The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Golden State Warriors, 119-117, in overtime at the Moda Center on Sunday, improving their record to 53-28 and securing a top-five seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
A full account of this game would require chapters; paragraphs will have to do, even if they won't really suffice.
Victory or defeat, the final five minutes of the fourth quarter and the five-minute overtime period would have been the most thrilling 10 minutes of Portland's season. Those 10 minutes saw four ties and an astonishing 10 lead changes. Each basket or set of free throws seemingly held the power to solidify the result, and yet the conclusion kept getting delayed, and delayed, and then delayed further, by the next play in succession.
"That was a hard-fought game right there," Robin Lopez said. "It felt like haymaker after haymaker out there after awhile."
This was half choose-your-own-adventure book and half joyride on the upswing of a parabola; the twists and turns weren't offsetting in any way, they just kept shooting the tension higher. Imagine a boomerang with a mind of its own that, instead of returning home, just keeps flying higher and higher as its endless loops get wider and wider.
"That was the craziest game of the year," Nicolas Batum said.
How many prospective heroes can one game reasonably have? Andre Iguodala, LaMarcus Aldridge, Klay Thompson, Wesley Matthews, Batum, Draymond Green (oh yes, Draymond Green), Lopez, and, of course, the magnificent Stephen Curry all had big moments during these 10 minutes. And let's not forget Mo Williams, who had 18 points on eight-of-10 shooting but watched all of the endgame action from the sidelines.
Portland should consider itself fortunate to have won, as they suffered through missed free throws and turnovers on offense, and unguardable shots from Curry and Thompson on the other end. "Fortunate" isn't the same thing as "lucky," though, and even with the flubs from both teams, there was no way either team was backing its way into a win in a game this competitive. Portland caught some breaks -- Andrew Bogut going out late with an injury, Klay Thompson fouling out in overtime, Andre Iguodala being unable to deliver on the game's final play -- but they also played hard, stoic basketball through the second half, and they didn't fall apart no matter how many times Curry or Thompson drained from outside.
The Splash Brothers were -- yet again -- at their splashiest in the Moda Center. In a repeat performance of their joint bombing display back in March, Curry and Thompson combined for 37 points on 23 shots in the fourth quarter and overtime. All told, Curry hit for a season-high 47 points and Thompson added 25. In four games against the Blazers this season, the backcourt pair is now averaging 60.8 points per game and shooting 45.2 percent on three-pointers.
"They're probably the two best shooters in the league," Damian Lillard said.
In addition to his 47 points (which came on 16-for-29 shooting and seven three-pointers), Curry dished five assists and collected three steals. He hit step-back threes, crossover-generated threes, pull-up threes, spin-move threes, and offensive-rebound threes (yes, really). He danced with the ball, posed like a statue after hitting shots, and put on the type of show that could very well land him on MVP ballots, a performance that left at least one of his teammates bamboozled.
"I don't know why people continue to be amazed by it," Green said. "I'm amazed when he doesn't do that. I'm used to seeing it. Nonetheless, it's still amazing. When I'm saying is totally contradictory: I'm used to seeing it, but it never gets old."
The 6-foot-3 guard takes pleasure in the cat-and-mouse game with defenders unlike anyone else in the league, except perhaps Kevin Durant, and he does so without compromising a team-first approach. Curry has become the quintessential "You must guard him as soon as he walks into the gym" player, and yet even total, extended attention is sometimes insufficient.
"He's a superstar basketball player and he's first team All-NBA," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said afterwards. "I don't know who's voting, but the year that the guy has had has been absolutely amazing."
Damian Lillard added: "He had a great [game]. He's a great shooter, a great playmaker, great ball-handler. Once a guy like that gets it going, it's tough to stop, especially when they're setting screen after screen for him. All it takes is a little bit of space and that's considered a great look for him, with the caliber of shooter he is, and he got hot."
Curry played 45 minutes and didn't cool off until the game's closing sequences. Harassed by Wesley Matthews throughout the second half and overtime, Curry shot just 1-for-4 in the extra period. The one was a go-ahead three-pointer, of course.
"He's not the best shooter in the league for nothing," Batum said, after posting 18 points (on 7-for-9 shooting), 12 rebounds and five assists. "Maybe the [defensive] work paid off at the end, because I think Curry missed two or three shots at the end, because he was tired. I don't know how you can play a game like this, shoot 30 shots, crossing over, and not being tired. He's a freak of nature, a great player."
Portland seemed to find the stop it needed in the closing seconds of regulation. Down one, Curry drove to his left through the paint, tossing up a floater he hoped would clear Aldridge. Curry hit a similar floater against the Denver Nuggets on Friday night, and this one seemed to have a chance too. Although he wasn't credited with a block, Aldridge barely got his fingers on the ball, ensuring that the shot wound up short.
