Trail Blazers On Advancing To Semifinals Before Heading To San Antonio

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 years ago

The Trail Blazers held a light practice at their facility in Tualatin prior to flying out to San Antonio for Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal matchup against the Spurs. When practice was held, the Trail Blazers did not yet know if they would be playing the Spurs or the Mavericks, as Game 7 of that first-round series didn’t conclude until Sunday afternoon.

Nevertheless, here’s what Terry Stotts, Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews had to say about advancing past the first-round, the reaction from fans after Lillard’s stunning Game 6 series-ending buzzer-beater, not being satisfied and what they did to relax after an intense series against the Rockets.

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Terry Stotts

Surprised by reaction from fans?

“I don’t know if it was a surprise. Obviously it was a great feeling in the arena after the win. Any time you close out a series at home it’s special. I don’t get out much but I do know that I got a lot of thumbs up over the last couple of days.”

Do you nurture or foster an underdog mentality?

“No, I think it’s just kind of who we are. I know Damian has talked about being the underdog, Wes being undrafted, Damian coming from a small school, some of the guys feeling like they’ve been overlooked throughout their career. I don’t think it’s anything that is really something we’ve fostered. I think it’s just kind of grown organically.”

How will you approach today’s practice not knowing the opposition?

“We won’t do much. Today is more about recovery, recuperation, taking care of our bodies. The guys who haven’t played, obviously they’re good. They’ll get some run in. But the guys that have been playing a lot of minutes will just recover. We won’t do any preparation for the playoffs.”

When do you start to prepare?

“We have our preparation for both teams, but we really haven’t locked in. We’ve divided responsibilities between Dallas and San Antonio. After the game tonight we’ll do our prep on the plane, do our prep tonight and then we’ll start at it tomorrow morning. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t say plane. Depends on who we play.”

So you haven’t looked either way yet?

“No. I’ve watched every game of that series as I could throughout the playoffs, but I haven’t locked in on any team.”

How about home court? I didn’t seem to matter much in your series against the Rockets.

“Yeah, I think home court is still important. You look at the Game 7’s (on Saturday) and all home teams won there. To have a Game 7 at your place is important. I think it’s been shown that anybody can win anywhere during this playoff series, but home court was important for us in Game 6 and it was important (Saturday) as well.”

When you said you wouldn’t be satisfied just making the playoffs is this what you envisioned or do you still higher hopes?

“You go into every series wanting and expecting to win. I really don’t like putting limits on what we’re capable of doing. I think the way the West is, anybody can win and anybody can lose. The important thing is just the next game, going in with the expectation we’re going to play well and win a game.”

Did you gain an advantage having extra time by eliminating Houston on Friday?

“At this stage and when you look at the series, whoever we play, we’re playing every other day, whenever you can gain some rest, no matter if you’re young or old, it’s certainly welcome, especially when you go deep into a series.”

Damian Lillard

What has life been like for you since hitting the Game 6 game-winner?

“The same as any other time. I just spend a lot of time at home with my family, watching movies and tv shows. I tried to stay off Twitter because my Twitter was blowing up. But I did pretty much the same things I always did.”

How many times have you watched the end of the game?

“I watched it maybe five to ten times. I’ve gotten so many videos of it sent to my phone. I watch it because every version is different. The thing I enjoyed the most about it was just seeing everybody react to it. You got to see how bad our team wanted to win that game. It wasn’t about me. You saw the coaches excited that we’re going to be moving on, my teammates running all over the floor, the crowd — I think a couple fans almost ran on the floor. I’m just happy that we was able to get that series done because the last thing we wanted to do was go back to Houston.”

How many calls and texts have you gotten?

“My phone was on 60 percent right after the game. As soon as I picked it up it was just buzzing and I went on the podium and when I got off of the podium it was dead. I think I had like 350 texts or something like that.”

Did you get back to all of them?

“I didn’t. There’s no way I could. I just saw the little blue mark pop up next to an unread text and I just started clicking on them so I could get all the unread texts out the way.”

How important is it to put that series behind you and start focusing on the next series?

