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.”