The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 4-2 in the first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs. Wrapping up the series with a 106-103 victory at home, they now move on to face the defending champion Golden State Warriors. CSNNW brings us to the locker room and the podium.
Mason, has this series changed any way you look at yourself or any way you feel about yourself?
I think the playoffs really—it tells you a lot about yourself as a player because everybody knows the other team’s sets, everybody knows tendencies, but how are you going to impact the game? What can you do different? How can you adjust? What do you have in your arsenal that people haven’t seen and how do you play within plays? I think the playoffs really lends itself to guys who really understand the game and we have a group of guys who play very well together and really played unselfishly this series and it showed.
Look back to Game 1 and look back at where you are right now. What happened in between?
Just a lot of trust in what we do. You build confidence in the playoffs, I think, as well. We’re a very confident group and we really turned it around. People will talk about the injuries and that, but really, I thought Game 2 we turned it around from a strategic standpoint. Then Game 3 and the first half of Game 4, we were right there. We won Game 3 and we were winning Game 4 when it came down to those injuries, so we feel good about it and we’re just looking forward to the next series.
How do feel about Golden State?
We’re ready for them, man. Obviously you get so locked into one team that you have to take a deep breath to step back and start watching the film, but they’re the champs, so you got to beat them. They aren’t going to have off-nights. They’re going to be locked in, and we’re ready for the challenge.
After everything’s been said and done, does it feel a little sweeter to beat that team? The Clippers?
No, man. Just to win in the playoffs, it wouldn’t matter who it was. Hats off to them to, man. To come in here and take us down to the wire with the group that they had, I thought Austin [Rivers] showed unbelievable toughness. I don’t know how many stitches he had, but he came out and played his butt off. Jamal Crawford—everybody knows he can go, but those guys fought, man. A lot of teams would have packed it in for the season, but that’s a good group right there.
A little bit. A little bit, but I felt good being up there (the free throw line) and we just needed them, man. We needed both.
So how’s it feel to win the series?
Feels great, man. There’s no easy playoff wins. There’s no easy series. Our guys were resilient. They really played well and we’re ready for the next round.
Mason, in Utah in November, you looked at us and said ‘I don’t care what the percentages say, I’m going to make the free throws.’ Is that kind of what you saw tonight?
Yeah, for sure. You know, I was thinking I hadn’t shot – I don’t know if I even shot too many free throws the last couple games—but I felt good up there, especially after I missed my first two of the night long and I normally don’t miss long, so I just took a little bit off it and the rest of them felt good, even though I split that last pair, but it felt good.
So 11 points for you, there, in the fourth quarter. What was working there?
You know, just knocking down shots. Guys were finding me. I was just knocking down open shots and I was being aggressive.
Was it difficult coming into a closeout game not necessarily knowing what that felt like?
A little bit. I think n the beginning I was a little overexcited, as you guys can tell with how hard I shot the first shot, but then once I calmed down I was fine and ready to go.
Ed [Davis] mentioned that coach stay humble and stay hungry and everything. Was it difficult in either of those respects coming into Game 6?
No. I mean, we’ve been like that all year, man. We just stayed humbled, stayed hungry all year, every game. There’s nothing changes now or before the game tonight. We knew what we had to do coming in and we had to stay focused, and unless you get two cocky or too high, that’s when they come in here and beat us.
You guys have been a team of belief, internally, all year, that even when some people maybe on the exterior were getting down on you guys, you guys kind of stayed the course. Now it seems like you’re almost playing with house money given that fact that no one necessarily thinks that you guys can go win—even minus Steph [Curry] at this point.
We’ve been playing with house money all year. We don’t listen to what people say, but we know we got nothing to lose. We know we can compete with those guys, we just got to go in there and do it. We got to execute and be focused and I think we’ll be fine.
Preparation. A lot of film study now between—I mean, you probably can’t necessarily schematically on the court do anything, but is that the next point in terms of preparation?