“I think our team enjoyed it the night of the game but it’s over with now. It’s not like the moment is going to go away. We haven’t gone past the first round in 14 years, so people won’t forget it, but our team, we’ve got to move on from it. We’ve still got games to play and our goal wasn’t to make a big shot and be happy with that. Right after the game our team huddled up in the locker room and the main

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thing everybody had to say was not to be satisfied. I think if anything, that made us want to get more done.”

(Note: the buzzer goes off around the 1:50 mark, so you might want to turn the sound down for that)

LaMarcus Aldridge

How different has this postseason been for you than other postseasons?

“Just more fun, more comfortable. Definitely feel this team has been locked in, this team has played better. Just been more fun for me.”

Do you do anything to relax and get away from the stress of the playoffs?

“Nah, I just lounge. I just lounge on my couch, watch TV. Pretty much was lazy all day.”

You don’t feel like you have to do anything to release from it?

“That is my release, watching TV on the couch and not even going anywhere. That’s my release.”

What does it mean in light of how long you’ve been with the organization to be the team that gets over the playoff drought?

“It’s priceless. I’ve worked hard for it since Day 1. I think every guy has been locked in and been resilient throughout the ups and downs this year. I think guys have earned it. It’s been fun.”

You talked about this team being special. Do this team guys get a bounce in confidence that it really can be special?

Definitely. Guys are going to be confident, but still have to think about the way that we got here, working hard and grinding it out. I think guys are definitely going to be more confident but this is new territory for most of us.

Robin Lopez

What’s the feel of the team after an off day?

“That was a fun one the other night and I think everybody is obviously happy we got that win. We really think we can build on it. We’re going to come to this round swinging, whoever we play against.”

Do you have to guard against the feeling of having accomplished something by winning the first round?

“Just like I’ve said throughout the playoffs, you’ve got to try to keep a level head. A win is a win, a loss is a loss. Can’t try to make too much more out of it.”

Is it important to be able to relax during the playoffs and not consumed by it?

“Yeah. I think when you’re out on the floor you want to be playing very naturally. That’s when you play your best. You can’t stress to much about it. Any time you stress too much about anything, you’re not going to get the best results.”

Have you encountered just how excited fans are?

“I’ve been getting a lot of props in the streets. People are excited. I love that. I can’t walk around without being bothered in the streets and I’m having a great time with that.”

Nicolas Batum

What does it mean to you, in light of how long you’ve been with the the franchise, being a part of the team that finally gets out of the first round?

“It’s huge. It’s been 14 years for this organization. Me, I’ve been here for six years now and my first three years I’m in the playoffs, lost in the first round. Been some up and downs with injuries and everything. Changing every coaching staff, new players. To finally pass the first round that way, it’s huge. It’s huge for me, huge for LA, too. He’s been there for a while. Wes, too. That’s big for us.”

You’ve said “I don’t want to go back to France at the end of April. I want to be here in May.” Now that you’re here, are you satisfied?

“I’m not satisfied; I’m happy. My mom told me ‘You better miss my birthday this year.’ My mom’s birthday is May 5, tomorrow. Every time I was in France for my mom’s birthday. So she challenged me this year. So I’m going to miss my mom’s birthday tomorrow for the first time.

“I could feel it. You could feel since Day 1 this team is going to be different. We’re young, nobody expect something from us, but we know who we are. Now that we’re out of the first round, good. Win the next four.”

Wesley Matthews

“The excitement is starting to creep in, waiting for our matchup and see where our destiny lays.”

After your years in Portland, what does it mean to you to be a part of the team that finally gets past the first round?

“It means a lot. That’s something that you always want to do. It’s playoffs and it’s advancing, it’s moving on, it’s what you watch on TV growing up. To be a part of it, period, it’s special and something that’s never taken for granted. But to be a part of an organization, a proud organization like this that has been in a drought the way it has, it’s a good feeling.”

Can you appreciate the historical element?

“Yeah. It’s a long time. It’s a long time of good teams. I think it shows the toughness of the West and how valuable and how precious this is.”

Have you got a sense of how crazy things are around the city over you guys?

“I went home. I didn’t see any craziness. I know it’s buzzing, I know the excitement is there and I know they’re waiting to see who we’ll face, too.”

