The San Antonio Spurs, the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, have advanced to the second round by virtue of defeating the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of Sunday afternoon. The Spurs will now host the Trail Blazers for Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on May 6 (Tuesday), with Game 2 scheduled for May 8 (Thursday). Game 4 and Game 5 will take place in Portland at the Moda Center on May 10 (Saturday) and May 12 (next Monday), respectively. Click here to buy tickets for Game 3 and Game 4 at the Moda Center.
So let’s take a look back at how these two teams fared against each other during the 2013-14 regular season.
Both teams entered the postseason playing their best basketball of the season, with the Blazers winning nine of 10 games to end the regular season while the Spurs won 22 of their last 26 games, and two of those losses were in games the Spurs had nothing to play for. The Trail Blazes and Spurs split the season series 2-2, with Portland winning the first two meetings and San Antonio winning the last two. Both teams won a game at home and a game on the road.
November 2 in Portland: Trail Blazers 115, Spurs 105 …
While it was in some respects a historic victory, it was also a night full of Moda Center debuts. Local food options such as Fire On the Mountain Wings and Sizzle Pie Pizza, upgraded in-arena wifi provided by Toyota, a mobile app featuring exclusive video content and a new 100-point play promotion with McDonald’s were among the many upgrades rolled out for the fans in attendance.
But it was the Trail Blazers upgraded offense that took center stage against the defending Western Conference champs. The Trail Blazers shot 56 percent from the field and 40 percent from three to help secure their second victory in as many nights.
“I like it because it’s difficult to game plan if you have different players who are capable of making shots and making plays,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of his team’s balanced scoring, which featured six players scoring in double figures. “To me, as long as the ball is moving and the shots are in rhythm, whether everybody scores double figures or one guy gets 40, as long as the game is played at the offensive end with continuity and passing and teamwork, that’s the most important thing.”
The Trail Blazers shot 56 percent from the field, lead by a 11-of-17 offensive performance from LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal in 38 minutes. The performance was just the latest in a string of seemingly effortless performances for the two-time all-star, who said he always has a little something extra when playing against the Spurs.
“I don’t ever want to take LaMarcus for granted because he’s been remarkably consistent, not only last year but throughout his career,” said Stotts. “What he’s doing right now is he’s playing his game and playing it well. I certainly don’t take it for granted but it doesn’t surprise me.”
The Moda Center crowd, possibly while snacking on spicy peanut chicken wings or pork belly cubano sandwiches, got their first taste of what center Robin Lopez can bring to the Trail Blazers roster with a 12-point, six-rebound, two-block night. Lopez struggled mightily in Portland’s season-opening loss to the Suns and was better in their victory Friday night in Denver against the Nuggets, but his play in Saturday night’s victory was the first real glimpse of the best that Lopez has to offer.
“He plays hard at both ends, really goes after every rebound,” said Stotts of Lopez, who played all but 50 seconds of the second half. “He made a big block down the stretch. His presence in the paint just makes a difference. You feel his effort and you feel his energy when he’s on the court.”
January 17 in San Antonio: Trail Blazers 109, Spurs 100 …
With Portland trailing 89-88 with 5:54 to play after a Tim Duncan putback dunk, Aldridge responded by hitting an 18-footer and then a layup to put the Trail Blazers up 92-89.
“I definitely watched him growing up and I learned a lot from him,” said Aldridge of going up against Duncan. “It was like an idol versus a up-and-coming, hopefully a top, power forward.”
The Spurs attempted to slow Aldridge down late in the fourth quarter by sending double teams, but that only served to give open looks to Matthews, who was more than happy to take advantage while San Antonio scrambled to cover the perimeter.
“LA is going to see every kind of defense there is and he was ready for it,” said Matthews. “We were all ready for it. That ball swung around the horn. They did the hard job. He had to kick it out of the double team, everybody else had to pass it around their man. I just had to knock it down.”
Matthews did just that, hitting three three-pointers late in the game to help the Trail Blazers pull away.
