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.
Of all the adjectives one could use to describe the 2015-16 Portland Trail Blazers, “resilient” might be the most applicable. Despite being the third-youngest team in the NBA this season, the Trail Blazers have been remarkably adept at bouncing back. Whether it was replacing four of five starters from the season before, enduring two losing streaks of at least five games or finishing the season by going 33-18 after starting the year 11-20 to make the postseason and finish fifth in the Western Conference, the Trail Blazers, under Terry Stotts’ steady hand, have shown a level of maturity with regard to the way they’ve dealt with disappointment that belies their relative youth and inexperience.
Which is good, because they’re going to need every last bit of fortitude they can muster to get over their fourth-quarter performance at Oracle Arena in their 110-99 loss to the Warriors in Game Two of the Western Conference semifinals. Despite leading by as much as 17 in the game and 11 in the fourth quarter, the Trail Blazers were outscored 34-12 in the final 12 minutes, resulting in an 11-point loss and a 2-0 series deficit.
“They’re not a young team, they’ve got a lot of guys that have been around, they’re very smart,” said Damian Lillard of the Warriors. “They see slippage and they go after it. If they see something that they can take advantage of, they take advantage of it. In that last five minutes (of Game Two), we just let our foot off the gas a little bit. I don’t know if it was fatigue mentally but we had some mental mistakes. One or two plays got them going, they got into it and the better they played offensively, they just got sharper defensively. That hurt us.”
While every loss stings, Portland’s loss in Game Two seemed to be more painful than most, for multiple reasons. First, the Warriors have lost at Oracle Arena just twice during the regular season, setting the NBA record for most consecutive home victories in the process, making the unfulfilled opportunity of beating the defending champs on their home court, and in a playoff game no less, a rather bitter pill to swallow, especially after leading for all but the last five minutes of the game. The Trail Blazers will have to beat the Warriors at least once at Oracle to move on to the Western Conference Finals, and one could argue that they won’t get a better chance to do so than they had Tuesday night.
“After that game, I was pretty hot about that one,” said Lillard. “Just because not only was it a great opportunity, but we had it. It was right there, all we had to do was four and a half, five minutes where we just got to be as sharp as possible. That was the challenge for us, just lock in even more, take it to a new level. Instead of that, we went a little bit downhill and they picked it up the way we needed to pick it up. We just wasn’t able to finish it. It sucked man. I was pretty hot about that one.”
And then there’s the matter of soon-to-be two-time MVP Stephen Curry, who has sat out the last two games with a sprained MCL in his right knee. While the Trail Blazers are in no way rooting for Curry to remain sidelined, the simple fact is they have a much better chance of beating the Warriors when the best player in the NBA is in street clothes. Golden State head coach Steve Kerr said the Curry would probably sit out Game Three as well, though it seems very unlikely he misses another game this series at Oracle, which, once again, makes the loss in Game Two that much more disappointing.
“I can’t speak on behalf of (the rest of the team), I don’t know how they feel personally, but it’s a game we should have won,” said CJ McCollum. “It’s unfortunate that we let it slip away. That’s what good teams do, they hang around and they finish off games at home. We’ve got to be better than that and I think we will be better. Got to move forward now and take advantage of Game Three.”
Luckily, the Trail Blazers have a bit of extra time to put Game Two behind them. While they have shown an ability to learn from their mistakes and move on this season, some players admitted that Game Two going down the way it did was lingering a bit. And in those situations, sometimes the best solution is playing another game as soon as possible, though that might not be the case this time around.
“Yesterday, I didn’t even want to see a basketball,” said Lillard. “I wasn’t even going to watch the playoff game yesterday until I heard Cleveland was hitting a bunch of threes, so I wanted to see for myself. But I didn’t even want to have nothing to do with basketball yesterday after that game.”
But after a day away from the game, Lillard and the rest of the Trail Blazers returned to their facility in Tualatin to prepare for Game Three at the Moda Center. If they’re able to make the improvements and adjustments necessary to get their first victory of the series Saturday night in Portland, they might truly be able to move on from what happened Tuesday night in Oakland.
“Ain’t nothing I can do about it now. In my mind, it’s over,” said McCollum. “It’s unfortunate that it had to happen but we can learn from it. We can’t sulk and moan and act like it’s the end of the world. We’re down 0-2 against a very good team. Now we’re at home, now we have a very good opportunity to take advantage of two home games and learn from mistakes in the first two games.”