Yeah. We got to watch a lot of film. We got to get some stuff. We don’t have much time before Game 1, but we got to get some stuff done on the court as well. When we get to Golden State tomorrow, I’m sure we’ll have something to do. We got to focus, and preparation is the biggest part in the playoffs, especially, I mean, you playing one team for possibly a total of seven times, so we got to go out there and just be ready and we got to learn their stuff. We got to know it like the back of our hand.
Our season was supposed to be over two weeks ago, according to everybody else, but now we’re moving on to the second round. It feels real good, man. I feel like everybody’s going to take it in and we understand we got to change our focus pretty quick to Golden State, but it’s a good accomplishment for us right now and we not going to settle. Go out and give it a battle our next series.
How’d you feel like you guys played and just kind of the tone of the game and even how well the Clippers played. They really kind of gave you guys a scare there.
We knew they weren’t just going to lay down; weren’t just going to fold. We knew that they were going to try to force a Game 7, but I really just feel like our team—the growth there, I mean, playoffs, making plays down the stretch, getting stops that we needed to get, guys making plays on the offensive end—I feel like we really did a great job tonight in executing.
After a tough start to the series, you seem like you’ve kind of put it together in the last couple games. Are you feeling that at all?
It definitely happened, man, and obviously we got to credit our defense for that—give our dense a lot of credit for those wins. Kind of had slippage tonight. They were getting real comfortable getting to their spots and getting what they really wanted to do, but in the fourth quarter I feel like we really locked in and really got the stops that we needed to get.
What about you individually? It seemed like you had talked about earlier in the series that you didn’t feel like you were playing really well.
Just kept shooting, man. Understanding that things on the offensive end were going to open up for me eventually and they did. After that first game, in Game 4 where I finally got to see the ball go in and I started to see things going, it allowed me to realize where I can be effective at and just find easy ways to get the ball in the hoop.
Does the way that this series played out give you guys any more confidence going into the series with the Warriors or is it a new game, a new series, a new opponent?
I think we had a ton of confidence going into this series. Coach was definitely telling us to stay humble because we felt that we were going to win the series and some guys were saying it. I was one of the guys, you know, but this is a different beast we’re going up against on Sunday, so we just got to prepare. You know that coach is going to have a great game plan for us and we’ll be fine.
What was it like in those final two minutes? Were you nervous?
I wouldn’t say nervous, but just hoping everything would play out in our favor. You know how the game goes. A couple rebounds don’t go our way, we’re getting ready to fly to L.A. tomorrow, so I’m glad Mason stepped up. Had some big defensive plays; that shot block, the rebounds, the free throws. He had a hell of a series.
What were you guys like in here afterward?
We’re happy. I think we expected to win this series, but we were happy. We’re going to enjoy this and, like I said, get ready for Golden State on Sunday.
Was it extra celebrating from a regular win or—?
Yeah, from a regular win, for sure. For sure. For sure, but it wasn’t no champagne popping or anything, but it was a good win for us just for all of us getting this playoff experience and going against a solid team, but like I said, this next final is going to be a little different.
Damian Lillard & C.J. McCollum
What does it mean to pull out a game the way you did and advance?
Lillard: I was really proud of what our team did tonight. Obviously they were undermanned, but they came out and competed. We talked about what they did in the regular season when they didn’t have guys, going to Utah and winning, competing with OKC. We knew that they could come in here and win this game just like we did Game 5, so I was really happy with the way we executed down the stretch. We didn’t panic when they put up a fight for us. We did the things necessary to win the game.
McCollum: Do you need me to follow up? Yeah, okay.
Obviously a quick turnaround for you guys, but just thought about going up against the Warriors, the problems that they pose, and some of those matchups that you guys are going to have to get into. For both of you, please. CJ?
McCollum: I think they pose a lot of problems. Historically speaking, they had a really good year, breaking the record for most wins, losing one game at home I believe this year, so you know it’s going to be a tough environment. Offensively, without Steph, they do a great job of moving the ball. Draymond [Green] is the head of the snake now that Steph’s out, and he moves ball well. He’s the heart and soul of the team. I think he gets everybody involved and Klay [Thompson] will be a little bit more aggressive, looking to score without Steph. Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston, the rest of the guys will be a lot more aggressive too.
