The Portland Trail Blazers survived a trip to New Orleans, topping the Pelicans 117-112 on Friday. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum each crested 30 points, with some excitement around the former, who was clotheslined by opposing center Kendrick Perkins in the fourth quarter. Perkins was consequently ejected, but the Pelicans were energized. CSNNW brings us inside the locker room, where players give their take on the incident.
Very important. Very important. We obviously felt that we could have won a bit easier than that, but that’ a good team. They’re playing free. It came down to the last few shots and we came up with the plays on both sides of the ball. We’re just happy to get another one in the win column.
I feel like this one’s big, not only because it’s just a win, but because of the type of loss it would have been. Is there any—make that added?
Nah, we would have been sick if we lost. There’s no doubt about that. Me and Dame were actually talking about that, but we would have been sick if we lost. We came up with the plays. Every game’s not going to go like you want it to. Obviously we have a lot to learn from this one in the style that we won, but a win’s a win.
To win to pull out a close game; is that something you can build on or is it just like ‘We got it, we’re done.’?
Yeah, I mean, we played some good defense coming down the stretch there and came up wt home big rebounds, and then we executed on offense. We were able to penetrate their defense, find open guys, made our free throws—Mason [Plumlee] made two really big free throws—that’s the kind of stuff you’re going to need if you want to win big.
I was proud of the way our team responded to a team coming alive and making a comeback, taking the lead after we played so well for the first three quarters of the game. They found a way to get back into it. I thought we played hard. We were together. I was really proud of how we manned up and kept our composure and got a much needed win.
Gerald was saying he thought it might have been a dirty play. What did you think?
It was dirty for sure, but it’s a physical game and some guys impact their team by doing stuff like that. Maybe that’s his way of impacting their team. I don’t know. I’m from Oakland. I’ve been punched before; I’ve been tackled before. It was a cheap play, but it didn’t feel as bad as it might have looked. My focus was on winning the game, and that was just two points easier than it probably would have went if I had got to the rim, so it’s whatever.
Dame, is there any added importance to this game because of the way it was almost such a bad loss?
Yeah, it was truly a test. I think that’s the best word to describe it. Coming off two tough losses against OKC and San Antonio, and then coming out tonight, we played with urgency for most of the game. We were locked in and they started really believing and playing with a lot of pace and confidence. I think we went down by, like, two with under a minute or under two minutes—minute and 13—and it was like ‘It’s really gut-check time. Like, we going to see…’ I remember walking out of a timeout and I was like ‘Man, if we lose this game, I am going to be sick. I am going to really be sick about this.’ After I had that thought, I decided that we wasn’t going to lose this game. We went out there and we got stops when we needed it and we scored points when we needed it.
He was huge. I told him at the end of the game with, like, a second left when CJ [McCollum] was shooting free throws that he’s a soldier. He’s one of those guys that when it really get tough out there, he one of the guys you know you can count on. When the game gets a little rough and teams get going a little bit—you really up against it—some guys get quiet, some guys may shy away from it, but he got louder and louder. He was louder in the huddle; he was even more engaged; he was more vocal on the court, and that stuff makes a difference.
We noticed that that’s been kind of a gradual process for him to kind of feel more comfortable and…
He’s been like that for a while. Like that I’ve noticed it, but it’s just been getting stronger and stronger. I think the more his comfort level with the team has grown, the more he’s kind of steeped out and been that type of voice. Tonight, I remember, we was up two before I got fouled and we went up by four, we was up two and it was our ball, and in the huddle he just kept bumping me like ‘Come on!’ He bumped me, like, five times in a row real hard and I was just like ‘Alright.’ I like having a guy next to me that is engaged and competitive and not afraid like that.
Wins are big right now, no matter who it’s against. It was a game I’m not sure if we would have won that earlier in the season. To get down, they came back—they were shooting very well—and we got behind in the fourth and still pulled it out.
Where is your confidence level now on important late-game free throws?
It’s up there, man. I want to be up there, and teams are going to make you earn them down the stretch, so I feel very good.
How would you describe what happened between you and Perk?
I just thought it was a dirty play. In his defense, Dame is low to the ground, so maybe he was just trying to wrap him up, but the way it looked in the moment… it didn’t look good. I wasn’t anything though. I think the refs made the right call, but between me and him was nothing.
Why did he get upset at you?
I just walked over. Like, I didn’t know if that’s how he was trying to play—if he was trying to hurt people or what—but that wasn’t cool, so that’s all it was.
First off, CJ, just how important is this victory for you guys?
It’s very important. Looking at our schedule, understanding that we got a lot of tough games, when you’re playing teams below .500, you have to win. Unfortunately it was a close game, but fortunately for us we made enough plays down the stretch to pull it off.
Can you talk about that synergy that you and Dame had on the play? He said he kind of told you he was going to look for you weak side.
Yeah, I knew he had that look in his eyes like I’m going to drive and I’m going to make everybody collapse like he always does and just find the open area. As a player who’s played with Dame 50-60 games now and working out with him over the course of the summer, I understand that, in those moments, he’s giving himself up. You know, drawing the defense and sacrificing. So as a player, I got to knock that shot down. I think I’m shooting, like, 47 percent on passes from him from three.
Is that right?
You’re building kind of a resume of big, late-game shots. What goes into making a pressure-packed, clutch shot like that?
I think it just depends on how you’re built. Honestly, I feel like I’m built Ford tough, so down the stretch, I don’t care how many shots I miss; I’ll have no trouble shooting again and having the confidence to understand that they need me to make those shots. Dame’s going to make plays, he’s going to score, and at times they’re going to collapse on him. If he trusts me to make the shot, then I feel like I have to knock it down, and that’s what we’ve done over the course of the year. It’s easy. He does all of the work. I just catch and shoot. Once you get your reps in, it’s really easy.
What effect did that hard hit he took have on you guys, you think?
Yeah, it was messed up, but it’s all part of the game. We needed those points, so we’ll take the extra points and the possession. I think it helped their team because Kendrick went out the game and they began to play faster. It gave them some momentum a little bit, in terms of pushing the tempo and fast-breaking.
How would you describe these upcoming two games with Dallas?
Important. One’s at home; one’s away, so you got to try to protect your home court, first and foremost, and then try to get one on the road.