Trail Blazers say they're ready for a fight
At the final buzzer, it was pandemonium in Moda Center. Red and silver streamers fluttered from the rafters as the fans, who had been on their feet for most of the fourth quarter, roared in approval. They clapped and cheered, watching as the Trail Blazers came together at center court, and stayed until the last of their team left for the locker rooms.
It had come down to the wire, but a pair of free throws by Portland center Mason Plumlee sealed the 106-103 Friday close-out victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6.
I felt good being up there, Plumlee said, we just needed them, needed them both.
I dont even know if Ive shot too many free throws the last couple games, but I felt good up there. I missed my first two of the night long, and I normally dont miss long, so I just took a little off of it. The rest of them felt good even though I split that last pair.
But the elation has to be short-lived, as on Saturday the Blazers will get on a flight at 1 p.m. PT for a 12:30 p.m. Sunday game in Oakland, Calif. Waiting for them are the defending champions and NBA single-season win record-holders.
The top-seeded Golden State Warriors are looming.
With a 12:30 game, its going to be pretty simple basketball, pretty simple preparation, Portland coach Terry Stotts said. They have had some time to think about us. Its going to be a challenge, but well watch a lot of video tonight and tomorrow, have a meeting tomorrow, and be ready to tip it up on Sunday.
The Blazers have had assistants scouting videos, but the coaches havent had a chance to go over it yet. That will come, and with it a game plan for stopping the Warriors no easy feat.
Golden State is impressive on both the offensive and defensive ends, with versatile players who can fill a multitude of roles.
To beat them, we had to basically outscore them, point guard Damian Lillard said, looking at past results. Against a team like that, if you dont get stops and you let them get rolling, if we werent making shots the way we were, we probably would have lost by 30.
The big news for the Warriors has been the loss of star point guard Stephen Curry. He suffered an injury in Game 4 of the first-round series against the Houston Rockets. Late in the first halfm he slipped on a wet spot on the floor. He was given a two-week timetable to return after it was revealed to be a Grade 1 sprain.
Curry already had suffered an ankle sprain during Game 1.
He is a special player, Portland guard Gerald Henderson said. He shoots from half-court, and anytime you dont have to defend that its not going to be as difficult.
For the Blazers, that would make two teams in a row that have lost their starting point guards to injuries, after the Clippers Chris Paul was forced out with a broken hand.
We thought (the Clippers) were tough without CP and Blake, but thats a championship team, Lillard said of the Warriors. Even without Steph, theyre still a championship team. Weve got to keep our mind right, compete and play together.
We cant be worried about whos not out there, because we just watched them beat Houston by 25 twice without Steph. Weve just got to keep improving on the things weve done well and be locked in defensively.
Not banking on Curry being hurt is good, because the injury isnt as serious as it could have been. Already he has returned to on-court activities and is working hard in rehab to return to the playoffs. His injured knee also didnt keep him away from the post-game celebrations alongside his teammates after closing out the Rockets, even having the strength to lift backup point guard Ian Clark into the air.
In three games without Curry, Golden State went 2-1 to beat Houston. Starting in his place was Shaun Livingston, a 6-7 veteran who had been coming off the bench. In the three games Livingston started, he averaged 16 points and four assists in 29 minutes per game.
Off the bench, Clark also received extended minutes. Clark lacks much plaoff experience, but he can shoot the deep ball well. He is quick but undersized, and plays aggressive defense. His best performance of the series came in Game 3, when he had 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting and five assists.
They are so balanced, and so many different players can hurt you, Stotts said. Klay (Thompson) and Steph are the primary ones, but that is the challenge. They can put a quick spurt on you at any time, and that is what they did against us in their three wins (during the regular season).
The biggest threat the Blazers have identified is forward Draymond Green, who is a triple-double possibility every time he steps onto the court.
Draymond is the head of the snake now that Stephs out, guard CJ McCollum said. He moves the ball well. Hes the heart and soul of the team, and he gets everybody involved.
Portland also expects Thompson to be more aggressive looking to score.
The answer for Portland may be its point guard. In the regular season, Lillard shined against the Warriors. He averaged 36.5 points per game the most of any player for both teams in the four games. He also collected a team-high 6.5 assists per game.
His best performance was on Feb. 19, when he led the Blazers to a shocking 137-105 upset over Golden State at Moda Center. Lillard scored a career-high 51 points to go along with seven assists and six steals. He didnt have a turnover.
Portland will need that kind of showing from the Weber State alum if it wants to win the series. With Curry potentially missing the first few games, the limelight is there to be taken. Lillard has the scoring ability and drive to pull the team through and be the most dominant player on the court.
(Golden State) is going to make shots. We cant get discouraged by that, Lillard said. Every possession matters when you play a team like that.
If the Blazers can clean up the mistakes they made against the Clippers and capitalize on the things they did to win the games, they should be able to find more success in the next series.
We are ready for them, Plumlee said. You get so wrapped up into one team that you have to take a deep breath, step back and start watching the film. Theyre the champs, so you have to beat them.
Theyre not going to have off nights, so you have to be locked in.
The Blazers are approaching this series the same way they have approached every situation this season, with a chip on their shoulder. Portland backup center Ed Davis said no one in the media around him Friday night believes the Blazers can beat the Warriors, that all of the outside voices think this team is going to get swept in the second round.
We really have nothing to lose, Davis said. All you are expecting us to lose, and the only people who believe we going to win this is the 15 on the roster and the coaching staff. We are going to fight to the end.