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Blazers Preach Team Effort, Praise Players For Stepping Up

The swarming Celtics defense neutralized the Blazers' guards, but this Portland team has grown enough to work around such obstacles.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers came back from 12 down to defeat a tough Boston Celtics team, 116-109. With the Boston defense focused on Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, it was Al-Farouq Aminu who stepped up with an enormous, career-high 28 points to lead all scorers. CSNNW brings us inside the locker room.

Damian Lillard

So much of this team’s hopes for the post-season rely on how you play, and I know you’re not concerned with your shot, but your shot hasn’t been there now for 8-9 games. Where’s your mind with that? That it’ll come or…?

I’ve played enough games and I’ve had enough shooting slumps to where I know you just stick with it. We had this same conversation maybe two months ago. We had this same conversation. And then BOOM – I explode for 20-plus games.

It comes with the territory, just being the guy that teams pay so much attention to. You get tougher shots, you get worn down a little bit because of the attention, and sometimes you got to go above and beyond to make things happen. I’m willing to do that. I’m willing to match that and go up and take the level of my game up, but I think over these past three games, the way the games have gone has just been… guys have stepped up. It’s been weird because in certain situations where I’m thinking ‘Alright, I’m going to assert myself here,’ we come up big on the weak side two possessions in a row. I’m not going to interrupt that. We’ve won that last three, so if we can win games doing the right things, I’ll do that. I’ll get going. I’ll get going.

Part of what you say about playing the right way, that’s kind of what you were saying.

Yeah, I mean, a year ago if I start the game 1-for-5 and then for eight minutes we’re doing a good job because we’re making the right plays and I don’t get a shot, you know it’s going to be that sixth shot is going to be even more out of rhythm than the last couple. But I average 25 points a game, so that’s not too hard to figure out. The sun shines brighter after it rains, so something crazy might happen in the next couple games. You never know.

Have you found any secret to getting out of a slump?

Just stick to what you’ve always done. I do the same thing. You know because I said the same thing to you when you mentioned this to me maybe two months ago. I said ‘I do the same thing every day.’ Me and coach [David] Vanterpool, we watch the film, we shoot our one-dribble pull-ups, we shoot our step-backs, we shoot our spot-up threes, and we go out there and play hard and the chips fall where they may.

I’m not really concerned with it because our team is winning games, for one, and I know when I absolutely have to go out there and get it done I will. Even the Clipper game—I didn’t shoot well against the Clippers, but when them last two possessions came down to it, I was 2-for-2. Like I said, man, when it’s necessary I’ll be there. Even tonight, we was up three points, they closed the lead, I had the ball and I got fouled. I got to the line. It’s all about winning. We’ve done a great job of putting ourselves in this position and that’s the most important thing.

I think a lot of times you see guys say ‘This is a great team win.’ This is really what that was.They came out early and they made it harder on me and CJ coming off ball screens, hand-offs, and they basically said they were going to force everybody else to beat us, and everybody showed up tonight. It was truly a team win. A lot of guys stepped up big for us.

Farouq obviously had a big game. What can you say about his play tonight?

He turned the game around for us. Not just because of the shots he made, but defensively. He was coming from the weak side, blocking shots, deflecting passes. Just his energy – he changed the game for us in that way. For a guy that hadn’t been shooting the ball great on a lot of those 3-point shots, tonight when we needed him he rose up and he knocked them down pretty much every time. He was huge. He was our MVP tonight.

Gerald [Henderson] had a pretty good stretch there in the fourth. What did that do for you.

It gave us a spark. I think in almost every game when teams get close to us or it’s, like, a two-point game or a one-point game, he’s always the guy that gets about six points in a row for us. Tough ones. Tonight it was the same situation. When the game started going back and forth a little bit, he started to get going. He got to that pull-up, got on the block a few times and scored, so both of those guys were huge for us.

Considering where you guys were in this game, and to come out victorious, how would you describe that?

Just toughness. We got into each huddle. When they were on their run, they were making shots, we were turning the ball over, we weren’t scoring—in each huddle, everybody was saying ‘Just stick with it. Keep competing. Keep the ball moving.’ And we just trusted it. We trusted what we do as a team and it found a way to work out for us.

