Williams Doesn’t Give A Damn And Batum Is Better For It

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 years ago

HOUSTON — The Portland Trail Blazers were getting the best of most of their individual matchups in the first half of their 122-120 Game 1 victory versus the Rockets in Houston Sunday night. And while focusing on positional one-to-one’s isn’t  the best way to gauge a player’s performance, rotations do get shorter and starters tend to play more minutes in the playoffs, resulting in individual matchups taking on an added significance in the postseason.

There was Damian Lillard tallying 12 points, three rebounds and two assists before the intermission, more than the combined output of Rockets point guards Patrick Beverly and Jeremy Lin.

Lillard’s backcourt partner, Wesley Matthews, couldn’t match James Harden’s six first-half assists. But the Iron Man outscored The Bearded One 9-7 in the first half, which was an unqualified success for both Matthews and the Trail Blazers.

And of course there was LaMarcus Aldridge, nearly 19 minutes into the most dominant offensive playoff performance in franchise history, putting up 16 points to just six for Rockets power forward Terrence Jones. Even Robin Lopez, going up against arguably the best center in the NBA in Dwight Howard, held his own with four points and five rebounds in the first half, not markedly inferior to Howard’s first half line of eight points and six rebounds.

But when it came to which team got the better from their small forwards, the scales tipped heavily in Houston’s favor. While Portland’s Nicolas Batum wasn’t playing particularly poorly, he would admit that  he was suffering through a bout of paralysis by analysis while Houston’s Chandler Parsons went 7 of 10 from the field and 3 of 5 from three for 17 first-half points, 13 more than Batum.

“I was thinking too much,” said Batum of his first half performance in Game 1. “I didn’t want to lose this game so I don’t want to do any mistakes. I didn’t do any mistakes, but I didn’t do anything.”

It was undeniable that the Trail Blazers would need more from Batum in order to steal the first game of the series. But in order for that to happen, someone would have to be honest with the 6-8 Frenchman. Enter Mo Williams.

The veteran point guard could sense slippage in Batum’s first-half performance. He knew that, with Lillard, Aldridge, Harden and Howard all having advantages over their counterparts, the series could tilt toward whichever team got the better performance from their respective small forward. And in the first half of Game 1, that advantage was Houston’s.

So Williams did what he was partially brought to Portland in the offseason to do: provide veteran leadership with the credibility that comes with having been an integral piece on numerous playoff teams through his career.

“Everybody has a role on our team,” said Williams. “I just kind of saw it in (Batum) the first half, wasn’t aggressive, thought Chandler Parsons was eating him for lunch. I just had to let him know at halftime because I know he’s better than that.”

And in the second half, Batum proved Williams right. He would finish the game with 14 points on 6 of 10 shooting, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in 45 minutes while holding Parsons to 3 of 8 shooting from the field and 0 of 4 shooting from three in the second half. According to NBA.com/stats, Parsons would finish the game shooting 40 percent when being defended by Batum in the half court.

“My teammates, especially Mo, talked to me, said “Just play,'” recounted Batum. “I tried to go out and get more shots, be more aggressive, on offense and defense, too.”

A confident and self-possessed man, Batum has never shied away from being honest about his play, often times putting the onus on himself for losses in which he felt he could have done more. But in the high-pressure situation of a playoff game on the road, Batum could have very easily bristled at Williams’ dose of tough love or written it off as finger-pointing. But instead, he embraced the challenge rather than denying its existence.

“In the moment you can’t get mad because it’s just a moment,” said Batum. “At the end, he’s been in the league for years now, former All-Star, he’s been on big teams, played with LeBron in Cleveland, been to conference finals. He knows what he’s talking about. So every time he says something to me, I take it like it’s going to make me better.”

Which it did. But even if it hadn’t, it wouldn’t stop Williams from doing the same thing if the issue arose another time, be it with Batum or another teammate.

“Sometimes they get mad at me but I don’t give a damn,” said Williams. “It’s for the best. At the end of the day, once the emotions get out of it, they appreciate it, they understand where I was coming from. There’s only one goal. We’re just trying to win the game.”

Portland would do just that. The performances of Aldridge and Lillard would rightfully get the headlines, but they couldn’t have won a two-point game in overtime if Batum had played in the second half like he had in the first half.

“The team knows and I know what I’ve got to do to help this team to win,” said Batum. “All of my teammates talk to me if they feel like I’m not in the game. I just try to go and not think too much like I did in the first half and just play. That’s what you’ve got to do in the playoffs, on offense and defense. Just try to be aggressive and play my game.”

As for Williams, he went 1 for 6 from the field for three points while adding two assists and two steals in almost 27 minutes, hardly his best on-court performance. But by helping shake Batum out of his funk, he contributed to Portland’s win greatly while also proving that one-on-one matchups, let alone raw statistical output, isn’t necessarily the end all, be all of a player’s worth.

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VIDEO: Phantom Cam Recap And All 12 Of Lillard's Game 4 Field Goals

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
10 months ago

The Trail Blazers have arrived in Memphis for tomorrow’s Game 5 at FedExForum (tipoff scheduled for 6:30 pm on KGW, TNT and 620 AM), wherein they will try to extend their postseason by getting their first road win of the series.

But before we completely turn the page on Game 4, let’s look back at some of the highlights, if for no other reason than it was the first time during this series that the Trail Blazers turned in a performance worthy of repeated viewing.

First, there’s the phantom cam highlights, which recaps Game 4 in super slo-mo. Damian Lillard’s spin move past Tony Allen and Beno Udrih, which he followed up by finishing with a reverse layup while absorbing contact from Marc Gasol at the 50 second mark has to be one of the best plays of Portland’s 2015 postseason.

