There are few things more difficult for an NBA team to accomplish than coming back from a double-digit deficient on the road in the second night of a back-to-back. But that’s exactly what the Portland Trail Blazers did Monday night in Brooklyn, coming back from 11-points down to beat the Nets 108-98 for their seventh-straight victory.
“The one thing we all knew is, it’s a long game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Percentages kind of even themselves out, we didn’t think they’d shoot that well the rest of the game. Actually we shot the ball really well in the first quarter, too. I thought it was a testament to our guys as far as how they competed. They never lost confidence, they kept competing and kept chipping away at it. When you have that belief that you can do something it makes it easier.”
Portland was led by Wesley Matthews, who finished with 24 points on nine of 13 shooting while going five of eight from the three-point line.
“I was just taking what they gave me,” said Matthews. “After the first (three-pointer) went in I started hunting it a little bit more. Second one went in then I was definitely hunting it.”
One might assume Matthews, a career 40 percent three-point shooter who is currently shooting better than 50 percent from the field and from three this season, might start missing eventually, but that would not be the case Monday night in Brooklyn.
“I don’t plan to slow up,” said Matthews. “Sometimes the ball doesn’t always fall for you but that’s not what defines me. What defines me is going out, playing every possession, playing for my team. If you can keep doing that and keep your mind in the right place, keep working, more often than not, the ball will go in the basket.”
“He’s mad about the ballot, so he’s playing angry right now,” said LaMarcus Aldridge well within earshot of his starting shooting guard. “I like that … He’s next-level angry right now, so that’s good for us.”
Aldridge played with a bit of an edge Monday night himself in a matchup against Kevin Garnett, who has served as Aldridge’s nemesis since his years playing with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I think he had one of those flashbacks of when he was in Minnesota and I was coming in as a rookie,” said Aldridge, “because he was on fire.”
Garnett came out with purpose, hitting his first six shots for 12 first-quarter points. But Aldridge would ultimately have the last laugh, finishing with 27 points, eight rebounds and two blocks while Garnett would go two for 13 after the first quarter to finish with 16 points.
“In the first half Wes was rolling so I was just trying to fit in out there,” said Aldridge. “In the third quarter I kind of turned it on a little bit. This team is good. Guys can get going. Nico makes big shots, I can make shots, Dame got it going in the second half. Guys can score.”
Damian Lillard turned in an impressive floor game with 19 points on six of 13 shooting to go along with nine assists and two rebounds. Mo Williams turned in his second impressive performance in a row with 12 points, six assists, three steals and two blocks. Williams also finished a game-high +18 coming off the bench.
“Mo’s been invaluable to us because he moves to the point and he knows how to get certain guys the ball, myself, Nico, Dame,” said Aldridge. “Mo’s been big to our success down the stretch and Wes has been going. Just having guys that can play has been big for us.”
The Nets got off to a ridiculously hot start on offense, scoring 40 points on 14 of 19 shooting in the first quarter, but the Trail Blazers were able to minimize the damage also shooting a blistering 13 of 18, which included going five of six from the three-point line. Both teams cooled in the second, though the Nets still took a 63-56 lead into the intermission.
“Honestly, it never felt like we were out of the game,” said Matthews. “They were on a roll and we weren’t getting any stops, we never felt out of the game, we never felt like we were going to panic, we never felt like we were going to crack. It was just, okay, we’re going to wait out body blow, body blow and then attack and that’s what we did”
But the Trail Blazers would come out in the third with a renewed purpose on defense, going on a 9-0 run midway through the quarter to take their first lead of the game at the 4:07 mark. Portland would continue to roll through the third, outscoring Brooklyn 27-15 to take command of the game.
“They’re a talented team,” said Matthews. “They’ve got Hall of Famers on that team. We had to throw our first punch because we felt like they did that to us in the first quarter. We came at them defensively and ramped it up. We got into the ball, we forced them to do a little bit more than they wanted to and eventually their shots stopped falling.”
The Trail Blazers would push the lead to as many as 14 before coming away with a 10-point victory.
The win moves the Trail Blazers to 9-2 on the season, their best start since the 1999-2000 season, and 3-0 on the current Eastern Conference road trip, which ends Wednesday against the Bucks in Milwaukee.
There’s a belief among some who cover the NBA that this team might not be as good as their record would indicate, and maybe they aren’t, but with every passing victory, the Trail Blazers do their part to prove to the league that they’re not to be underestimated.
“I’m sure there’s people waiting for us to go on a five, six game losing skid, go back to how we were,” said Matthews. “(They say) we start taking too many shots, (they) shoot too many threes, we’re not aggressive, all that other stuff, blah, blah, blah. That’s cool. At the same time we’re going to keep practicing, keep going at it, our locker room is still tight and keep playing every game to win.”
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.”