Al-Farouq Aminu

I guess their game plan tonight was to make sure that they had two people on them at all times, and they made the right reads.

With this game, did it feel like a long time coming for a game like this? For you to catch fire?

A little bit and not really, at the same time. I always trust the process. I just keep doing what I’m supposed to do every day. When you out there on the court, it’s already been done because of all the work and stuff you put in. A lot of times it gets to that point it’s just already done.

Did you feel like you were carrying the team at the beginning of the third quarter? Does that have a feel of when you’re just going out there and playing?

No. Not necessarily. I mean, I don’t dribble the ball or anything like that, so it’s not like I feel like I’m directing or anything like that. Just felt like I was doing what I was supposed to do.

Four blocks and a steal on the defensive end—how was that fueling you on the offensive end?

I always take real pride in my defense, so I really want to be one of the top defenders in this league, and I feel like throughout my career it’s always fueled my offense.

Why is it important for someone other than Dame or CJ to have a big night?

I think it just takes the pressure off of them a little bit. People can’t double team them when they come off and they can do what they supposed to be doing and different things like that. Like I said, they made the right reads, and hopefully people don’t have to double them all the time and they can do what they supposed to do.

CJ McCollum

Yeah, I didn’t think we played well, particularly. A couple stretches where I had turnovers, but I think a lot of guys stepped up, and that’s big. That’s what we need. We got a lot of guys who put extra time in working on their jumper. I think Chief hit six threes tonight. He puts a lot of time in working on his jumper. G is a professional. He get’s buckets. That’s what he does. Midrange. Defensively, he brings that intensity, he rebounds, he does a lot of stuff for us. They were big tonight. Allen [Crabbe] was great. He hit some big shots and he got some key defensive stops down the stretch, used his length well.

It was a total team effort, and that’s what we need. As you get closer to the playoffs, you need guys to be able to step up. When you get open shots, you got to be able to knock them down. When you get close-outs with a guy running at you, you got to be able to drive, and I think Moe [Harkless] and all those guys did a great job of taking advantage of different opportunities. When you pass the ball into the window and it gets to that side, we got all the confidence in the world in them.

Do you think this was kind of the preview of the post-season formula as teams key on you and Dame to get help from the other guys?

I don’t think there’s any teams that we’re going to play that are as active defensively as the Boston Celtics. We’re not going to play anybody like that in the West. Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, those guys are elite defenders. They’re really good and I don’t think we’re going to see anything like that, but in terms of schemes and coverages, teams will try to trap us and do different type of things, but we’re not going to see no Avery Bradley’s in the Western Conference.

Allen Crabbe

I feel like Chief had a hell of a game. Our bench came in, brought some energy, made plays, but I just feel like the team chemistry and the way the coaches trust and believe in everybody’s abilities—I felt like that right there plays a big part in it too. We know when certain teams take Dame and CJ out of certain things, it opens up a lot of things for us, so when we have nights like this it’s up for us to make plays. I feel like we did that tonight.

What do you think fueled the turnaround?

I think we just dug deep and got the stops that we needed to make. I feel like the way we got a couple stops in a row on the defensive end in the fourth quarter allowed us to get out on the break, allowed us to get some easier things, and I feel like we just rode that all the way to the end.

How would you rank this victory among others you’ve had this season?

It was definitely a big one. I don’t remember how much we were down, but us in November—we’re definitely taking that loss. It just shows the growth that we’ve had as a team. We understand how important it is to get these types of wins and make plays.

Mason Plumlee

A total team effort. A lot of guys played really big on both ends of the floor. I mean, Chief’s performance obviously was second to none. The way he shot the ball, the way he attacked the basket, and the defensively—man, he made plays. I don’t know what the numbers are, but he blocked shots, he influenced shots, and he was tough on the ball. Tough help side and tough on the ball, but I thought he played just awesome tonight.

How would you describe where you guys were at, like, in the third quarter? You were down by as many as 12, but it just seemed tough.

I think shots weren’t falling. I think we got good looks. We had a few mental errors, but that group that came in halfway through the third, they played their butts off and they really got after it defensively and they got some easy ones in transition I think that opened things up for us.