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Podcast: Rip City Report, End Of Season Edition

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 weeks ago

A happy Friday the 13th to all of you loyal podcast listeners. Before everyone goes their separate ways now that the offseason is here, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net and TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio one last time to record a season-ending edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…

On this edition, we attempt recap the series versus the Warriors, which ended in five games with a 125-121 loss at Oracle Arena Wednesday night, and the season in general, discuss the lasting effects of the playoff run and the respect that they earned from around the league due to their performance and look forward to some of the questions the Blazers will have to answer in the offseason, particularly in regard to free agency. And as always, we finish up by answering your Twitter-submitted questions on topics such as the culture the Trail Blazers have developed, (more) free agency, exit interviews and favorite moments from the just-completed season. It’s been a fun one.

You can find the Rip City Report on SoundcloudiTunes and Stitcher. Thanks to all of you who listened and left reviews this season.

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Trail Blazers Talk Season, Free Agency During Exit Interviews

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 weeks ago

Less than 12 hours after being eliminated from the postseason, the Trail Blazers returned to their practice facility in Tualatin to meet with the coaches to discuss offseason plans, clean out their lockers and take questions from the media one last time before starting their vacations.

Here’s the audio and a few quotes from Terry Stotts and the players from today’s exit interviews…

TERRY STOTTS

On the 2015-16 season…

“Like I said last night, this has been a special season. This group of players, what they were able to do individually and collectively, our chemistry was really good. We had good guys, they got along, players and coaches. It means a lot and it goes both ways. It was a joy. I think players enjoyed coming to work every day and I know the coaches and staff did, too.”

On whether this was his most rewarding season as a head coach…

“No question. This was an extremely rewarding season because it kind of played out the way we wanted it to. And we’re not talking about the record or the playoffs, everything was about growth, improvement, getting better throughout the season and being better at the end of the season. I think we did that individually and collectively and from a coaching standpoint, that’s as pure as it gets. That’s what coaching is about. You don’t get to experience that very much at the NBA level.”

On whether he expects anyone on his staff to be interviewed for various open head coaching positions…

“I hope so. I can’t say enough about how good my staff is. I think Jay Triano and Nate Tibbetts and David Vanterpool are all ready to be considering for head coaching jobs. I think they’re all prepared to do a great job as a head coach depending on whatever a team is looking for. I hope they get consideration because they’re all very deserving.

DAMIAN LILLARD

On many of his teammates deciding to stay in Portland during the offseason…

“That means a lot because I stay here every summer. I’m used to coming in here like ‘I wonder when everybody else coming back to town,’ you know what I mean? The trainers are here, the coaches are here and it’s an empty gym. And even after the game last night, on the plane, I started getting worried already. I was sitting on the plane like ‘Man, we had some success this year, it was unexpected it was no pressure. Next year people gonna expect a little bit more’ and I started to get worried about too many pats on the back. ‘They weren’t supposed to do this but they did that.’ I started getting worried, but we don’t have those kind of guys. We’ve got hungry guys, we’ve got humble guys that work hard. We had a taste this season as a young group of how well we could do and what it takes. We lost to a really experienced, championship team. That makes me happy to hear that so many guys are going to be here working out in the summer because that lets me know that they see how close we are and they see how important it’s going to be going forward.”

On free agency and having a say in the process…

“I’m pretty sure they’ll communicate what the plans are with me, but like I’ve said in the past, my job is to be a good teammate, to make sure I put in my time and become a better player and that’s what I’ll do. They ask me my opinion on something, I’ll give them my honest opinion, but I love all the guys that we have on our roster now. I think going forward, if we continue to grow together, we’ll be a good team. Obviously it’s a business and rosters change, players make decisions for themselves, so when that time comes, we’ll see what happens. But when they come to me ask for my opinion or what I think about something, I’ll tell them what I think.”