Lillard: Yeah, I mean, same thing. We thought this team was tough without CP [Chris Paul] and Blake [Griffin], but that’s a championship team and even without Steph they’re still a championship team. So we got to play right, come out and compete and play together. We can’t be worried about who’s not out there, because we just [audio cuts out]. So we just got to keep improving on the things we’ve done well and be locked in for that series.
Dan Uthman, USA Today—For both of you: You guys had a season-high scoring output against Golden State [audio cuts out] same team. What do you remember about those two games?
Lillard: Just that we were able to score, but to beat them we had to basically outscore them. Against a team like that, when you don’t get stops and you let them get rolling, if we weren’t making shots the way we were, we probably would have lost by 30. We can’t let the be that comfortable, as comfortable as they were that night. They’re going to make shots. We can’t be discouraged by that, but every possession matters when you’re playing against a team like that because they always one three from running off on you. So we just got to be ready for that.
McCollum: I think they do a great job of scoring in bunches. They did that every game we played, they went on a run whether it was the third quarter, second quarter, or to start the fourth quarter. So when they go on a 12-2 run, 14-4 run, or Klay hits three or four threes in a row or Steph gets going. So you got to kind of limit their runs and their opportunities that way, and that’s how you keep the game within reach.
Robert Morales, L.A. Daily News—Coach, congratulations on your victory.
Coach, when you look at the Clippers, as a coach obviously, how much do you appreciate the tenacity they showed under really tough circumstances?
I’m glad you brought that up. I want to congratulate the Clippers and Doc. Obviously, their injuries that they had was a setback, but they really competed hard. Personally, I’m very disappointed for Chris Paul and Blake, that they weren’t able to be a part of it. Obviously, they had championship aspirations and they weren’t playing at full strength. I really admire what they were able to do. We knew they were going to play hard, we knew they were going to compete, and they did, so I’m thrilled with the win but my hat’s off to them.
Craig Birnbach, KATU Sports—
I knew you were going to say it. I knew it. Well now I’ll ask a mean question (Craig is not particularly tall). Is this the kind of thing where all that matters you win and you move on? Kind of not the prettiest of games, but the result’s all that matters?
Hey, 106-103 is beautiful. Look, it was a grind-it-out game. They had some players who can put the ball in the basket and play off the dribble and honestly, we lost so many of these type of games early in the season and to keep our composure, make the plays, get the rebound, make some free throws, trust your teammates, it’s not going to be a beautiful 48 minutes, but what I have a problem with I that when you don’t score, it’s considered ugly basketball. When two teams are really competing and playing hard and defending, to me that’s a thing of beauty as well. It’s not about always scoring points and shooting a high percentage.
With that said, you guys did—Erik Gundersen, Vancouver Columbian—you guys did shoot very well from three tonight.
Well, we did. Moe had [audio cuts out] guy’s a 35 percent 3-point shooter, it’s going to work its way through. You know, Chief Al-Farouq [Aminu] didn’t necessarily shoot the ball well early in the season and he had a couple games for us. Same thing with Moe. Dame and CJ. As long as they’re good shots, open shots, and you shoot them with confidence, it’s going to work itself out and we needed it. That’s who we are, and you got to take them and believe that you’re going to make them.
Joe Freeman, Oregonian—I know you want to celebrate this, but you’ve got, what, 48 hours or less to move on to the next round. How would you describe the challenge that you face with the Warriors?
With a 12:30 game, it’s going to be pretty simple basketball, pretty simple preparation. As the series goes along, both teams will make adjustments, but they’ve had some time to think about us. It’s going to be a challenge, obviously, but we’ll watch a lot of video tonight and tomorrow, have a meeting tomorrow, and be ready to tip it up on Sunday.