CHARLOTTE — The Portland Trail Blazers fell to 45-25 on the season and 19-16 on the road with a 124-94 blowout loss to the Bobcats Saturday night at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte.
The loss breaks a four-game winning streak versus the Bobcats and drops the Trail Blazers to one game ahead of the Warriors for the fifth seed in the Western Conference.
“Charlotte played a terrific game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They shot the ball well, they rebounded the ball well, they passed the ball well, they defended well. They basically outplayed us … We certainly could have played better. They were kind of clicking on all cylinders.”
After getting their first five-game road trip of March off to a terrible start in Dallas, the Trail Blazers had to be hopefully they’d get their second five-game trip this month off on a better foot. Unfortunately, that would not be the case Saturday night in Charlotte.
It’s hard to imagine the Bobcats, a team that had lost their previous two games, getting off to a better start than they did Saturday night. They started the game outscoring the Trail Blazers 12-2 in the first four minutes and hit 11-straight shots on the way to leading by as many as 14 in the first quarter.
“I thought we let them play pretty freely on the offensive end at the beginning of the game,” said Robin Lopez. “I don’t think anybody will really disagree with that. That will build a team’s confidence. I do think, early on, we missed some shots and all game long they hit a lot of shots. You can attribute that to their level of confidence.”
While no Charlotte player had a particularly difficult time scoring, center Al Jefferson had an absolute field day against Portland’s interior defense, scoring 16 points in the first quarter on 8 of 12 shooting. To make matters worse, Jefferson grabbed four rebounds and three assists in the first 12 minutes, which was one more assist than the Trail Blazers handed out as a team in the first quarter.
“Big Al is going to have nights like that,” said Lopez, who ended the game with eight points and five rebounds in 26 minutes. “I think there were some things I could have done better (defensively) but he’s a ridiculously talented offensive player, possibly one of the most skilled scorers at the center position right now. I think there were a lot of things I could have done better but I think that applies across the board.”
That it did. Portland would cut the lead to 11 by the start of the second, but they wouldn’t get any closer than that thanks in large part to the Bobcats shooting 55 percent in the quarter. Charlotte started the quarter on a 17-6 run to officially start the rout in front of an announced crowd of 18,706. But instead of Jefferson, it was guards Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson who did the damage before the half, scoring 11 and 10 points, respectively, in the second quarter to help the home team take a 26-point lead.
By time the first half mercifully came to a close, Portland trailed by 23, had given up 38 points in the paint and had just four assists to 16 for the Bobcats.
“We got into a motion offense and we were just trying to make plays,” said Damian Lillard. “We set a lot of ball screens and guys started to attack. I’m pretty sure if you go back and looked at the film you’ll see a lot of shots were missed off of the pass. So it looked like we didn’t move to the ball, but a lot of times we did. I know I came off the ball screen a couple times and attacked, same thing for other guys, but we missed a lot of shots that came off the pass that could have easily bee 11 assists in the first half, 12 assists. I can remember a lot of shots that got missed that were passed to me that I missed, passes that I made that guys missed. It was more defense than offense.”
The Trail Blazers did what they could to get back into the game in the third quarter, cutting Charlotte’s lead to 17 with 6:22 to play in the third after a Wesley Matthews layup. But there would be no great comeback like they had in Dallas on to start the first five-game trip at the beginning of the month. Instead, the Bobcats would push the lead up to 25 before the end of the quarter, making the final 12 minutes as Charlotte cruised to a 30-point victory, which, perhaps not coincidentally, was how much the Trail Blazers beat the Bobcats by in their meeting at the Moda Center back on Jan. 2.
“I don’t know if there was one big issue,” said Stotts. “Jefferson shot the ball well, he had good post moves. Henderson was making shots off the dribble, so was Kemba Walker. First half, we’re down 20-something at halftime and it wasn’t about offensive rebounds, it wasn’t about transition. When we changed coverages they were able to take advantage of it.”
Portland was led by Lillard, who finished with 20 points on 7 of 19 shooting, four assists and two rebounds. Dorell Wright, starting in place of LaMarcus Aldridge (lower back contusion), had 17 points and six rebounds. Wesley Matthews scored 15 and CJ McCollum added 12 points off the bench.
Charlotte had three players (Jefferson, Henderson and Walker) score at least 23 points. Chris Douglas-Roberts was the only other Bobcat who got into double-figure scoring with 11.
Next up, the Trail Blazers head south for a back-to-back series with the Florida team starting with the Miami Heat on Monday.
“We’ve got a tough team in Miami and we’ve got to bring it,” said Lillard. “That’s a game that we’ve got to go compete and try to win.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 4:30 PM.
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.