The Portland Trail Blazers moved to 41-18 on the season and 23-7 at home with a 102-96 victory versus the Denver Nuggets Saturday night at the Moda Center. The win was Portland’s fifth-straight and secured a season-series sweep versus Denver for the first time since the 1998-99 season.
“That was a solid win for us,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We did a lot of good things. I felt like we were in control of the game for the most part.”
The victory helped the Trail Blazers keep pace in the Western Conference standings where they currently sit third, three games back from Oklahoma City for the top spot and just a game and a half behind the Spurs for second.
The Trail Blazers were lead by Robin Lopez, who finished with a game-high 18 points and nine rebounds in 32 minutes. It was the first time this season Lopez has led the Trail Blazers in scoring. Saturday night’s game was also the first time Trail Blazers game this season in which no player scored on either team scored as least 20 points.
Nicolas Batum flirted for much of the night with a triple-double before coming up short with nine points, six assists and a career-high 16 rebounds.
“Just tried to go get it,” said Batum of his performance on the boards. “Especially after what happened last game (versus the Nuggets) when they got 27 offensive rebounds. So I tried to, as a guard, play big inside.”
The entirety of Portland’s roster, which out-rebounded Denver 43-30 Saturday might, seemed to put an extra emphasis on rebounding after being beaten 64-41 on the boards in their 100-95 victory in Denver on Feb. 25.
“After the game in Denver, that got our attention,” said Stotts. “It was a focus. For us to get 43 defensive rebounds and for them to get 10 offensive, it was a pretty impressive rebounding night.”
The Trail Blazers got closer to once again having a completely healthy roster Saturday night, with both LaMarcus Aldridge and Meyers Leonard returning to game action for the first time in over two weeks.
Aldridge played for the first time since the All-Star break after being sidelined with a left groin strain and resumed his role as Portland’s starting power forward. Playing for the first time since Portland’s 122-117 loss
to the Clippers in Los Angeles on Feb, 12, Aldridge turned in a 16-point, seven-rebound, three-assist performance in 30 minutes.
“My timing was a little off but it felt good to be back out there playing with the guys,” said Aldridge. “I felt good, a little tired, but for the most part my body felt good and my conditioning felt good.”
With the Trail Blazers riding a four-game winning streak without Aldridge, some wondered if it would take time for the team to re-acclimate to playing alongside their three-time All-Star. That turn out not be the case, with Aldridge finishing the game +13.
“It seemed pretty seamless,” said Stotts of Aldridge’s returning to the starting lineup. “I thought it looked good. We kept his minutes at 30 and I don’t know what, going forward, the plan is.”
And for his part, Aldridge looked pain-free and in shape despite not seeing game action in 16 days. Aldridge did play fewer minutes than usual as a precaution, which luckily wasn’t an issue with Portland leading the game for all but four minutes in the first quarter.
Saturday night’s game also saw the return of Meyers Leonard, who has been out the last five games after suffering a left ankle sprain in the team’s first practice after the All-Star break.
“I thought he played well,” said Stotts. “For the time that he’s missed, and he was not playing a lot at the time (he was injured) anyway. I thought he played a good game. He was physical inside. He got some fouls that kind of ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I thought, for his first game back he played well.”
Leonard, who had been showing incremental improvement before the injury, looked good in his return to the court. He finished numerous dunks in transition and rebounded well against an undersized Nuggets front court to finish with eight points and five rebounds in 16 minutes.
“I felt pretty good out there,” said Leonard. “Went for a ball fake early on JJ (Hickson) then let him get a deep catch on me, but other than that, I felt pretty good. I had a couple defensive plays where I had the verticality, had a couple finishes in transition, missed a jumper I would have liked to make and then the reverse layup, I was not to happy with myself on missing. But it’s part of the game. I’m pretty rusty. As far as actual game play, I hadn’t played really much up until the Clipper game and then came back from All-Star break, got hurt. So it’s been a while, just have to take advantage of my minutes.”
it is unknown how long Thomas Robinson (sprained left patella tendon) will be out and Joel Freeland (right MCL sprain) isn’t expected to return for at least a month, so Leonard has a good shot at playing consistent, extended minutes as his fellow big men rehab.
“They just want me to play as hard as I can,” said Leonard of what he’s being told by his coaches. “That’s one thing I can always control. Everybody from the coaches through the players know that I can make jumpshots and finish around the rim and everything like that, but just have to continue to work on my defense as well. That’s a big part of what I want to become. It’s going to take time. It’s not easy. That’s my main focus is playing as hard as I can and continuing to try to be the best defender I can be.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers host the Lakers at the Moda Center on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.
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.”
And we’re back. After the Trail Blazers defeated a shorthanded Clippers team 109-98 in Game Five at Staples Center to take a 3-2 lead in the first round series, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studios once again to deliver another playoff edition of the Rip City Report podcast. Please consider listening…
On this episode, Joe and I discuss the Trail Blazers being on the verge of winning just their second playoff series in the last 16 years, what we’re expecting to see during Game Six Friday in Portland, make our picks for the Trail Blazers’ MVP and most surprising during the first five games, how the injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin change the narrative surrounding the series and answer some of your Twitter-submitted questions regarding Chris Kaman’s birthday, non-Moda Center places to watch Game Six, player playoff bonuses and give a few binge watching suggestions, not that you’d ever need to watch TV again with all these fine podcasts we’re providing for you.