The Portland Trail Blazers took a 3-2 series lead over the Los Angeles Clippers with a 108-98 win on Wednesday night. They now return to Portland for Game 6, where they hope to eliminate the Clippers and advance to face the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals. CSNNW brings us to the podium and the locker room.
CJ, what’s the mindset heading back home up 3-2 now?
We want to close the series out. We got a unique opportunity here to play an elimination game at home and we want to make sure we take full advantage of it.
CJ—Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com—there was a stretch of four possessions in the middle of the fourth where you guys—I think you put up 11 points in the four trips down—it seemed like you got a lot of the perimeter actions that you guys are kind of known for but hadn’t really executed much in this series. Can you walk us through that stretch that pretty much put the game away?
I think we had some really good ball movement, bigs did a good job of setting screens, we did a couple dribble handoff options and kind of spread them out a little bit and I got a tight curl for a jumper, I think Dame hit a tough three and then another tough three and just tried to be aggressive and put pressure on the defense and I think Mason [Plumlee] made some great passes playing off the pinch post and in the middle area.
Things were, I would say, somewhat bleak after two games and now you’ve really flipped the whole series around. What’s the feeling now that you find yourself suddenly on the verge of possibly clinching?
I think our approach was that they won two home games and we wanted to make sure that we won our two home games. They say it’s not a series until somebody wins on another opponent's floor, and we won tonight, so now we want to make it a series and finish up at home.
CJ—Mike Richman from the Oregonian—you’ve seen it a bunch this year, but what’s it like when Dame kind of gets it going like he did in the fourth. What’s it do for you guys?
It’s fun to watch. It takes a lot of pressure off the rest of us. We know he can hit tough shots and once he gets an open look and he gets to see that ball go in, his eyes kind of light up and we know he’s going to finish the game off and that’s what we need from him. I thought he delivered, he hit some really tough shots, and was still aggressive despite their tough coverage.
Game 3, you broke out offensively but the team’s defense and your defense on J.J. Redick] has been much better in the last few games as well, so what have you seen that has allowed you and the team to be more effective shutting down the perimeter offense?
I think we got to guard them with all five. J.J.’s a really good player. He’s smart, he knows how to move without the ball, DeAndre [Jordan] does a great job of setting screens for him and Doc [Rivers] does a great job of drawing up plays out of timeouts and, early in games, they try to get him going in the first quarter, so just trying to make it as difficult as possible on him, get different guys hedging out and just always trying to contest it, and then offensively just attacking them.
J.A. Adande, ESPN—how have you seen the growth, both for yourself and this team, as this group goes through the playoffs for the first time?
I think guys are settling in and getting more comfortable. That’s the biggest thing. A lot of guys haven’t been in this situation before, haven’t seen this type of pressure. You know, from understanding that you going to get open shots, they’re trapping Dame and I high at half court and they got to deliver. I think they’re starting to step up and understand where they’re going to get shots from. And defensively, we’re staying in our shell, we’re active and trying to make the game fun for ourselves.
Steve Springer, USA Today—the Clippers were saying that playing without Chris [Paul] and Blake [Griffin], the emotion carried them through the first half, and then by the third quarter that emotion had left them exhausted. Could you sense that? That it seemed that kind of the wind went out of them?
We knew they were going to be aggressive early. They were aggressive, they played with intensity, and they outworked us in the first two quarters, but once that third quarter started, we jumped on them, we got stops, and that’s what kind of changed the game for us. You could tell that they were really emotional early on and they were playing without their leader, so I knew it was going to be a tough environment and guys were going to be ready to step up.
What is your take-away from the team that you played tonight? It was a different team than the one that you played the first few games of the series without their big two guys.
They’re still very good. They’re very talented—Jamal Crawford, Austin [Rivers], big fella, Jeff Green, they all can go. They all can get a bucket and that makes the game difficult because you don’t know who they’re going to go to, you don’t know what sets they’re going to run. Obviously they’re not just throwing the ball in the post, so there’s more pick-and-rolls, more dribble handoffs, more one-point downs and 45s and V2s that they run, so we want to make sure that we defend all five positions, we help out on each and every body, and make it as difficult as possible.
My entire career in the league, I’ve always been able to put the first three quarters behind me and come up big when my team has needed it. All my teammates, throughout the game they just kept saying ‘Keep shooting. Stay with it. Stay aggressive. Keep your mind right.’ And I would have been doing that all along, but it felt good to have that encouragement and that support, especially with them trapping so high out. I had to trust the right play, you know, hitting the guy in the middle and allowing him to make the next play to the weak side. I just had to be patient. It wasn’t even so much missing the shots that would bother me, it was just I couldn’t get any attempts because they were so aggressive, but I stayed with it, kept my mind right, and I saw one go in and that was it.
Damian—Casey Holdahl, trailblazers.com—you started the fourth quarter, which typically you don’t. Was that a change that you asked for or do you know exactly what the reasoning behind that was?
No, I was actually surprised myself. I usually play the third and then I sit the first couple minutes of the fourth, but I hadn’t gotten it going, and coach Stotts knew that it was a game that we needed to win. It was a huge game for us, and I think he left me out there just so I could get it going. That was a great call on his behalf because I had a stretch before I came out where I made, like, three shots in a row, so I was feeling good when I came back into the game again. That was his call.
Dame was going to be good no matter what. That’s how I always feel. Their defense… they’re making it very tough for him and CJ to score. He’s continued to still be aggressive but make the plays that are there. If he misses a few we live with that, because if it’s an easy shot or a hard shot, we feel like he can make it, and obviously you saw in the fourth quarter he made some difficult shots that he’s capable of making. We ain’t tripping about that at all, but it feels good when he makes shots. It’s a good feeling.
Do you see any symmetry in this win and where the season started here in the preseason?
No, because we lost that game. We should have won that game. We didn’t get as much up but it was weirdly high intensity for a preseason game.
It’s almost like a full circle to come back—
Yeah, no, we came back and hopefully we don’t have to come back here. We can go back home and just take care of business, but we still got to keep in mind that that’s a very good team over there, regardless if they don’t Blake or CP. Obviously you saw tonight, they have some very talented guys that can make plays and they play well together. You just got to focus in on their tendencies and play our defense.
Nineteen and 10 for you. It looked like things were going well for you offensively, especially early there.
Yeah, I just knew I had to be aggressive because other guys were struggling early in the game, so just try to find opportunities to get to the free throw line, get to the basket, and take open shots.
They switched up the lineup to start out a lot early on. What was the biggest difference in terms of trying to figure out the first four games—same lineups—and then all of a sudden Game 5… Did it almost seem like you had to kind of get used to their starting lineup?
We just had to get used to the sets they were running. The frequency of the sets that they ran the first four games was a lot different than it was tonight, because of the personnel, so we just had to figure that out and – I mean, they’re good players over there, so we had to come in with the same mindset and be aggressive.
Was that tough at all, knowing that a lot of people were talking about how, you know, Clippers might be done or anything like that that you guys have to make sure that you actually have to play the games at that point?
That stuff is just all noise, man. We haven’t listened to the noise all season and we won’t start now, so we just worry about ourselves and inside this locker room, so that’s what we did. We just come out and play our game.