ALLEN CRABBE



On what he’s looking for as a restricted free agent…

“Any pay raise is going to be significantly higher than what I’m making now. But like I said earlier, it’s just situation really for me. It doesn’t make sense to make a lot of money and go to a team that, if you don’t fit that system, then get paid a lot of money to be frustrated? That doesn’t make sense to me. The culture here, it’s great. I know this organization well, I know the system, know the coaches, players. It’s just real comfortable here. I wouldn’t mind being here, I really wouldn’t. It’s really just coming down to situation and how I can continue to improve as a basketball player.”

On head coach Terry Stotts…

“Definitely think he should get an extension. I feel like everybody here knows that he should get an extension. He’s done a great job with this team. It’s really hard to put into words what he did with this group because nobody expected us to do what we did. Even from Day One, even through the games where we were 11-20, seven-game losing streak, he never folded and he always told us it’s all about trusting the process and we stuck with that throughout this whole year.”

CJ MCCOLLUM

On spending time in Portland this offseason…

“I think, for one, it doesn’t rain a lot in the summer, so that helps. Just being around the facility, 24 hour access, you’re able to get a lot of things done without a distraction. You go home, you go to certain cities, you either got to pay to get in the gym or you’ve got to worry about people interrupting you while you workout. I go back to my high school but sometimes I’ve got to just like lock the door so I can just workout and not have to worry about certain interruptions because you can’t get through a full workout when people are coming in, talk to you. It’s meant to be a compliment to you, it’s hard. So I think it helps that here, you just come in, the doors are locked, you’ve got your finger scan, you workout when you want, the weather is nice. You’re paying rent here anyway, so it makes sense.”

On the camaraderie of the roster and the changes that might be in store…

“I think we had a really unique group. They did a great job of putting together like minds, young guys who are easy to talk to. Nobody is really arrogant or overly cocky. We’ve got some ignorant guys on the team that you guys guys know who’s outlandish with his statements. I won’t put him out there, he knows who he is. Besides that, we all got along well, everybody spoke their minds, nobody was afraid to say certain things. If somebody played bad, if somebody wasn’t doing things the right way, you could address it and nobody would frown or look at you the wrong way. So I like the way our team is put together, I like the work ethic everybody had. This is one of the rare teams where you could hang out with players off the court. Everybody’s got their friends, but I could hang out with any one of the 15 guys off the court and be perfectly comfortable, eat dinner, et cetera… We’ve got a really good unit and a lot of guys made themselves some money this year, a lot of guy’s prices went up. Hopefully we can rekindle the flame, but if not, we had a good run, we had a good year together collectively and wish everybody the best of luck in the free agency process.

MEYERS LEONARD

On how he’s approaching restricted free agency…

“To be honest with you, I haven’t had a real concrete conversation with my agent about this. I wanted it to be, right now, about my rehab and about supporting the guys, being there however I could, I guess more from an emotional standpoint, for the team. I certainly wish I could have been out there. With that being said, I’m sure we’ll talk within the next couple of days about how we’re going to really approach this, the timing of things, I suppose what teams are interested, what teams would maybe like to meet in person. I don’t have a concrete plan at this point. Restricted free agency, it gets a little hairy, it takes time, teams maybe don’t want to tie their money up. I honestly don’t know all the ins and outs of it. Like I said before the season when I didn’t accept an extension, I’m confident in where I’m at. It’s my agent’s job to present whatever he has on his mind and what’s on my plate from that side of things. My job right now is simply to rehab my shoulder, continue to work on my leg strength, which is a huge focus of mine for this summer, and just figure out different way in the weight room or out here, even simple things as ball handling, just trying to improve as a player and as a man.”

ED DAVIS

On why he’s going to spend much of the offseason in Portland…

“I’m coming back to Portland just because went through all that rain, got to enjoy some of the sun. I like it here. I’m renting a spot, so I’m just going to stay here. I like Todd (Forcier) and BK (Ben Kenyon) and those guys, so definitely going to put a lot of work in in the weight room. It’s always good vibes here so I don’t think guys want to get away. Some teams, you want to get away just because you don’t like certain people. It’s not like that here. I enjoyed being here so that’s why I’m going to stick around and do most of my training out here.”

