The Portland Trail Blazers closed out their three-game road trip with a 100-94 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday. Damian Lillard battled through a swollen finger after jamming it in the second quarter, and CJ McCollum took over with a career-high matching 37-point performance. CSN NW brings us the post-game interviews.
Came up big on offense, but I thought our defense, like we said, was going to improve. It’s improving and it’s going to continue to do so. You know, against Dallas—a good offensive team—but then against Memphis, to have two good games in a row on the road where we did better on defense was a good step forward.
Where are you seeing specific improvements?
Communication. Just talking to each other and calling out coverages—well, we’ve been calling out coverages—but reacting to calls and there’s not as much indecision on the court.
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Just hitting the point home from the staff and then seeing it on film. To me, our team responds really well to our coaches pointing stuff out on film, and then translating it to practice and then games.
So just multiple film sessions or was there one in particular on the trip?
No, I mean, we always have feedback from the games and then also, like, paying attention to the game plan is big. I think we made guys work for what they got and we had a good defensive game.
I think a lot of it is communication, man. We were just talking about it right after the game. While we’re out there, everybody’s talking, man, we know what’s going on. We don’t have to see everything because, like, I mean, there was a couple plays at the end of the game where they almost got us on that little elevator play with (Mike) Conley, but we knew it was coming, Chief (Al-Farouq Aminu) called it out, we switched it, and then they were stuck. They had nowhere to go after that. All that is because of communication and we doing a really good job.
Is that something that you guys have talked about, that ‘Hey, we need to start talking more’?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s taken us some time and we still got more work to do, obviously, but we been doing a better job just communicating. A lot of credit to the coaching staff for continuing to just hammer it home on us, and for us to finally be out there doing it now, it’s taken our defense to the next level.
Your guys’ surge at the beginning of the fourth quarter, what was working for you and what was your mindset entering that fourth quarter?
We were getting stops and getting out and running. This guy (McCollum) made some shots. That got us going on offense, then, like I said, defensively we were just getting stops and running and that’s when we at our best.
How important is it to see that guy hit some shots?
It’s big for us. We got two guards who are really dynamic scorers. You don’t know when one guy’s going to get off every night, you know, any given night. We just need them to keep being aggressive and tonight—I don’t know, was it his career-high, or—?
He tied it.
He tied it? I mean, when he’s playing like that, we’re hard to beat.
How’s the team feel overall now? Does it feel like you guys are coming into a groove?
Absolutely. It was a good road trip for us. We could have easily been 3-0, but 2-1 is always a good road trip. We just got to carry it over back home.
I just wanted to be aggressive. Coach talked to me a little bit after practice yesterday and just told me to continue to work hard, push the tempo, and try to keep guys involved with the second unit and just pick and choose, you know, when to make the right play and when to be aggressive, looking to score. So that’s what I tried to do tonight.
How would you describe your guys’ defense?
I think it was pretty good. We’re getting better. We’re kind of turning the corner. Obviously they play a different brand of basketball—slower tempo—they got some really good offensive players, especially with Z-Bo (Zach Randolph) and (Marc) Gasol and Conley, so you just got to try to pack the paint, close out, and defend at a high level. I think you look at the second half of that Phoenix Suns game and then you look at what we did tonight; we’re turning the corner.
What area, specifically, do you like most about turning the corner? Where is that seen?
Just defensively, man. We’re good on offense. Even when we’re not making shots, we figure out a way to score and put points on the board, but defensively that’s what we’re going to be able to hang our hat on. That’s just effort, communication, staying in the shell, and continuing to trust the scouting reports. I think as we continue to get further along in the season, defense is going to be big for us to get out in transition and run and not have to call plays.
Can you explain further why you have such faith in your shot?
I put a lot of time in, man. I do. I spend a lot of time in the gym, I work out, I watch film, and I love this game, so it rewards you. It rewards you when you work hard. I never worry, I never waver, just because of that confidence I have and that trust, knowing that I put the time in. So even if I miss shots, when I score two points or three points, it’s going to come back and that’s what I try to tell people, like, ‘It’s a long season. Can’t judge somebody off of six games or seven games. Judge them off of a full season.’ I’ll be ready to go from here on out. The rest of the season, there will be ups and downs, but I like my chances when I shoot the ball.