“We have confident shooters,” said Stotts. “Whomever it is – Damian (Lillard), Wesley, Mo (Williams), LA, Nic (Batum) – we have a lot of guys who are very good shooters and feel confident when the ball is in their hands. The ones Wes hit were very timely. It really turned the tide.”
Matthews finished with nine points in the fourth and 24 for the night while shooting nine of 14 from the field and a near-perfect six of seven from three.
“It felt good,” said Matthews of his fourth quarter shooting performance. “What do they say in football, pitch and catch? I like high-pressure moments, high-pressure situations.”
Portland would outscore San Antonio 21-11 during the final five minutes, 33 seconds of the game to come away with the nine-point victory.
February 19 in Portland: Spurs 111, Trail Blazers 109 …
With LaMarcus Aldridge sidelined with a left groin strain, the Trail Blazers started just their second different starting lineup of the season against the Spurs, with Dorell Wright joining Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez as Portland’s first five.
“It was different,” said Lillard. “It’s tough to rebound and run our offense how we usually do when we don’t have our guys that’s normally in the rotation out there period, but without (Aldridge) out there, that makes it tougher obviously.”
Playing without Aldridge, a three-time All-Star, would have been difficult enough on its own, but not having Joel Freeland (sprained right MCL) or Meyers Leonard (sprained left ankle) available forced the Trail Blazers to go with small lineups almost exclusively all night.
The Spurs were also playing without future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and All-Star point guard Tony Parker, though San Antonio has much more experience playing without their best players, and it showed Wednesday night.
“We tried to beat San Antonio at their game and they did better than us,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They played their small lineup more effectively. We didn’t do enough defensively to get a win. While (Aldridge) and Meyers and Joel are out, we’re going to have to figure out ways to win games. There were some good things we did tonight. San Antonio is used to playing these games without their guys and they plug guys in and they play well. During this stretch, we’re going to have to figure some things out at both ends of the floor.”
With averages of 23.9 points and 11.4 rebounds, it would be easy to think the Trail Blazers would struggle in both scoring and rebounding with Aldridge unavailable, though that didn’t seem to be the case Wednesday. Portland’s 109 points Wednesday night were more than their season average and they out-rebounded San Antonio by five. They even outscored the Spurs 54-42 in the paint, something that happens infrequently even with Aldridge on the court.
“Offense isn’t going to be our problem,” said Matthews. “We’ve got to stop beating ourselves on the defensive end, stop allowing teams to not work for their buckets.”
The Spurs were particularly successful scoring in the fourth quarter, going 11 of 19 from the field and four of seven from three. Former Trail Blazer Patty Mills would score 13 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter on six of nine shooting, despite being guarded by the much longer Batum.
“I let Patty Mills do whatever he wants to do,” said Batum, who also struggled through a two of eight night shooting. “That’s on me. That’s it.”
March 12 in San Antonio: Spurs 103, Trail Blazers 90 …
The Portland Trail Blazers fell to 42-23 on the season, 18-15 on the road and 0-4 on their current five-game road trip with a 103-90 loss to the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday night at the AT&T Center.
As if the loss alone wasn’t bad enough, Portland suffered a serious blow with LaMarcus Aldridge taking a hard fall at the 11:17 mark in third quarter after colliding with Spurs center Aron Baynes.
Aldridge writhed on the floor in obvious pain before finally being helped off the court by teammates Thomas Robinson and Meyers Leonard and was reluctant to put any weight on his right leg. Replays showed the three-time All-Star landing hard on his tailbone, though the team later described the injury as a “back contusion.”
“When a guy takes a a tough fall like that, when you’re airborne, you just don’t know what can happen you land,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “The longer he stayed down, you just don’t know.”
Aldridge did not return to the game, finishing the night with 13 points on 6 of 11 shooting and four rebounds. X-rays on his back came back negative, though his status for Friday night’s contest in New Orleans against the Pelicans is not yet know.
“It looked really painful,” said Damian Lillard. “I watched him go up for the shot and fall straight out of the air. That’s a tough fall. I was concerned about his well-being more than anything else once I saw his facial expressions and that he kind of stayed down. I never saw him stay down like that, so obviously I was concerned for him.”
If there’s any good news, aside from x-rays coming back negative, it’s that the Trail Blazers recently went 4-1 while Aldridge was sidelined with a left groin strain.
A happy Friday the 13th to all of you loyal podcast listeners. Before everyone goes their separate ways now that the offseason is here, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net and TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio one last time to record a season-ending edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we attempt recap the series versus the Warriors, which ended in five games with a 125-121 loss at Oracle Arena Wednesday night, and the season in general, discuss the lasting effects of the playoff run and the respect that they earned from around the league due to their performance and look forward to some of the questions the Blazers will have to answer in the offseason, particularly in regard to free agency. And as always, we finish up by answering your Twitter-submitted questions on topics such as the culture the Trail Blazers have developed, (more) free agency, exit interviews and favorite moments from the just-completed season. It’s been a fun one.
Less than 12 hours after being eliminated from the postseason, the Trail Blazers returned to their practice facility in Tualatin to meet with the coaches to discuss offseason plans, clean out their lockers and take questions from the media one last time before starting their vacations.
Here’s the audio and a few quotes from Terry Stotts and the players from today’s exit interviews…
On the 2015-16 season…
“Like I said last night, this has been a special season. This group of players, what they were able to do individually and collectively, our chemistry was really good. We had good guys, they got along, players and coaches. It means a lot and it goes both ways. It was a joy. I think players enjoyed coming to work every day and I know the coaches and staff did, too.”
On whether this was his most rewarding season as a head coach…
“No question. This was an extremely rewarding season because it kind of played out the way we wanted it to. And we’re not talking about the record or the playoffs, everything was about growth, improvement, getting better throughout the season and being better at the end of the season. I think we did that individually and collectively and from a coaching standpoint, that’s as pure as it gets. That’s what coaching is about. You don’t get to experience that very much at the NBA level.”
On whether he expects anyone on his staff to be interviewed for various open head coaching positions…
“I hope so. I can’t say enough about how good my staff is. I think Jay Triano and Nate Tibbetts and David Vanterpool are all ready to be considering for head coaching jobs. I think they’re all prepared to do a great job as a head coach depending on whatever a team is looking for. I hope they get consideration because they’re all very deserving.
On many of his teammates deciding to stay in Portland during the offseason…
“That means a lot because I stay here every summer. I’m used to coming in here like ‘I wonder when everybody else coming back to town,’ you know what I mean? The trainers are here, the coaches are here and it’s an empty gym. And even after the game last night, on the plane, I started getting worried already. I was sitting on the plane like ‘Man, we had some success this year, it was unexpected it was no pressure. Next year people gonna expect a little bit more’ and I started to get worried about too many pats on the back. ‘They weren’t supposed to do this but they did that.’ I started getting worried, but we don’t have those kind of guys. We’ve got hungry guys, we’ve got humble guys that work hard. We had a taste this season as a young group of how well we could do and what it takes. We lost to a really experienced, championship team. That makes me happy to hear that so many guys are going to be here working out in the summer because that lets me know that they see how close we are and they see how important it’s going to be going forward.”
On free agency and having a say in the process…
“I’m pretty sure they’ll communicate what the plans are with me, but like I’ve said in the past, my job is to be a good teammate, to make sure I put in my time and become a better player and that’s what I’ll do. They ask me my opinion on something, I’ll give them my honest opinion, but I love all the guys that we have on our roster now. I think going forward, if we continue to grow together, we’ll be a good team. Obviously it’s a business and rosters change, players make decisions for themselves, so when that time comes, we’ll see what happens. But when they come to me ask for my opinion or what I think about something, I’ll tell them what I think.”
