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.”
Howdy kind listeners. Before we all take some much needed respite before the start of a brutal March schedule, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the studios at the Moda Center to record an All-Star break edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this week’s episode we marvel at the Trail Blazers being 27-27, good for seventh in the Western Conference, and how that’s going to cost Freeman some money/beer at some point, the emergence of Maurice Harkless since joining the starting lineup, Portland rising while other teams in their general range struggle, discuss how we’ll be spending our respective All-Star breaks and answer a host of questions pertaining to the upcoming trade deadline, Gerald Henderson’s tenure in Portland, Damian Lillard passing Brandon Roy and a bunch of other stuff that I’ve already since forgotten. As I noted during the show, my brain is already on vacation.
You can find the Rip City Report on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher. And consider using a small portion of the time you would usually spend watching the Blazers to give us a review on iTunes! You can be as mean as you want!
Though they were never teammates, Damian Lillard and Brandon Roy manage to talk from time to time. Their relationship started not long after Lillard was selected by the Trail Blazers with the sixth overall pick of the 2012 Draft and they’ve stayed in contact ever since over the years. During those somewhat regular chats, the current and former faces of the Trail Blazers’ franchise sometimes discuss the responsibility that comes with that title, especially at a relatively young age, and what could have been if the 6-3 guard out of Weber State and the now-retired 6-6 guard out of Washington ever had the opportunity to play alongside each other in Rip City.
And the next time they talk, they’ll have something new to discuss. With his 31-point performance in Tuesday night’s victory versus the Rockets, Lillard passed Roy for 15th in franchise history in points. Lillard now has 6,119 in less than four seasons in Portland, surpassing the the 6,107 points that Roy scored in five seasons before knee injuries ended his career far too prematurely.
“I mean, that’s an honor,” said Lillard of passing Roy. “Just to be moving up on that list period, but I mean, if Brandon Roy got to play as long as he should have played and people would have liked to have seen him play, I probably would never pass him, so it’s a great accomplishment. It’s an honor you know, but the more important thing is just continuing to be myself and continuing to win games.”
Which Lillard has done an excellent job of his season. He’s the only player to rank in the top-6 in both scoring (24.3 points per game) and assists (7.3 assist per game) this season and has led the Trail Blazers to a 27-27 record this season, vastly outperforming preseason expectations, despite being the only holdover from last season’s starting five.
Though he’s had plenty of help this season from the likes of CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis, Lillard’s performance through 54 games is the the primary reason that the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in seventh place in the Western Conference. Roy, a three-time All-Star, was a fantastic player in his own right, a player whose peak performances are still the stuff of legend in Portland, but even he never carried the load that Lillard has this season. And of course, Lillard has already helped the Trail Blazer win a playoff series in his first four season in Portland, something Roy never accomplished.
“He’s been pretty good in a short amount of time,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of Lillard. “I mean, Brandon Roy, I wasn’t here for that, but I know what an imprint he made on the city and the franchise and how important he was to the Blazers. The fact that Damian has passed him this early in his career really says something because I know how good Brandon was. I know his career was cut short but everybody here holds him in high regard.”
Assuming Lillard experiences relatively good health — the seven games he missed this season due to plantar fascitiis are the only games he’s missed in his profession career thus far — there’s no reason to think that he won’t replace Roy as the best guard to play in Portland since Clyde Drexler, if he hasn’t taken that mantel already. But Roy can take some satisfaction in knowing that at least some of the success Lillard has had as a Trail Blazer was accomplished in part due to emulating the example he set on and off the court.
“When (Roy) got to Portland, a lot of the stuff he did, it brought excitement,” said Lillard. “I think the city really embraced him, they liked who he was as a person along with what he did as a player, obviously. I think because I kind of came and did the same thing, did some of the same things he did, I think he respects that… He was well respected, people appreciated the kind of person he was and he got it done on the floor. I think I can say the same for myself.”
PORTLAND — What a nice way to go into the All-Star break.
For the second time in five days, the Trail Blazers built a large third-quarter lead against the Rockets, then allowed them to make a comeback, only to make a final push to come away with the double-digit victory, this time to the tune of a 116-103 win in front of a sellout crowd of 19,393 at the Moda Center.
“I really like the way we’re playing right now,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Defensively, we’ve been really good the last two or three weeks. Our aggressiveness has been good, our alertness has been very good and I thought we did that for most of the night tonight. It’s good to go into the break on a win streak and playing well.”
The Trail Blazers are now 27-27 overall and 16-11 at the Moda Center this season. With the win, Portland is .500 for the first time since the team was 4-4 on November 9, 2015, have won eight of their last 10 games at home and 12 of their last 15 games overall, regardless of venue. Thanks to that streak, the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings while the Rockets, a team that started the game in seventh place, drop to ninth.
“We dug ourselves a hole to start the season, giving up some games late, but we stuck with it, we kept going, we kept working,” said Damian Lillard. “We didn’t get too high or low. We were able to close in and get to .500 going into the break. Our team has done a great job of sticking to the grind, working every day in practice and staying together. That’s gotten us to where we are now.”
After ending the first quarter tied 29-29, the Trail Blazers used a 18-3 run in the second quarter to build a 12-point lead. Portland would expand their lead to 21, only to see the Rockets cut the deficit to five with 9:31 to play in the fourth. But the Trail Blazers would close out the game by outscoring the Rockets 23-15 to come away with the 13-point victory.
Portland won Tuesday’s contest despite shooting worse percentage than the Rockets from the field and the three-point line, but making eight more free throws despite having the same number of attempts and turning 20 Rockets turnovers in to 31 points more than made up for their so-so field goal percentages.
“I like the fact that we’re doing it within the context of our defense rather than gambling and extending our defense,” said Stotts of forcing turnovers. “We’re being aggressive on the ball, we’re alert on the weak side, so I think those two things combined help create those turnovers.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who went 9-of-22 from the field, 4-of-11 from three and 9-of-11 from the free throw line for 31 points to go along with nine assists, three rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes.
Maurice Harkless remained in the starting lineup, despite Noah Vonleh being on the active list for the first time in the last two games, and responded with his best game as a Trail Blazers with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 13 rebounds and two steals in 28 minutes.
“I liked his defense on Harden, he finished around the basket, he got rebounds, he ran the floor well,” said Stotts of Harkless. “He did a little bit of everything in a kind of understated way.”
Meyers Leonard went 6-of-9 from the field for 14 points while grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Al-Farouq Aminu shot just under 50 percent to finish with 11 points and five rebounds and Ed Davis grabbed 13 rebounds in 21 minutes. Gerald Henderson went just 3-of-10 from the field but made up for it by going 7-of-10 from the line to finish with 13 points.
The Rockets were led by James Harden, who finished with 34 points, and Dwight Howard, who added 28 points and 13 rebounds in 35 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers have more than a week off before hosting the Golden State Warriors on February 19.
“We’re playing well and hopefully when we get back we pick up where we left off,” said Stotts, “but everybody could use a break.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm.