The Portland Trail Blazers earned their third win in a row, defeating the visiting Charlotte Hornets 109-91 on Friday. Strong defense was the key to their victory. Nicolas Batum, visiting for the first time since being traded last June, had a rough game, but appreciated the warm welcome from the Portland crowd. CSNNW brings us inside both locker rooms:
Outside the first quarter, we played a really good defensive game. We had active hands, we helped each other out, and we cleaned up our communication. I think that’s what allowed us to win this game.
How did it feel to go against your old teammate, Batum?
I think his toe was bothering him a little bit. He was a little bit slowed up, but it was good to see him, talk to him, and just see him out there enjoying the game. It’s us against them and somebody had to lose, and I wanted it to be them losing the game, so, you know, just good to see him.
Is there a part of you that kind of finally turns the page for that… we’ve seen Wes [Matthews] come through here; we’ve seen RoLo come through, and now finally Nic’s the last piece.
Yeah, I think it was that type of situation where they’ve all come in and it’s been like ‘Man, we was all just playing here together last year.’ He was the last guy, so now it is kind of like ‘Alright, we’ve seen him twice. It’s done now,’ and you just move on.
Dame, you guys aren’t just winning games with thumping people, what do you think has kind of defined this stretch?
Like I’ve been saying, we just continuing to grow. That’s on both ends of the floor, we were doing a great job trusting each other and sharing the ball, keeping the ball moving, and defensively we just taking the challenge. I think with our length and athleticism and our youth, we can be a tough team to play against on that end. As a group, we’ve taken the challenge to become a better team defensively, and it’s starting to pay off for us.
Make sure you stay physical with him, everything like that. He’s a good player, you know what I mean? Like you said, for the first game, but I don’t think it was just a collective of him. The whole team was going. They scored, like, 70-something odd points, so we took it, you know, that was earlier in the year, and now we trying to make sure that defensively we stay on top of what we’re doing and it was a team thing, you know what I mean? That they weren’t going to score 70-something odd points.
In the first half?
What went into that though?
Just to focus on it. We know that that’s what it’s going to take to make the pushes and set the goals that we want for this year, so I think everyone’s taking an assertive effort—myself 100 percent—I know something that I been working on that the coaches want me to do is talk more on defense, because I do see stuff and different things like that on defense. So I took the responsibility on myself to talk more, which is not always my thing, but I know that it’s going to help the team, so I’m willing to do it.
What type of things do you talk?
Just tell them to get up in the ball. Sometimes if you’re not in the ball-screen you can still tell what’s about to happen. Sometimes the big might be Noah [Vonleh] or someone like that who might not talk that much. Someone like that, I could tell them, like ‘Weak! Weak! Weak!’ I see it as well. Everybody sees it on the court that a screen’s coming, so it doesn’t have to be just one person that has to call it out. It’s not just two people playing defense. It’s all five of us, so I feel like it even gets me ready for what’s going on.
It kind of seems like you’re the quarterback of the defense. In that regard, do you like having that type of role?
Yeah, for sure, man. Defensively, I’m always trying to expand my game in a sense, you know what I mean? You don’t think about it defensively like that, but talking is another element. Good defensive players—they talk. For instance, like a Kevin Garnett. Everyone used to talk about how much chatter he used to have. And it’s intimidating too, to a offensive player, when you just hear the team talking so much and they kind of know the play that’s what’s about to happen, and telling you already what’s about to happen. It’s kind of like you don’t want to cut as hard, because it’s like ‘He already know what I’m about to do,’ so it helps.
What did you like about the way you guys closed the game? I mean, they got within nine, I think you guys went 9-0 to finish over the last three minutes.
Yep. I think we’re just doing a lot better job of sealing games. Throughout the season, that’s obviously been one of our downfalls. Maybe it’s youth, maybe it’s just flat-out inexperience of being in those kinds of situations. I can remember, I was already out, but I said ‘Look. This is a game we got to get. Just close it out, play hard.’ It was two minutes and 40 seconds left, and so I think that, again, attention to detail on both ends, playing hard, and trusting each other.
Earlier in the season, this might have been one of your guys’ better games.
Could have been, and that’s even something else I mentioned. I said ‘Look, none of that earlier season stuff. Close this thing out. Play hard, play together, and let’s get it done.’ Pretty simple.
Is there a part of you that kind of feels like finally getting here, playing this game is the final—you can turn the page and finally move on?
Maybe. I think so, yeah. I think for all of those guys, all the four starters, I think for us to just come here one time and just ‘Okay, now it’s over.’
Have you enjoyed playing with this team?
[Nods] I loved it. I loved it. I mean, if you don’t love here, you’re weird. Not that’s Portland is weird, but you’re weird. I loved it here. Yeah.
Do you ever talk to RoLo or Wes or anybody from the old team or not?
No, we didn’t talk about it.
I know how highly you thought of Allen Crabbe. What does it mean to you to see him break out like he is, even if it’s against you guys?
I’m not really surprised about him and CJ [McCollum] actually, like I told you a couple times the last two years. I’m glad for them. I’m very happy for them because they got a chance to show to this league, like, who they are. They couldn’t really play the last two years because we had so many guys, but they get a chance to showcase how they’re talented. I’m glad for them.
How nice was it to hear the warm reception? What was your reaction to that?
That was cool. That was cool, and I want to thank the fans of Rip City because they’ve always been nice to me, and they showed some love tonight again. I miss them.
The initial feelings, walking out, just the visiting locker room and stepping on the court knowing you’re not…
That’s what it is right now. All I can say is I’m not a Blazer anymore, so I can’t think about it. I got to just move on.
How odd does it feel to be in the visitor’s locker room, Nic?
Like I said, just different. It’s what it is right now.
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