On what he’s looking for as a restricted free agent…
“Any pay raise is going to be significantly higher than what I’m making now. But like I said earlier, it’s just situation really for me. It doesn’t make sense to make a lot of money and go to a team that, if you don’t fit that system, then get paid a lot of money to be frustrated? That doesn’t make sense to me. The culture here, it’s great. I know this organization well, I know the system, know the coaches, players. It’s just real comfortable here. I wouldn’t mind being here, I really wouldn’t. It’s really just coming down to situation and how I can continue to improve as a basketball player.”
On head coach Terry Stotts…
“Definitely think he should get an extension. I feel like everybody here knows that he should get an extension. He’s done a great job with this team. It’s really hard to put into words what he did with this group because nobody expected us to do what we did. Even from Day One, even through the games where we were 11-20, seven-game losing streak, he never folded and he always told us it’s all about trusting the process and we stuck with that throughout this whole year.”
On spending time in Portland this offseason…
“I think, for one, it doesn’t rain a lot in the summer, so that helps. Just being around the facility, 24 hour access, you’re able to get a lot of things done without a distraction. You go home, you go to certain cities, you either got to pay to get in the gym or you’ve got to worry about people interrupting you while you workout. I go back to my high school but sometimes I’ve got to just like lock the door so I can just workout and not have to worry about certain interruptions because you can’t get through a full workout when people are coming in, talk to you. It’s meant to be a compliment to you, it’s hard. So I think it helps that here, you just come in, the doors are locked, you’ve got your finger scan, you workout when you want, the weather is nice. You’re paying rent here anyway, so it makes sense.”
On the camaraderie of the roster and the changes that might be in store…
“I think we had a really unique group. They did a great job of putting together like minds, young guys who are easy to talk to. Nobody is really arrogant or overly cocky. We’ve got some ignorant guys on the team that you guys guys know who’s outlandish with his statements. I won’t put him out there, he knows who he is. Besides that, we all got along well, everybody spoke their minds, nobody was afraid to say certain things. If somebody played bad, if somebody wasn’t doing things the right way, you could address it and nobody would frown or look at you the wrong way. So I like the way our team is put together, I like the work ethic everybody had. This is one of the rare teams where you could hang out with players off the court. Everybody’s got their friends, but I could hang out with any one of the 15 guys off the court and be perfectly comfortable, eat dinner, et cetera… We’ve got a really good unit and a lot of guys made themselves some money this year, a lot of guy’s prices went up. Hopefully we can rekindle the flame, but if not, we had a good run, we had a good year together collectively and wish everybody the best of luck in the free agency process.
On how he’s approaching restricted free agency…
“To be honest with you, I haven’t had a real concrete conversation with my agent about this. I wanted it to be, right now, about my rehab and about supporting the guys, being there however I could, I guess more from an emotional standpoint, for the team. I certainly wish I could have been out there. With that being said, I’m sure we’ll talk within the next couple of days about how we’re going to really approach this, the timing of things, I suppose what teams are interested, what teams would maybe like to meet in person. I don’t have a concrete plan at this point. Restricted free agency, it gets a little hairy, it takes time, teams maybe don’t want to tie their money up. I honestly don’t know all the ins and outs of it. Like I said before the season when I didn’t accept an extension, I’m confident in where I’m at. It’s my agent’s job to present whatever he has on his mind and what’s on my plate from that side of things. My job right now is simply to rehab my shoulder, continue to work on my leg strength, which is a huge focus of mine for this summer, and just figure out different way in the weight room or out here, even simple things as ball handling, just trying to improve as a player and as a man.”
On why he’s going to spend much of the offseason in Portland…
“I’m coming back to Portland just because went through all that rain, got to enjoy some of the sun. I like it here. I’m renting a spot, so I’m just going to stay here. I like Todd (Forcier) and BK (Ben Kenyon) and those guys, so definitely going to put a lot of work in in the weight room. It’s always good vibes here so I don’t think guys want to get away. Some teams, you want to get away just because you don’t like certain people. It’s not like that here. I enjoyed being here so that’s why I’m going to stick around and do most of my training out here.”