"I didn't want him hitting no step-back three, that's what he's known for, so I tried to crowd him a little bit," Aldridge told Blazersedge. "He was trying to go off the dribble, I was trying to stay in front him. Once I saw he was trying to float it, I tried to block it. I tipped it, just enough, where he missed it. I got it. He floated it perfect, it was going in."
Matthews cleared the rebound and pushed the Blazers' lead to three points at the charity stripe. On Golden State's final play, Aldridge again stepped out on Curry, encouraging him to give up the ball. The Blazers had wanted to use their foul to give, up three with less than 10 seconds to go, but the instruction didn't make it from the sidelines to the court. When no stoppage came, Curry found Green, a career 28.7 percent three-point shooter, who executed a jump-back three-pointer over Matthews to tie the game, a shot worthy of a Home Alone-style slapping of the cheeks.
"We had a foul to give," Stotts said. "Plus, up three, we wanted to foul, but we didn't relay the message very well. That being said, Draymond Green hit a hell of a shot."
There were still nearly four seconds on the clock when Green's shot found nylon, but Matthews launched a quick three coming out of the ensuing timeout, a shot that missed long and sent the game to overtime. There, the chess match continued, with Batum starting things off with a three-pointer and putting the onus back on Golden State, who had dug out of an 11-point deficit in the fourth.
Throughout this contest, there were playoff-type strategic moves. The Blazers went out of their way to make David Lee play defense. The Warriors picked on Lillard like a scab. In overtime, Lopez found himself above the free-throw line with the ball, totally and intentionally abandoned by the Warriors' defense. It was a "We're making you beat us" gambit, one that confused Lopez and led him to dribble around before throwing the ball out of bounds late in the fourth quarter. When faced with the same proposition, roughly one minute into overtime, Lopez drilled the open jumper.
"My teammates told me, if that eventuality comes up, just shoot the ball with confidence," he told Blazersedge, after finishing with 16 points (on 6-for-11 shooting) and seven rebounds. "That's what I did."
The shot was big, putting Portland up four, but the two teams still had a combined four more lead-changing plays left in the tank. Back and forth and back and forth and back.
"That was a terrific game," Stotts said. "A lot of big plays on both sides, a lot of big shots. When you see guys making the plays they're making, making the shots they're making, you do appreciate what's being done out there on the floor."
An Aldridge jumper put Portland up one with less than a minute to play, and the Blazers found themselves in position to run some clock when they cleared a rebound, up by one point with just two seconds separating the shot clock and game clock. Rather than milk the clock all the way down, Lillard went early, looking to blow past Thompson on his way to the hoop. The decision fouled Thompson out of the game, but it also gave Golden State nine seconds to try to tie or win the game, once Lillard split his free throws.
"I don't want to throw Damian under the bus but he went too soon," Stotts said. "He should have held it a little bit longer."
Lillard, who finished with 13 points (on 3-for-13 shooting), five assists, three rebounds and three turnovers, didn't run from his error in judgement.
"I actually made a mistake," he admitted. "I kind of got confused because they weren't fouling. There was only a two-second difference [between the shot clock and game clock]. Every time we went flat, they kept sending two people out there and I saw [Thompson] keep turning his head and I just went around him. But that was a bad call on my part. I should have held out a little bit longer, but I made a mistake and we still won the game. I've just got to learn from it."
Given the night Curry was having, there was good cause for dread. Golden State found him immediately on a sideline inbounds pass, and he curled into the paint drawing attention from three defenders. Rather than pull-up or loft another runner going left, Curry opted for a surprise, swinging the ball back to a wide open Iguodala, who was spotting up for three at the right angle.
"I turned the corner and tried to make a read and I was going pretty fast downhill," Curry said. "It looked like more than one defender was closing in. I turned around and he was wide open. It was a shot we like and a shot he's made before."
There was an "oh no" moment to the pass for Portland, as the misdirection was so reminiscent of Dwyane Wade's behind-the-back pass that led to a Chris Bosh game-winning three-pointer back in December. Even though he's never been known as a shooter, Iguodala has hit multiple game-winners for Golden State this season, including a deep three to down the Atlanta Hawks.
Unlike Bosh, Iguodala enjoyed an easy catch, and he was able step into his shot with his feet set. Also unlike Bosh, he missed, allowing Portland to take home the two-point win rather than suffer another heartbreaking late-game defeat.
"Unselfish play, great look," Jackson said of the final play. "Anybody who doesn't want to live with it, go back to Atlanta. The ball was in Steph's hands, he made the right play, and we got a great look."
The victory marked Portland's fourth in a row, it secured a 20-win improvement over last season, it ensured the Blazers will have no worse than the No. 5 seed in the postseason, and it officially set their playoff opponent as the Houston Rockets.