Now back in Portland for games Three and Four of the second round series versus the Golden State Warriors, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio to record a Game Two recap edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this latest edition we discuss Portland’s collapse in the fourth quarter of Game Two that turned what looked like a rare road win at Oracle Arena into an 11-point loss, how the Trail Blazers go about putting that game behind them before Game Three at the Moda Center, the reports of Stephen Curry sitting out Game Three, Maurice Harkless’ defense on Klay Thompson, the overall quality of the defending champs and answer a few questions about Game Three adjustments, Portland’s locker room, Draymond Green, how far we can run at this point in our lives and a few more random things that I’ve already since forgotten.
OAKLAND — For the first three quarters, it looked as though the Portland Trail Blazers might actually beat the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena, something that only two teams have managed to do in the last seven months.
But unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, NBA games last four quarters. And Tuesday night in Oakland, the Warriors outscored the Trail Blazers 34-12 in the final 12 minutes to come away with a 110-99 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 in Game Two of the Western Conference semifinals.
“We played three really good quarters, and we showed that we can compete with them, and it got away from us in the fourth quarter, obviously,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “It was disappointing to lose a game that you’re competitive and you’re in a position to be in the fourth quarter. But we’ve got to close it out… It was an opportunity to get a win on the road, and we’ve got to learn from it and be ready to go get one in Game Three.”
The Warriors now lead the series 2-0.
“I think nights like tonight, they suck,” said Damian Lillard. “It hurts to go back in the locker room after you play so well for so long and you come back in there with the L. But it is a part of growth. The entire season has been growth for us. But nights like tonight, we have to close that out. We have to get that done. It was just a missed opportunity.”
The first half of Tuesday night’s game went about as well as the Trail Blazers could possible expect, with Portland taking a 17-point lead in the second quarter thanks to shooting 51 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. Though the Warriors would cut into the Trail Blazers lead thanks to an 18-3 run, Portland, as was the case for most of the night, always seemed to counter at just the right time to quiet the Oracle Arena crowd. That counter in at the end of the second quarter came courtesy of back-to-back threes from Al-Farouq Aminu and Damian Lillard to push the lead back to eight by the intermission.
Portland, thanks mostly to Lillard going 6-of-11 from the field and 4-of-5 from three in the third, extended their lead to 11 going into the fourth quarter before Golden State got white hot to finish out the game. The Warriors took their first lead of the night early in the fourth quarter and would go on to win by 11 after finishing out the game by shooting 11-of-18 in the final 12 minutes of regulation. The Trail Blazers also play right into the Warriors’ hands by turning the ball over five times while going 5-of-19 from the field.
“I think the last run, they were desperate,” said Lillard. “It got to the point where it was win or lose. There wasn’t another quarter after that. It wasn’t just stay with it. It was, ‘We’ve got to do it now.’ And they played desperate, and we just didn’t respond to it well enough to finish the game.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who scored 17 in the third quarter before finishing with 25 points on 8-of-20 shooting from the field and 6-of-11 shooting from three, six assists and four rebounds in 40 minutes. CJ McCollum went 9-of-19 for 22 points, two rebounds and two assists in 41 minutes.
Aminu got off to a fast start, scoring 10 points in the first quarter before finishing with 14 to go along with six rebounds and two assists. Maurice Harkless would add 11 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes with Gerald Henderson coming off the bench to add 12.
As was the case in Game One, Klay Thompson would lead the Warriors with 27 points on 7-of-20 shooting from the field and 5-of-14 shooting from three. Draymond Green, who was the driving force along with Festus Ezeli in Golden State’s pivotal fourth quarter, was just shy of another triple-double with 17 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in 41 minutes while also blocking four shots.
“I think there came a point where me and Klay were trying to do too much,” said Green. “When we settled down and trusted everybody else, that’s when everything started to click for us. So as far as the way I’ve been playing with the exception of that one game, it’s playoff basketball. This is what we live for. You play the whole season to get to this point.”
Shaun Livingston and Harrison Barnes scored 14 and 13 points, respectively, with Andre Igoudala putting up 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting off the bench.
Next up, the series takes a three-day break before shifting to Portland for Game Three on Saturday at the Moda Center.
“We’ve been in bad positions time and time again, and we’ve never shied away,” said Lillard. “We’ve never not answered the call. I don’t see why this time it would be any different. In our last series against the Clippers, we were down 0-2. We went home, and the next two games they were pretty much full strength. They had their guys and we got it done those two games. Obviously, Golden State is a different monster, but we know the same thing can happen, and that’s what we’re going in there thinking and believing, and we’re back on our home floor. We’ve got to go out there and play a game like tonight and go finish it.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 pm on ABC and 620 AM.