On the realities of keeping a roster with multiple free agents together…

“It’s going to be tricky with all the salary cap stuff going on. I think a lot of the guys who are free agents definitely raised their value. I think everyone did. You never know. I hope all those guys get paid well, I think they will. They deserve it. You just never know with free agency, who they go after and things like that, but I hope everybody comes back, but that’s not really realistic. It doesn’t really work like that in the league. I just tried to enjoy that time yesterday because I’ve been around a little bit and I know how the business side of things work.”

MASON PLUMLEE

On his mindset going into the offseason…

“This summer is big for me, become more of a scoring threat. I think there’s a lot to be added. I look forward, if the opportunity is there, to come back to have some stability from a staff perspective. I would look forward to coming back to a similar situation from one season to the next. I’ve played for three coaches in three years, so I think that would be something I’d look forward to as well… Once you’ve been traded, you never know.”

MAURICE HARKLESS

On being a restricted free agent…

“Free agency is something I haven’t really thought about. I’ve tried not to think about it during the season and we just finished yesterday, so it hasn’t really been on my mind yet. It’s something that we’ll have to think about soon.”

On his first season in Portland…

I loved it. It was by far the most fun season I’ve had. These guys here are great, the organization is great. I really, really enjoyed it and looking forward to seeing what happens this summer.”

GERALD HENDERSON

On his first season in Portland…

“It’s the most fun year I think I’ve had as a pro. We had a great group of guys, high character guys, silly guys and it was a fun year. That’s without even being on the court. On the court, we had a special group. We came together halfway through, really made it a special year all the way until last night when we’re playing against the champions, gave them all we had. Played a tough series, obviously it didn’t end the way that we wanted it to, but it’s a year we’re all proud of.”

His thoughts on entering free agency and what he’s looking for…

This is my second time doing it and it’ll be a little different than the first time. I think getting a taste of what this year and this postseason was like and how much fun, how competitive it is, I think, number one, being on a team that’s a winning team. It’s obviously tough to get on one of the elite elite teams, but that could be a possibility. That could easily be a possibility here. Being on a team that is about winning and that’s a good fit for me.

Al-FAROUQ AMINU

On his first season with the Trail Blazers…

“It was an amazing journey of growth. We grew a lot throughout the season, personally and as a team. It was just fun to be a part of it.”

How he looks back on the season in terms of enjoyment…

The season was great. Any time you have guys that are the same age, it just makes it a lot easier to get along. It’s easy to have relatable points, different things like that. A lot of us are going through similar things in our careers so you get to relate on that note. When it came to comfortably in that sense, it was just unbelievable. And then I think that’s why the chemistry was there as well. Even our vets and the older guys like Chris Kaman, they were a joy to be around as well. From top to bottom, everybody was kind of in that same wavelength of what they were trying to do. It just made it easy to get along.

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Portland’s Season Comes To A Close With Gutsy Game Five Loss At Oracle

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 weeks ago

OAKLAND — Though they had every reason to do so, the 2015-16 Trail Blazers refused to give in to despair or doubt. Despite being picked as one of the worst teams in the NBA, they declared before training camp that their goal was to make the playoffs. When they were nine games below .500 before the start of the new year, they kept plugging along, never allowing themselves to take the easy road to the lottery.

When they eventually made the playoffs, they overcame a 2-0 deficit to advance to the second round for just the second time in 16 years. And after going down 2-0 to the defending champion Golden State Warriors, a team that set the NBA record for wins this season, they rallied to win Game Three, forcing at least a Game Five.

And in the end, the 2015-16 Trail Blazers died like they lived: by refusing to give up.

Though facing long odds of overcoming a 3-1 series deficit, the Trail Blazers gave a performance, both in terms of quality and effort, that typified their entire season, though it ultimately wouldn’t be enough, as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to score 62 points to lead the Warriors to a 125-121 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 Wednesday night at Oracle Arena. With the win, the Warriors have eliminated the Trail Blazers from the postseason by winning the series 4-1.

“This was a remarkable season,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I’ve been in the league coaching for 23 years, it was a special year. We had all young guys who got better. They worked hard. We had success. With success being more than just making the playoffs and the success is more than winning a playoff series.”

