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.
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.”
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
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)
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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.