Stotts argued afterwards that the game wasn't quite to a playoff intensity level, but he cut his rotation down to eight players, four of whom played 36+ minutes in regulation. Only seven guys saw action after the third quarter, with Thomas Robinson, Will Barton and the rest looking on. Appropriately, Batum handed towels and cups of water to Matthews and Aldridge during their post-game interview on the court. Matthews finished with 24 points (on 6-for-13 shooting), three rebounds and three assists; Aldridge posted 26 points (on 11-for-23 shooting), seven rebounds and three steals, and his jumper with 40 seconds left in overtime proved to be the final go-ahead basket of the night. Finally.
"This was great for confidence, morale, everything," Aldridge said, once the never-ending shootout was finally over. "It shows the importance of playing together, staying together. There were times we could have gotten separated. Guys stayed together. Every game is going to be tough like that in the playoffs."
Random Game Notes
- The crowd was announced at 19,995 (sellout). Best crowd of the year. Finally, the whole building really let loose.
- Here are the late- game highlights via YouTube user NBA. Worth about 10 re-watches during your Monday work day.
- Here are Stephen Curry highlights if you're interested via YouTube user NBA.
- Stephen Curry and David Lee combined for 51 points.
- Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com got a two-part interview with Blazers GM Neil Olshey (videos are here and here). Check out a transcript right here, thanks to the latest Blazersedge staff addition, Sagar Trika.
- Earlier this week, I wrote a little bit about the Blazers' playoff rotation, arguing that I would cut things down to eight players at most and ride the starters into the ground. Terry Stotts went with a similar approach against the Warriors, although he opted to play Thomas Robinson in this one rather than giving Joel Freeland his first minutes in more than two months after missing time with a knee injury.
- After the game, Freeland said that he has made it through four-on-four, live action without encountering any swelling or pain. He was officially activated against the Warriors and he said that he's "available" and "at [Stotts'] disposal if he needs me."
- Freeland said he wasn't informed whether he would play on Sunday and he hasn't been informed if he will play on Wednesday in the season finale against the Los Angeles Clippers. He did say that he understood why he didn't play against the Warriors: "I haven't played in two months. It's logical. The game was really close. There wasn't any point that I could have gone into the game. I don't know what I'm going to do out there at the moment. Getting into a game is a whole different thing. I understand it. ...Tonight was an important game for us. To risk me coming in -- might bring something to the table, might not bring something to the table -- [Stotts] leaned more towards what he knew. I don't hold anything against him about that, it's what he wanted to do."
- Freeland hopes to play on Wednesday and is focusing on the amount of time he has between now and the start of the playoffs to get back up to speed: "We still have a lot of time between now and then. We've got one more game coming up. Hopefully I'll get a few minutes in that game. We've got three days of practice, I've got a lot of time to prepare myself."
- Robin Lopez on how the Blazers pulled out this win: "It was a combination of momentum, moxie and intelligence."
- Although the Blazers have generally avoided talking specifics about the playoffs for weeks now, Batum admitted on Sunday: "We were almost preparing ourselves to play the Rockets for a couple weeks now."
- In case you're wondering who gets homecourt between the Blazers and Rockets, Portland can only move up to the No. 4 seed if it wins on Wednesday against the Clippers and the Rockets lose both of their two remaining games (home against the San Antonio Spurs on Monday and at the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday). A Portland loss or a Houston win clinches homecourt for the Rockets.
- I asked four different players what they thought the key to the Rockets series would be, and I got four totally different answers. I take that as another sign that Blazers/Rockets should be a very interesting and competitive series.
- Wesley Matthews told reporters that LaMarcus Aldridge gave him a little extra motivation before the game by playing tape of Matthews' defensive work when he first arrived in Portland: "L.A. challenged me before the game to be a dog on defense. Even though [Curry] got off a little bit in the first half, I wasn't really matched up with him that much, I still took it personal."
- Aldridge's version: "It was a flashback [video] of when he was first here. He was just guarding, fighting through screens, blocking shots. I was like, 'Man, that's the old Wes.' He's like, 'What do you mean, the old Wes?' He took it personal, came out tonight and played great for us."
- Things looked bleak just before halftime. Damian Lillard committed two turnovers in a row and then was called for a really bad foul on a Stephen Curry three-pointer. Aldridge: "We got too passive and loose with the ball in the last minute. We tried to do too much rather than just play the game. Coach talked about it, we all did. Guys did better."
- Way before the late-game fireworks, Thomas Robinson hit a quadruple-clutch banker. GIF right here via Dane Carbaugh.
