The Portland Trail Blazers fought the Golden State Warriors tooth and nail in what could almost paradoxically be called an extremely close 4-1 series. The Warriors delivered the final blow on Wednesday night, sending the Blazers into the offseason with a lot to be proud of. CSNNW brings us the post-game interviews one last time this season.
He makes big time shots. That last three he hit was well defended. He makes big time shots, and you saw that in Game 4. Obviously this series was a little different—it may have been different—if he played in the first three games, maybe not. Who knows? But he’s great for basketball and what he has done from a skill standpoint, it accentuates that basketball is a game of skill, and as an MVP he got even better. I think he’s a great example of what, for any young basketball player, for anybody—not only young. I mean guys in the NBA—he’s a great example. He’s a special player who can do special things. That’s why he’s MVP and that’s why they have a championship and that’s why they won 73 games and go down the list.
Coach, how proud are you of your group, just how they fought all the way through this series and even through this season?
I don’t want to take that for granted. I’m obviously proud of how we competed, but that’s probably been our strength all season is that we kept competing. When we were nine games below .500 we kept competing. So I don’t want o take that for granted—I certainly am proud of it—but it’s what we do. It’s good that every team want to have an identity, and if our identity is that we compete every night, that’s a great place to start.
No matter what, we just stuck together. We had a okay start, then it looked a little shaky there for a bit, but it turned out to be just a great year. No matter what, guys came in and worked on their games and it played itself out on the court. We just stayed the course and turned it into, like, a spectacular year, man. It really was. You just got a lot of great guys on this team. A lot of guys had good years and that’s the cool part. You have a good season and guys are just deserving of good stuff, so it’s cool.
Probably the most fun you’ve had?
Yeah, man. For sure. It’s, like, pretty much the first tie where somebody’s actually just let me go play, so it’s been fun to play basketball up here.
Looking ahead, you’ll probably look back in the offseason and, yeah, it was a five game series, but you guys really took the Warriors—Game 2, Game 3, Game 4—really controlled most of the series but didn’t come out on the short end of the stick, so look ahead to with this team.
Yeah, man. Like you said, it’s just tough to build it off of… we’ll be able to go into the offseason… see little things on how we can get better, different things like that. Everybody got better. The coaches are getting better, we’ll get better as players, the GM will get better—it’s just what happens. The more you get to play, the more you get to see. It’s just experience sometimes. You got to go through it.
CJ McCollum & Damian Lillard
McCollum: In terms of the microcosm from this season—no expectations—coming in making the playoffs, competing in the Clippers series, being down 0-2, having control of Game 3, then CP [Chris Paul] goes down, then Blake [Griffin] goes down, then we end up becoming favorites all of a sudden, get out of that series, and as we’re getting ready to get out of the Clippers series they’re already talking about the Warriors in the finals. I think ESPN even made a mistake of already advancing them to the Western Conference championship before our series was even over with the Clippers, but we competed. We went out there and put our best foot forward and, obviously we got a ways to go before we’re a finished product. We can all get better individually and collectively as a unit, and I think we will. There’s no excuses. We competed, but we’re not satisfied with losing 4-1, even if the games were close. I don’t think we went into this playoffs like ‘Let’s get the gentleman’s sweep’ as a goal. That’s not how we approached it.
Kevin Jones, KNBR— Can anyone beat the Warriors this season, guys? It feels you guys just played so well. Can any beat them in the fourth?
Lillard: It’s the NBA, so anybody can be beat. I think we pushed them to the limit. Like I said, these past four games could have gone our way. We were right there, so I’m pretty sure that somebody can get it done, but it won’t be easy. I think that’s what they showed in this series and even in the series against the Rockets is that they’re a team that find a way. They know what works for them, they defend well, they play great team defense, they pass the ball really well, they screen well. They’re a really good group. They play great team basketball on both ends of the floor and they have really good players doing it, so that’s tough to play against. It’s really, really tough to beat, but there’s still some really good teams competing in the playoffs. I think OKC has pushed them to the limit during the regular season. I think they can. The Spurs as well. You got a lot of good teams and it’s going to take a lot to get it done, but of course it’s possible.
Danny Leroux, The Athletic—this is for either one of you—you guys have had a really successful season, especially compared to expectations. What do you think that says, and what you guys did this year says, to the free agent and all the people that are around the league in terms of potentially coming to Portland?
Lillard: I think it says that it’s something. We’ve built something that will be fun to be a part of. There’s not a selfish guy in our group. We got here off working hard and being together. Since I’ve been in the league, I haven’t been around a team that I‘ve spent this much time around and had this much fun with from top to bottom. Even our rookies, we’ve got relationships with those guys like we’ve been knowing them. I don’t think that’s common around the league. There’s no jealousy and guys have friendships and we enjoy being around each other—not trying to one-up each other. I think our culture that we’ve established this season is something that guys will want to be a part of.
