompson, the overall quality of the defending champs and answer a few questions about Game Three adjustments, Portland’s locker room, Draymond Green, how far we can run at this point in our lives and a few more random things that I’ve already since forgotten.
OAKLAND — For the first three quarters, it looked as though the Portland Trail Blazers might actually beat the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena, something that only two teams have managed to do in the last seven months.
But unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, NBA games last four quarters. And Tuesday night in Oakland, the Warriors outscored the Trail Blazers 34-12 in the final 12 minutes to come away with a 110-99 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 in Game Two of the Western Conference semifinals.
“We played three really good quarters, and we showed that we can compete with them, and it got away from us in the fourth quarter, obviously,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “It was disappointing to lose a game that you’re competitive and you’re in a position to be in the fourth quarter. But we’ve got to close it out… It was an opportunity to get a win on the road, and we’ve got to learn from it and be ready to go get one in Game Three.”
The Warriors now lead the series 2-0.
“I think nights like tonight, they suck,” said Damian Lillard. “It hurts to go back in the locker room after you play so well for so long and you come back in there with the L. But it is a part of growth. The entire season has been growth for us. But nights like tonight, we have to close that out. We have to get that done. It was just a missed opportunity.”
The first half of Tuesday night’s game went about as well as the Trail Blazers could possible expect, with Portland taking a 17-point lead in the second quarter thanks to shooting 51 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. Though the Warriors would cut into the Trail Blazers lead thanks to an 18-3 run, Portland, as was the case for most of the night, always seemed to counter at just the right time to quiet the Oracle Arena crowd. That counter in at the end of the second quarter came courtesy of back-to-back threes from Al-Farouq Aminu and Damian Lillard to push the lead back to eight by the intermission.
Portland, thanks mostly to Lillard going 6-of-11 from the field and 4-of-5 from three in the third, extended their lead to 11 going into the fourth quarter before Golden State got white hot to finish out the game. The Warriors took their first lead of the night early in the fourth quarter and would go on to win by 11 after finishing out the game by shooting 11-of-18 in the final 12 minutes of regulation. The Trail Blazers also play right into the Warriors’ hands by turning the ball over five times while going 5-of-19 from the field.
“I think the last run, they were desperate,” said Lillard. “It got to the point where it was win or lose. There wasn’t another quarter after that. It wasn’t just stay with it. It was, ‘We’ve got to do it now.’ And they played desperate, and we just didn’t respond to it well enough to finish the game.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who scored 17 in the third quarter before finishing with 25 points on 8-of-20 shooting from the field and 6-of-11 shooting from three, six assists and four rebounds in 40 minutes. CJ McCollum went 9-of-19 for 22 points, two rebounds and two assists in 41 minutes.
Aminu got off to a fast start, scoring 10 points in the first quarter before finishing with 14 to go along with six rebounds and two assists. Maurice Harkless would add 11 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes with Gerald Henderson coming off the bench to add 12.
As was the case in Game One, Klay Thompson would lead the Warriors with 27 points on 7-of-20 shooting from the field and 5-of-14 shooting from three. Draymond Green, who was the driving force along with Festus Ezeli in Golden State’s pivotal fourth quarter, was just shy of another triple-double with 17 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in 41 minutes while also blocking four shots.
“I think there came a point where me and Klay were trying to do too much,” said Green. “When we settled down and trusted everybody else, that’s when everything started to click for us. So as far as the way I’ve been playing with the exception of that one game, it’s playoff basketball. This is what we live for. You play the whole season to get to this point.”
Shaun Livingston and Harrison Barnes scored 14 and 13 points, respectively, with Andre Igoudala putting up 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting off the bench.
Next up, the series takes a three-day break before shifting to Portland for Game Three on Saturday at the Moda Center.
“We’ve been in bad positions time and time again, and we’ve never shied away,” said Lillard. “We’ve never not answered the call. I don’t see why this time it would be any different. In our last series against the Clippers, we were down 0-2. We went home, and the next two games they were pretty much full strength. They had their guys and we got it done those two games. Obviously, Golden State is a different monster, but we know the same thing can happen, and that’s what we’re going in there thinking and believing, and we’re back on our home floor. We’ve got to go out there and play a game like tonight and go finish it.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 pm on ABC and 620 AM.