Especially considering the circumstances at the start of the season. After replacing four of five starters and nine players in total, most assumed Portland’s 2015-16 campaign would be one devoted to developing the young players they acquired in the offseason while and giving themselves the best odds to secure a lottery pick. But instead, they formed themselves into a tough, never-say-die team that took advantage of low expectations and a weaker than expected Western Conference to shock the NBA by not only making the postseason, but by getting the fifth-seed.

“The goal at the beginning of the season was that we were going to work with the players,” said Stotts. “They were going to get better and we were going to get better as a team. I was talking with my coaches, a lot of times in this league, you don’t get that opportunity to work with a group of guys who come to work every day, there is no drama. They came to work, they got better, we got better, and we had success because of their character and their work ethic every day. So I don’t have to wait long to understand how special this season was.”

The Trail Blazers would hold an 11-point lead in the second half, but, as was often the case in the five-game series, were never able to deliver the knockout blow. The Warriors would eventually take their first lead of the game midway through the third quarter, a lead that would grow to as many as eight points, though that wouldn’t stop the Trail Blazers from hard-charging until the final buzzer. The Trail Blazers cut the Golden State lead to two with under a minute to play, but could never put together enough consecutive makes to win the game or force overtime.

“You’ve also got to take your hat off to (Golden State) and give them credit,” said Damian Lillard. “They did what championship teams do. When it was time to win games, they did things a little bit better than we did in situations where it made a difference in win or loss, and those are the things that we’ve got to grow from. We’ve got to remember these teams and remember executing down the stretch and how important one rebound can end up being.”

In a way, Portland’s play in Game Five, and in the playoffs in general, was a microcosm of Portland’s “special season.” They fought hard, comported themselves far better than most expected, had their opportunities and even looked like they might have played well enough to extend their season before falling just short.

“We went out there and put our best foot forward, and obviously we’ve got a ways to go before we’re a finished product,” said CJ McCollum. “We can all get better individually and collectively as a unit and I think we will. There are no excuses. We competed, but we’re not satisfied losing 4-1, even if the games were close. I don’t think we went into this playoffs like let’s get the gentleman’s sweep as a goal. That’s not how we approached it.”

The Blazers were led by Lillard who went 7-of-24 from the field to finish with 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in 39 minutes. CJ McCollum went 11-of-23 for 27 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists.

“He was tough,” said Stephen Curry of McCollum. “He kept his foot on the gas pedal, made some tough shots and took advantage of some offensive rebounds and had the confidence to keep shooting and knock them down. So he did what he could to keep his team in the game. He’s a talented player, so that’s what you expect.”

Portland got the kind of performances they needed from the role players to give a team like the Warriors a run for their money. Al-Farouq Aminu shot 50 percent from the field to finish with 16 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two steals in 36 minutes. Maurice Harkless added 13 points in 19 minutes.

And then there was Allen Crabbe, who saved his best playoff game for last, going 7-of-9 from the field and 5-of-7 from three to finish with 20 points and three rebounds in 32 minutes.

As for the Warriors, Curry went 10-of-20 from the field and 5-of-11 from three to finish with 29 points, 11 assists and five rebounds in 36 minutes. Thompson went 13-of-17 from the field and 6-of-9 from three for a game-high 33 points to go with two rebounds and an assist in 34 minutes. Draymond Green had one of his quieter offensive games of the series, going just 2-of-7 from the field for 13 points, though he did grab 11 rebounds and hand out six assists. Shaun Livingston came off the bench to added 10 points.

While the Warriors now move on to face the winner of the Spurs/Thunder series in the Western Conference finals, the Trail Blazers head back to Portland to begin their offseason, albeit about a month later than most expected at the start of training camp. Though they head home unhappy with the result, they can take some pride in knowing that, while their season is over, their journey as an up-and-coming team is just beginning.

“I think the experience that we got was great,” said Lillard. “Regardless of what other people expected, I think what we were able to do was reassure ourselves that the foundation that we built this year is the right thing. We did it the right way and that’s what allowed us to be in this position. So we’ve got to continue to work and continue to grow that same thing and do the same things that we have been doing all season long and try to continue going forward.”

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