On the realities of keeping a roster with multiple free agents together…
“It’s going to be tricky with all the salary cap stuff going on. I think a lot of the guys who are free agents definitely raised their value. I think everyone did. You never know. I hope all those guys get paid well, I think they will. They deserve it. You just never know with free agency, who they go after and things like that, but I hope everybody comes back, but that’s not really realistic. It doesn’t really work like that in the league. I just tried to enjoy that time yesterday because I’ve been around a little bit and I know how the business side of things work.”
On his mindset going into the offseason…
“This summer is big for me, become more of a scoring threat. I think there’s a lot to be added. I look forward, if the opportunity is there, to come back to have some stability from a staff perspective. I would look forward to coming back to a similar situation from one season to the next. I’ve played for three coaches in three years, so I think that would be something I’d look forward to as well… Once you’ve been traded, you never know.”
On being a restricted free agent…
“Free agency is something I haven’t really thought about. I’ve tried not to think about it during the season and we just finished yesterday, so it hasn’t really been on my mind yet. It’s something that we’ll have to think about soon.”
On his first season in Portland…
I loved it. It was by far the most fun season I’ve had. These guys here are great, the organization is great. I really, really enjoyed it and looking forward to seeing what happens this summer.”
On his first season in Portland…
“It’s the most fun year I think I’ve had as a pro. We had a great group of guys, high character guys, silly guys and it was a fun year. That’s without even being on the court. On the court, we had a special group. We came together halfway through, really made it a special year all the way until last night when we’re playing against the champions, gave them all we had. Played a tough series, obviously it didn’t end the way that we wanted it to, but it’s a year we’re all proud of.”
His thoughts on entering free agency and what he’s looking for…
This is my second time doing it and it’ll be a little different than the first time. I think getting a taste of what this year and this postseason was like and how much fun, how competitive it is, I think, number one, being on a team that’s a winning team. It’s obviously tough to get on one of the elite elite teams, but that could be a possibility. That could easily be a possibility here. Being on a team that is about winning and that’s a good fit for me.
On his first season with the Trail Blazers…
“It was an amazing journey of growth. We grew a lot throughout the season, personally and as a team. It was just fun to be a part of it.”
How he looks back on the season in terms of enjoyment…
The season was great. Any time you have guys that are the same age, it just makes it a lot easier to get along. It’s easy to have relatable points, different things like that. A lot of us are going through similar things in our careers so you get to relate on that note. When it came to comfortably in that sense, it was just unbelievable. And then I think that’s why the chemistry was there as well. Even our vets and the older guys like Chris Kaman, they were a joy to be around as well. From top to bottom, everybody was kind of in that same wavelength of what they were trying to do. It just made it easy to get along.
OAKLAND — Though they had every reason to do so, the 2015-16 Trail Blazers refused to give in to despair or doubt. Despite being picked as one of the worst teams in the NBA, they declared before training camp that their goal was to make the playoffs. When they were nine games below .500 before the start of the new year, they kept plugging along, never allowing themselves to take the easy road to the lottery.
When they eventually made the playoffs, they overcame a 2-0 deficit to advance to the second round for just the second time in 16 years. And after going down 2-0 to the defending champion Golden State Warriors, a team that set the NBA record for wins this season, they rallied to win Game Three, forcing at least a Game Five.
And in the end, the 2015-16 Trail Blazers died like they lived: by refusing to give up.
Though facing long odds of overcoming a 3-1 series deficit, the Trail Blazers gave a performance, both in terms of quality and effort, that typified their entire season, though it ultimately wouldn’t be enough, as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to score 62 points to lead the Warriors to a 125-121 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 Wednesday night at Oracle Arena. With the win, the Warriors have eliminated the Trail Blazers from the postseason by winning the series 4-1.
“This was a remarkable season,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I’ve been in the league coaching for 23 years, it was a special year. We had all young guys who got better. They worked hard. We had success. With success being more than just making the playoffs and the success is more than winning a playoff series.”