Fourth quarter, you were especially aggressive. Was there a reason?
I wanted to make sure we won this game. This is a big game. After losing that Phoenix game—that’s one we shouldn’t have dropped—wanted to make sure we came out here and took advantage of the rest of this road trip and get ready to go on Tuesday or whenever we play again.
Does this building hold a special place for you? Just, I mean, you broke out in the playoffs a couple years ago.
I love this place. I love this place. It’s good lighting. Just being able to play here as a youngster, getting my feet wet early on in my career. I’m thankful.
CJ, they went up by 10 in the third quarter. Third quarters have been an issues for you guys, but you were able to push back.
Yeah. I think the third quarters, they have been issues for us, but teams are responding. Teams are coming out and making shots and, I think for the most part, a lot of those shots were contested. Marc Gasol hit a three, you know, some tough post moves on the interior, but the biggest thing was we didn’t score. That was the only difference. If we had been scoring back and forth, it wouldn’t have been a 10-point swing, but once we started getting stops, the game kind of changed. We got out in transition and were able to withstand that one run they went on.
What did you like best about what Maurice did tonight?
I thought he was aggressive. Besides the underhand pass to Chief, I thought he was very aggressive and knocking down shots, active on defense, helping us rebound, and he took it personal.
We stole the win in Denver, almost stole one in Phoenix, got a big one in Dallas, and then obviously the one tonight. Huge win. We just been able to block everything out and go out there and compete and be sharp enough to win games so far. We just got to continue to do that.
What do you mean blocking out?
Block out the noise. Usually in games when a team goes on a run, the fans can have an impact on the game. When a guy hits a three and we call a timeout and they get loud, sometimes you can be thinking, like, ‘Man, this is bad,’ when it’s really not as bad as the fans might make it seem. We blocked that out. Like, we’ve come into the huddle and we talking to each other. We’re controlling our situation really well. Just that, what the other team is doing, we might get frustrated with the referees but we still keep it together and find a way.
We’ve talked a lot about how this team hasn’t looked great. Do you feel like it’s starting to get there?
Oh, it’s getting there. I think, obviously, we won some games and had a little bit of a rough start, but the past few games, like I said, since the second half of the Phoenix game we been showing our growth; especially on the defensive end. We’ve had guys step up and have good games. CJ had a great game tonight, Moe played really well tonight, Mase played well in Dallas; just different guys have been constantly coming along and coming along, so I could just feel and I could see the growth on our team.
What gives you faith that, defensively, you’re going to keep it up? Like, you’re going to continue to play like this?
Just because it feels like it’s something that we want to do. Everybody’s like ‘Man, we got to be better defensively.’ We kind of addressing it. It’s not like we’re just saying we got to be better. Everybody’s, like, aware of the fact that we got to be good defensively, and I think because we want to be a better team, everybody’s kind of taking that challenge. Every possession, it means something to me like ‘I’m not going to get hit by pick-and-rolls,’ you know what I mean? I can remember two of them that I got hung up on tonight, out of all of them that was set, so I think everybody has that type of attitude.
With CJ, you obviously believe in him. What did you see different tonight that worked that wasn’t working before?
I thought he was himself. I just thought he got it going early. You saw he got some good looks early, hit some shots early, then in the second half he hit a few more shots. We saw the look. We saw the side to side, him bopping around and losing guys off the dribble and hitting tough shots, hitting open shots.
When we see things like that, you see a guy get going, especially in a big moment in a game—it was a close game—we got to make sure that we find ways—not always him bringing the ball up and always just having to ISO—of indirectly getting him the ball. When I was getting the ball sometimes, I was ‘Mase! Pin away!’ You know, coming off a wide pin-down and him coming to the ball, but he can carry a team when he gets going. Tonight, he got going and he carried our team.
Can you just give us a quick health update on you? Twice it looked like you might have to leave the game.
Well, one time I passed the ball, I jumped to make a pass, I came down on somebody’s foot I think and I turned my left ankle, but I walked that off. I was fine. In the first half, I went up and I got hit on the way down and I put my hand down and my fingers was, like, pointing towards the ground and they kind of just bent back a little bit. It swelled up on me in the second half, so good thing CJ got it going, but I’ll be fine. I won’t have to sit out or nothing.