- Signs: "Blaze your way to the Finals," "Blazermania is here to stay," "I'm a Blazergonian," "Crash The Splash," "Blaze to Victory," "Whip the Warriors, Clip the Clippers," "Portland Love," "He's Ironman but his shot is golden," "We hope you like animals because the Blazers are beasts," "MOmentum -- bring it on," "Wreck the Warriors," "Home Sweet Rip City," "This dunk was brought to you by the letter O," "My sister's in labor so I got her tickets," "Warriors surrender now," "We are more golden than Golden State," "LaMarcus LaMazing," "Splash? Pfft, we make it rain in Rip City," and "Nuke em Dame."
- Mo Williams really did have a hell of a game. A falling down three, a baseline spin move to set up a fadeaway over Jermaine O'Neal, setting up Robin Lopez for a dunk, etc.
- Draymond Green's three-pointer was spectacular. GIF via Dane Carbaugh.
- I've been banging the drum for awhile now about rebooting the structure of the playoffs in light of the disparity between the conferences. I'm in favor of taking the top eight teams from each conference and then re-seeding them all based on record, to reward teams like San Antonio and Oklahoma City with true cupcakes like Charlotte, Washington and Atlanta, while also increasing the odds that the second round and conference finals series are loaded with better teams. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said on Friday that the league plans to take a "fresh look" at the playoff format. Great!
- You can use all sorts of stats, conference/non-conference records, etc. to make the argument that change is needed, or you could just simply say: Warriors guard Jordan Crawford won Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors as a member of the Celtics this year. Crawford saw seven minutes of playing time in this one and has no business playing real minutes in the West playoffs. That basically sums up the whole state of affairs right there. The prosecution rests.
- Nothing on the Chalupas/McMuffins front. Far more important matters in this one. (I did get a whole bunch of tweets when Luke Babbitt went off on Saturday night, nearly carrying the Pelicans to an upset victory over the Rockets that would have opened the door much wider for Portland's homecourt hopes. Babbitt almost added another legendary chapter to his legend.)
Terry Stotts' Post-Game Comments
That was a terrific game. A lot of big plays on both sides, a lot of big shots. It was good to get the win, good to secure the fifth seed. It was a good game to tune up for the playoffs. A lot to be pleased about.
Did you want to foul up three at the end of regulation?
I didn't do a good job of relaying what we were going to do. Wes was on the line, L.A. and Wes were both on the lane line. They were involved in the screen. We had a foul to give, plus up three we wanted to foul, but we didn't relay the message very well. That being said, Draymond Green hit a hell of a shot. Step back by three feet, Wes was right there. But, yeah, we did want to foul.
Defense on Stephen Curry in fourth quarter and overtime
Wes Matthews did a terrific job. You look at 47 points, but I thought Wes made him work for it. He hit some really tough shots throughout the game. I thought especially in the third quarter when we got back into the game, our defense in the third quarter was pretty good on him.
Your final possession in overtime, Damian Lillard going early
I don't want to throw Damian under the bus but he went too soon. He should have held it a little bit longer.
Wesley Matthews and defending Stephen Curry
Wes played a terrific game. He made some big shots. His defense -- the stamina that it took to work as hard as he did on Steph and then make the plays that he did on the offensive end, that was big time.
Moving Matthews onto Curry
Kind of a group decision. Last game he did a good job on him. We went into the game thinking about that in the second half. With Curry, we want to give him different looks, whether it's Dame, Wes, Mo, Nic. You work as hard as you can. Going into the game we felt like, last game, Wes did a good job on him in the last five minutes of that game here. We're probably going to follow up on that. It takes a lot of energy throughout a whole game.
Houston in playoffs
I'm glad we know who we are playing. I don't necessarily have a lot of comments on Houston right now. I'm glad we know who we're playing so we have a few days to prepare. We've played some good games -- the first game the first week of the season they handled us pretty well. We won a game, the last game there we were in a position to win that one. It's the playoffs.
It was one of his better offensive games of the year, he shot the ball very well. He kept the tempo going with the lineup that we had, having a lot of spacing out there. It opened up driving lanes. He made big shots, big plays for us. Really, I thought he gave us a lot of momentum in both halves.
Eight-man rotation planned?
Not really. During the game, I liked Dorell. Dorell has been playing well and he's played well against Golden State. I gave him a few extra minutes at three. It wasn't necessarily the plan going in.
Fun game to coach?
It is fun. It's a competitive environment, you're glad to come out on the winning end of it. When you see guys making the plays they're making, making the shots they're making, you do appreciate what's being done out there on the floor.
Like a first playoff game tonight?
No. I told the guys before the game, this was not a playoff game and this was not necessarily a playoff atmosphere. I felt like both teams really wanted the game. You were going to see a lot of effort from both teams. It's heightened in the playoffs but this was a good preparation game for us.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter