SALT LAKE CITY — The Trail Blazers finished their 2013-14 road schedule Friday night in Salt Lake City with a 111-99 victory versus the Utah Jazz in front of a crowd of 19,248 at Energy Solutions Arena.
“It’s good to get a win here,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, who moved to 200 career coaching victories Friday night. “We were disappointed with our defense in the first quarter but I thought we really turned it around in the second and third quarter, defensively. That’s how we need to continue to play. But this place is always a tough place to play. Utah plays hard every time, so it was a quality win for us.”
Portland finishes the regular season with a 23-18 record away from the Moda Center, which is tied for the sixth-best road record in franchise history. With the win, the Trail Blazers sweep the Jazz 4-0 for the first time in franchise history and move to an NBA-best 13-3 in division this season.
“Any time you can sweep a series, it’s good,” said Wesley Matthews, who played his rookie season with the Jazz. “It sets a benchmark and it also sets a tone for seasons to come. The next season, it’s something you remember.”
The win, coupled with a Houston Rockets loss earlier in the night to the Timberwolves, brings the Trail Blazers to within a half game of the fourth seed and the home court advantage in the first round that comes with it. Portland has two games left to play, while Houston has three games remaining.
For a while, it looked like the Trail Blazers might join the Rockets in losing to a team already eliminated for playoff contention. After the teams mostly traded baskets for the first nine minutes of Friday night’s game, the Jazz went on a 14-2 run to end the first quarter and take a 31-23 lead into the second.
But Portland, as they’ve done often times this season, were able to get back into the game thanks to their three-point shooting. Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Mo Williams would combine to go 4 of 9 from three in the second to help Portland outscore Utah 30-20 in the quarter to take a two-point lead into the half. Matthews was particuarly effective late in the quarter, scoring 10 points in the final three minutes of the first half.
‘They put up a fight, as we knew they were going to,” said Matthews. “This is always been a tough place to play. I’m still mad I missed a lot of easy ones still.”
The third quarter was another back-and-forth battle, with neither team able to take a put any meaningful distance between themselves and their opponent. Portland would shoot eight free throws, making seven, in the quarter to just three for Utah, but the Jazz made two three-pointers while the Blazers missed both of their attempts. The end result was a 76-76 tie game going into the final quarter.
But then, it was Lillard Time. After scoring just two points and missing all four of his attempts from the field in the first three quarters, Lillard, playing in front of a considerable number of Weber State fans, hit three three-pointers in a three minute span early in the fourth to lift Portland to a 96-85 lead with 6:28 to play in regulation.
“The first (shot in the fourth quarter) felt real good,” said Lillard. “Once that one felt good, I said, ‘If I get another clean look, I’m going to raise up again,’ and I happened to get a couple more and I hit a couple in a row. I’m just happy it came at a time when we needed it.”
Lillard would finish the quarter with 14 points on 4 of 5 shooting from beyond the arc. The second-year point guard now has 463 fourth-quarter points this season, which is second only to Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant.
“Those threes really turned the momentum of the game,” said Stotts. “I don’t think LA was in the game — we had a shooting lineup in. Dame just took it on himself to make something happen.”
After Lillard’s scoring outburst, the Trail Blazes were able to once again trade baskets with the Jazz before turning the game over to the bench with just over a minute to play to cruise to a 12-point victory.
Portland got double-digit scoring nights from all five of their starters, with Matthews leading the way with 21 points on on 6 of 14 shooting.
LaMarcus Aldridge finished with a double-double of 18 points and 14 rebounds to go along with two assists in 34 minutes. Batum turned in a yeoman effort with
15 points, seven assists, seven rebounds, two steals and a block in 35 minutes. Robin Lopez took 13 shots and finished the game with 12 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes.
Portland’s second unit also did their fair share of scoring Friday night. Led by eight-point performances by both Thomas Robinson and Will Barton, Portland’s bench finished the game with 29 points on 11 of 20 shooting.
“The bench has been solid,” said Stotts. “T-Rob, Dorell had good minutes, Will, Mo, we’re kind of sticking with that rotation. I thought they all had quality minutes and did the things we needed them to do.”
Portland now has 52 wins on the season with two game to play and are 7-1 since Aldridge returned to the lineup after missing seven games with a lower back contusion.
“I think we’re coming together at the right time,” said Stotts. “We’ve won seven out of eight, defensively we’ve been locked in, I think our offense is starting to come around again like it was earlier. I think we’re all looking forward to the playoffs and once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen.
But before that, the Trail Blazers head home to host the Warriors in their penultimate game of the regular season. A win would assure that the Trail Blazers would finish no worse than the fifth seed in the West.
“We just got to stay focused and finish the right way,” said Lillard. “The good thing is that we’re in the playoffs, and we got a couple of big games coming up that could determine a few changes in the seeding. We just got to stay locked in on one game at a time and end the season off the right way.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 6 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.”