Damian, here on the right on the right side, I saw you and Steph hugging and talking to each other after the game. What do you guys to say to each other?
Lillard: He said that we played well, we played hard. I told him that he deserved to be MVP. It was well-deserved. There’s been a lot of talk about ‘If he played in this time…’ and all this stuff. I told him that it didn’t matter. As a player that plays against him, you respect it and you let him know that he deserved to be the MVP again. That was pretty much it.
McCollum: I think, coming into the season, expectations were really low for us and, collectively, as a unit, we made a lot of goals. We wanted to make the playoffs. We wanted to compete in the playoffs. We felt like it was going to be a learning process. We went through a lot of tough losses throughout the regular season. We went through some tough losses in the playoffs. All in all, I think we competed, we put our best foot forward, and we showed that we’re a good team, but we also showed that we got a little ways to go to become an elite team and make that jump from Western semis to Western Conference championship.
Lillard: Yeah, like he said, I think we came into the season saying ‘It’s a process,’ and we had growing pains, but I think our team did a great job of just keeping our heads down and just continuing to work and stand together through the tough times early in the season and just continuing to grow. We find ourselves in position to make the playoffs and we do what we got to do to get in the playoffs, win the series, get to the second round, and have the opportunity to play against the best team in the league this season. So I think that the experience that we got was great. Regardless of what other people expected, I think what we were able to do is reassure ourselves that the foundation that we built this year is the right thing. We did it the right way and that’s what allowed us to be in this position, so we got to continue to work and continue to grow that same thing and do the same things that we have been doing all season long, and try to continue going forward.
Mike Richman, The Oregonian—again for both of you guys, is it too early to be able to appreciate the way you guy played against the Warriors in this series?
McCollum: I think we competed. I think games are very competitive. Came down last couple possessions in the last two games. Steph hit some big shots tonight. He hit some big shots last game, but starting with Game 2 I think we really began to pick it up and we began to kind of figure out how to execute down the stretch, how to get stops down the stretch. We competed hard but it wasn’t good enough. We lost 4-1, so there’s no trophies for competing and losing. We got to move forward and figure out ways to get better for next year.
Lillard: Yeah, I though, like he said, we lost 4-1, but we had control of Game 2 for three-and-a-half quarters, they executed better than us down the stretch and got that win. We win Game 3. Game 4, we got a three-point lead under a minute, all we need is a stop and a score; they score, get a stop, and then they score. Tonight, we were in position to win the game again, so I think we should be proud of the way that we pushed them because it could have easily been a seven game series if the balls goes this way instead of that way in a couple of these games. But you also got to take your hat off to them and give them credit. They did what championship teams do. When it was time to win games, they did things a little bit better than we did in situations where it made a difference in win or loss. Those are the things that we got to grow from. We got to remember these times and remember that executing down the stretch and how important one rebound can end up being. The growth part is the biggest thing for us, and I think we can grow a lot not only from this entire season, but really from this series.
You guys fought ‘til the very end there, where some people might have counted you out. What does that say to the testament of this team?
We showed a lot of heart. We fought to the end. Obviously we didn’t get the results we wanted, but we got a lot of experience. We did win a series. We didn’t get the goal of winning a championship, but only one team’s going to do that, so sometimes you just got to take the positive out of a negative situation. We learned a lot this year and I enjoyed the ride, man.
Is there something in particular about your game or yourself that you really feel like you learned when you talk about that growth?
Yeah. I started out the year just different lineups, guarding the four some games, guarding the five, so I grew a lot as a player. This is my first time really playing in the playoffs. Experience in this league is key. Stuff doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet, but experience is one of the things that’s undervalued in this league. Like you said, I gained a lot of that this year.
You always believe you’re in it and you go out there to win the game and we really felt like we would going back to Portland after tonight, but hats off to them.
Ten minutes after the game are you able to take a step back yet?
No. Too soon, man. Tough game, tough loss, they hit a lot of tough shots and they earned it. We made them earn it, but we just have to use this to grow. Whoever’s coming back, we got to use it to grow. Something to build on.
Do you feel pride in what you guys were able to accomplish?
Yeah, I mean, when you take time to look back at it all I think guys will be very proud of this season, but you would love to still be playing.
What do you think you can take from a series like this?
Well, you’re playing against arguably the best team in the league—at least in the regular season—so what it takes to win at the highest level. Even though it’s not the finals, they’re a finals team and what it takes, how every possession is so big. That’s the biggest thing.
What are you most proud about this team, the way you fought?
It was a fun group of guys to go to work with every day, it was a fun group of guys to go out and win games with, and it was a fun group of guys to lose with. That’s very rare. A lot of people are fun to win with, but you know that everybody gave it their all this series and this season. I wish we could come in and practice tomorrow, man. That’s how I feel about this season.
Mase, what was the scene like in here after the game?
It was good, man. Paul [Allen] said a few words to us, which was some powerful, powerful words. Then Stotts addressed the team and just let us know that he was proud of us.