Especially considering the circumstances at the start of the season. After replacing four of five starters and nine players in total, most assumed Portland’s 2015-16 campaign would be one devoted to developing the young players they acquired in the offseason while and giving themselves the best odds to secure a lottery pick. But instead, they formed themselves into a tough, never-say-die team that took advantage of low expectations and a weaker than expected Western Conference to shock the NBA by not only making the postseason, but by getting the fifth-seed.
“The goal at the beginning of the season was that we were going to work with the players,” said Stotts. “They were going to get better and we were going to get better as a team. I was talking with my coaches, a lot of times in this league, you don’t get that opportunity to work with a group of guys who come to work every day, there is no drama. They came to work, they got better, we got better, and we had success because of their character and their work ethic every day. So I don’t have to wait long to understand how special this season was.”
The Trail Blazers would hold an 11-point lead in the second half, but, as was often the case in the five-game series, were never able to deliver the knockout blow. The Warriors would eventually take their first lead of the game midway through the third quarter, a lead that would grow to as many as eight points, though that wouldn’t stop the Trail Blazers from hard-charging until the final buzzer. The Trail Blazers cut the Golden State lead to two with under a minute to play, but could never put together enough consecutive makes to win the game or force overtime.
“You’ve also got to take your hat off to (Golden State) and give them credit,” said Damian Lillard. “They did what championship teams do. When it was time to win games, they did things a little bit better than we did in situations where it made a difference in win or loss, and those are the things that we’ve got to grow from. We’ve got to remember these teams and remember executing down the stretch and how important one rebound can end up being.”
In a way, Portland’s play in Game Five, and in the playoffs in general, was a microcosm of Portland’s “special season.” They fought hard, comported themselves far better than most expected, had their opportunities and even looked like they might have played well enough to extend their season before falling just short.
“We went out there and put our best foot forward, and obviously we’ve got a ways to go before we’re a finished product,” said CJ McCollum. “We can all get better individually and collectively as a unit and I think we will. There are no excuses. We competed, but we’re not satisfied losing 4-1, even if the games were close. I don’t think we went into this playoffs like let’s get the gentleman’s sweep as a goal. That’s not how we approached it.”
The Blazers were led by Lillard who went 7-of-24 from the field to finish with 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in 39 minutes. CJ McCollum went 11-of-23 for 27 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists.
“He was tough,” said Stephen Curry of McCollum. “He kept his foot on the gas pedal, made some tough shots and took advantage of some offensive rebounds and had the confidence to keep shooting and knock them down. So he did what he could to keep his team in the game. He’s a talented player, so that’s what you expect.”
Portland got the kind of performances they needed from the role players to give a team like the Warriors a run for their money. Al-Farouq Aminu shot 50 percent from the field to finish with 16 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two steals in 36 minutes. Maurice Harkless added 13 points in 19 minutes.
And then there was Allen Crabbe, who saved his best playoff game for last, going 7-of-9 from the field and 5-of-7 from three to finish with 20 points and three rebounds in 32 minutes.
As for the Warriors, Curry went 10-of-20 from the field and 5-of-11 from three to finish with 29 points, 11 assists and five rebounds in 36 minutes. Thompson went 13-of-17 from the field and 6-of-9 from three for a game-high 33 points to go with two rebounds and an assist in 34 minutes. Draymond Green had one of his quieter offensive games of the series, going just 2-of-7 from the field for 13 points, though he did grab 11 rebounds and hand out six assists. Shaun Livingston came off the bench to added 10 points.
While the Warriors now move on to face the winner of the Spurs/Thunder series in the Western Conference finals, the Trail Blazers head back to Portland to begin their offseason, albeit about a month later than most expected at the start of training camp. Though they head home unhappy with the result, they can take some pride in knowing that, while their season is over, their journey as an up-and-coming team is just beginning.
“I think the experience that we got was great,” said Lillard. “Regardless of what other people expected, I think what we were able to do was reassure ourselves that the foundation that we built this year is the right thing. We did it the right way and that’s what allowed us to be in this position. So we’ve got to continue to work and continue to grow that same thing and do the same things that we have been doing all season long and try to continue going forward.”