Here’s the Vine of that Lillard spin move finish for easier repeated viewing…

And on the topic of Lillard, he scored a career playoff-high 32 points on 12-of-23 shooting in Game 4, which prompted the NBA to put together a package of all of his field goals Monday night. They also tossed in two of his game-high seven assists for good measure.

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VIDEO: Phantom Cam Recap And All 12 Of Lillard’s Game 4 Field Goals

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
10 months ago

The Trail Blazers have arrived in Memphis for tomorrow’s Game 5 at FedExForum (tipoff scheduled for 6:30 pm on KGW, TNT and 620 AM), wherein they will try to extend their postseason by getting their first road win of the series.

But before we completely turn the page on Game 4, let’s look back at some of the highlights, if for no other reason than it was the first time during this series that the Trail Blazers turned in a performance worthy of repeated viewing.

First, there’s the phantom cam highlights, which recaps Game 4 in super slo-mo. Damian Lillard’s spin move past Tony Allen and Beno Udrih, which he followed up by finishing with a reverse layup while absorbing contact from Marc Gasol at the 50 second mark has to be one of the best plays of Portland’s 2015 postseason.

Here’s the Vine of that Lillard spin move finish for easier repeated viewing…

And on the topic of Lillard, he scored a career playoff-high 32 points on 12-of-23 shooting in Game 4, which prompted the NBA to put together a package of all of his field goals Monday night. They also tossed in two of his game-high seven assists for good measure.

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Trail Blazers Look To Get Damian Lillard Going

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
10 months ago

The first two games of their first round series versus the Memphis Grizzlies have been rough for the Trail Blazers, particularly for Damian Lillard. While no Blazer has played particularly well thus far, Lillard’s struggles have been the most noticeable, especially when contrasted with his performance in last year’s first round matchup against the Rockets, a series that culminated with the 6-3 guard out of Weber State hitting a now legendary Game 6 series-winning three-pointer as time expired.

While his Game 6 performance is the most enduring memory of that series, Lillard was spectacular through all six games. He averaged 25.5 points per game on 47 percent shooting from the field and a ridiculous 49 percent shooting from three while also adding 6.7 assists, 6.3 rebound and 1.3 steals in a hefty 44.7 minutes per game (you may recall that three of the six games went to overtime). The Spurs had much more success slowing him down in the second round, holding him to just 17 percent shooting from three, though he still shot 41 percent from the field and averaged almost 20 points and just over six rebounds before the Trail Blazers were eliminated by the eventual World Champions in five games.

Flash forward to today and one imagines Lillard would be happy to play as well as he did against the Spurs, let alone the Rockets, versus the Grizzlies. Shooting just 27 percent from the field and a perplexing nine percent from three, the third-year point guard lamented after practice Friday afternoon that the Grizzlies’ defense has been all but impenetrable through the first two games.

“It’s been tough,” said Lillard. “They do a really good job of clogging up the paint, keeping a lot of bodies in the paint to where it’s kind of uncomfortable being down there because they’re playing physical and they’re playing really good team defense. You’ve got to give them credit, but the good looks I do get, I’ve got to make those shots. I just haven’t made shots.”

Lillard, along with the rest of the team, has studied film in an effort to figure out way that he might get himself going heading into Game 3 Saturday night at the Moda Center. He may try to get the ball up the court quicker and look to set up his teammates more often in an effort to make the game easier for everyone involved.

“Watching film, I see a lot of times where even if they’re crowding up and there’s not a shot for me, there’s times where I can make plays for other guys,” said Lillard. “There’s always adjustments I can make. Using screens better, picking spots better, pushing the tempo. It’s really hard to score on them in the halfcourt when their defense is set, so just trying to create better opportunities, maybe make more plays so they loosen up on just trying to control me so much. Just make the game easier for myself.”

But even though there are areas in which he could better exploit what little the Grizzlies are giving him, if he’s not able to make the shots that he typically makes, be it in the playoffs last year or the regular season this year, no amount of changing up is going to make much difference.That’s why, even though you’re likely to see Terry Stotts try a few new things to get Lillard going, it’s unlikely that wholesale changes are going to be implemented. That would be impractical and also foolish, as much of what the Blazers are doing are the same things that worked well in the past, including against the Rockets in last year’s playoffs.

“We’ve done somethings, we made some adjustments between Game 1 and Game 2, different sets,” said Stotts of what he and his staff have done to try and help Lillard find his offensive rhythm. “He’s missed some good shots. A lot of the shots he’s made over the course of his career, he’s had, so you don’t want to over-analyze and do things — we’re doing a lot of the same things that have gotten him to this point. The ball is going to be in his hands, we’ve looked at different things. But ultimately, the one thing is — for everybody, not just Damian but everybody– passing the ball, finding the ball on the weakside, creating opportunities for your teammates to get easier shots. I think that lends itself to more rhythm at the offensive end.”

Portland will need that improved rhythm, and a steady dose of shot-making, if they’re to best the Grizzlies Saturday night for the first time in their last six tries. If the Trail Blazers managed to get there offensive going and still lose, they’ll know that the Grizzlies are simply a better team on both sides of the ball. But if they can somehow shake off two disappointing offensive performances to take Game 3, they’ll give themselves a chance to repeat their success against the Rockets last season rather than mimicking their failures versus the Spurs.

“We haven’t been down in a situation like this where we haven’t played well,” said Lillard. “Last year against the Spurs we lost the first three games but in that series we were making some shots, they just outplayed us. Now we’re struggling on the offensive end. It’s different but it’s a new challenge. I think we should be excited to have this opportunity because it seems like everything is going downhill. ‘Do they have a chance?’ It’s an opportunity for us to rise up again. They won the two on their court, now we’ve got to try and take it one game at a time and take care of our home court and see where it goes.”

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