The Portland Trail Blazers had a four-day break for the Christmas holiday, so it’s only fair that their first game back at the Moda Center would be a 116-112 overtime victory against the Clippers in front of a sellout crowd of 20,053 Thursday night.
“Another good win for us, obviously against an elite team in the West,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We keep finding ways to win games, making clutch shots, getting stops. (We) make it interesting at times, but thought it was a terrific game and glad to get a win.”
Portland is now 5-1 against other 20-win teams and are 9-1 in their last 10 overtime games.
It looked at numerous times throughout the game that the Trail Blazers might pull away from the Clippers, a team playing on the second night of a back-to-back. But Portland, despite leading at one point by as many as 12, never found a way to put the Clippers away, resulting in yet another heart-pounding finish at the Moda Center.
“On the whole, they are an explosive team and I thought Blake Griffin and Chris Paul played at a very high level,” said Stotts. “They made some tough shots. For the first 20 minutes of the game, our defense was very sold. Maybe it was becaue they were missing shots, but I thought they defense was very solid.”
Chris Paul, who finished with 34 points, 16 assists, six steals, three rebounds and just one turnover in almost 45 minutes of play, took control in the fourth quarter, scoring the Clippers’ last eight points, including a fadeaway baseline jumper with nine seconds left in regulation that gave L.A. a 101-98 lead.
“Out of bounds, back pick, wide open,” said Batum describing his game-tying shot in the most deadpan tone possible. “I was surprised to get the ball that wide open. Just get one dribble and take a shot. I had to get a shot anyway. That was a good play drawn up by the coach.”
While Batum liked the call from Stotts, the opposing sideline was not nearly as enamored with their execution in the final seconds of regulati0n.
“We gave them a three at the end, that can’t happen,” said Clippers head coach Doc Rivers. “Number one, we should have fouled and that’s on me. We had too much indecision, that’s why I called the twenty (second timeout), because I could see the guys weren’t all on the same page defensively. I always foul. The one time I don’t, they score. That’s why I always foul, so that’s on me.”
Paul had a clean look at a 17-footer to win the game, but the shot rimmed off, sending the game to overtime and the Moda Center crowd into hysterics.
The teams would trade baskets for much of the overtime period before the Trail Blazers took a three-point lead after two Batum free throws with 26 seconds to play. The Clippers would respond with a Blake Griffin dunk before Damian Lillard converted two free throws of his own to put the Blazers up 114-111.
The free throw shooting in overtime would continue with Jamal Crawford earning a trip to the line with 13 seconds to play in overtime. But Crawford, a career 85 percent free throw shooter, would miss his first attempt, preserving a two-point cushion and forcing the Clippers to foul on the ensuing possession. Wesley Matthews would draw the foul and hit both free throws with 12 seconds to play to give Portland’s a four-point victory and their 24th win of the season.
“31 shots, I think anyone can find a groove,” said Aldridge. “I definitely felt better. A little rusty to start having four days without easting or taking one shot, but I felt good going into the second half.”
While Aldridge and Blake Griffin (35 points, 11 rebounds) canceled each other out, Robin Lopez won the center battle for the Trail Blazers, finishing with 11 points and 15 rebounds while his counterpart, DeAndre Jordan, scoring just two points, though he did pull down a game-high 19 rebounds. Lopez, Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard, who grabbed seven rebounds in just under 13 minutes, drew praise for their defensive effort against L.A.’s athletic frontcourt.
“(Lopez) was guarding Griffin for much of the night with (Aldridge) getting in foul trouble early and then trying to keep (Aldridge) out of foul trouble,” said Stotts. “I thought he did a nice job defensively. Both he and (Aldridge) with our pick and rolls, they did a nice job of minimizing the lobs and things like that. RoLo, he just competes and he talks.”
Batum went six of 11 from the field to finish with 19 points while adding seven rebounds and three assists. Both Lillard (four of 12) and Matthews (5 of 12) struggled from the field, but were nonetheless able to finish with 19 and 14 points, respectively, in the winning effort.
“I think any given night, guys can step up,” said Aldridge. “Nic makes a huge three to even give us a chance to win it. Wes makes big shots, Dame. We have so many guys that can make plays, it’s been great for us.”
Portland’s best playmaker Thursday night might have been Mo Williams, who came off the bench to hand out a team-high eight assists while hitting four three-pointers, all seemingly at critical moments in the game, to finish with 12 points.
“Mo was terrific,” said Stotts. “His line was great and he brought energy, he made his shots, I think he had eight assists. That second unit was very productive in both halves and he had a lot to do with it. I think he’s the best backup point guard in the league and we’re lucky to have him.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers host the Heat on Saturday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM on KGW.
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.”