The Blazers bested their third straight opponent on the road, outscoring the New York Knicks 104-85 on Tuesday. Damian Lillard started hot and hit the 30-point mark for the eighth time in nine games. Backcourt running mate C.J. McCollum turned up the heat in the second half, and together, the two of them led the Blazers to victory. CSNNW brings us inside the locker room.
It’s just the energy here, man. Like I said, the crowd showing up during warm-ups; they standing up, they got their phones out, the New York music playing; the Jay-Z, the Biggie, the Nas. It’s just the environment and they got a good energy about it. It makes you want to perform and our team performed tonight.
You talked about basketball games, coming out, trying to be aggressive early, 24 points again for you in the first half, let CJ kind of pick up where you left off in the second half. Talk about just the way you’re performing early in games and that 1-2 punch.
I mean, just setting the tone. In the first half, I think we got a little bit caught up into exchanging baskets. We were seeing the ball go in and we were not as locked in as we needed to be on the defensive end. The baskets is why we was able to go into the half with the lead, but [video cuts out] early and set the tone for the team.
When the third quarter started, I knew that they’d come out and their defense would change. I knew I probably wouldn’t have the same looks, probably wouldn’t be able to get to the same spots, same angles. So I told C, coming into the third, I said ‘I’m going to start pitching the ball and hitting you off screens’ and stuff like that. A scorer like him, he sees one go in, he can run off about four or five field goals in a row. He got rolling, so it wasn’t necessary for me to try to force the issue, and then a couple other guys made shots. Meyers [Leonard] made shots; Ed [Davis] got a couple dives going to the line; Mase [Plumlee] got to the line a couple times, so it balanced out.
For us, we knew that we were very capable of this. Starting a road trip 3-0 is certainly not easy, but I think our attention to detail and being focused every single game, for every scouting report, on both ends of the court has been very key for us, and we’ve been executing. We understand what we need to do on the defensive end, and then on the offensive end, guys like Dame, CJ, and the rest of the guys are being aggressive and converting. So I wouldn’t say we’re surprised, but again, I go back to it takes a lot of effort to do what we’re doing right now. We understand that and we have to continue to do that.
How would you describe the run that Damian’s on?
For me, I’ve been here all four years and I’ve seen it with his work pre-game, pre-practice, during practice, late night, I mean, he’s a humble guy and he gets his work in. That’s why I know and I’m not surprised by anything he’s doing. Number one: he’s able to put the ball in the basket. That’s obvious, but his ability now to create for others—you look at his assist totals as of late have been very impressive—and not only that, kind of the hockey assists as well. Trusting guys like Ed, Mason, Moe [Harkless], you know, all the guys to make kind of that swing-swing-pass. Our execution on the offensive end and his ability to kind of lead the charge has been really good.
What stands out to you in tonight’s win?
Again, I think we were very focused. Our X-factor in some ways—he’s not under the radar—but Chief [Al-Farouq Aminu] has been huge. I saw a tweet the other night, the defense Chief played against Paul George at our place and the other night in Indy – he’s shooting something like 25 percent, the other teams something like 50, a good clip from three, and averaging a bunch more points—and tonight another challenge with Carmelo Anthony. He’s been huge and people know—at least we know—that he’s a very good defender, also very capable on the offensive end, but it starts with our tone on the defensive end and the rest of the guys doing that and then continuing to execute on the offensive end.
Dame is one of the more selfless players in the NBA. He had it going. He told me ‘I’m going to look for you in this quarter early. I’m going to get you going and get you some passes, create and make something happen,’ so I just got aggressive and tried to make plays happen. A lot of star players wouldn’t defer. It just shows you that he’s all about winning, all about making sure that we’re all engaged and all active.
You guys talked about not being surprised about what you’ve done this year, but you’ve won eight of nine road games, which even for veteran teams is somewhat unusual.
I didn’t even know that. We just go out here and we compete at a high level each and every night, listen to the coaching staff, and try to execute the game plan, but I think we’re developing better chemistry each and every night and we’re having fun.
You hit a couple shots tonight—reverses around the rim where basically you couldn’t see the rim—that’s something you’ve done pretty consistently this year. Did you work on that, or how did you get good at that?
Yeah, I work on Mikan Drills and different finishes. I think the tougher finishes are easier for me; the easier ones are harder, so I got to get better at paint finishing and I think I will as I continue to get used to the NBA game, get used to finishing through contact, and tonight they fell for me.
But you’re avoiding contact and still able to finish. You can’t see the basket at the time, but you’re putting it off the glass.
Whatever it takes to make it, man. I’m just trying to finish the plays and help our team.
After playing for so long, do you develop somewhat of an innate sense of kind of where—
Yeah, you start to figure out where the basket is. A couple times I couldn’t see, but I knew where the backboard was. Once I put that spin it, it has a chance to go in.