After the Game 7 victory over the Denver Nuggets 100-96 to move on to the Western Conference Finals, Portland Trail Blazers players CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard, Evan Turner, and Enes Kanter spoke to the media, as did Head Coach Terry Stotts. Here’s what they had to say.
Coach Terry Stotts
- Asked about CJ McCollum’s contributions, Coach Stotts said he tried to make sure to give McCollum the ball in the second half, and McCollum had some big plays as a result.
- In reflecting on their first half performance, Stotts explained that although their offense was not great in the first half, he encouraged the team to hang in there. He noted that as a team, the players really trust each other.
- He paused after a question to give praise to Coach Mike Malone and the rest of the Denver Nuggets for their “outstanding” season, adding: “[Nikola] Jokic is an amazing player. Utmost respect.”
- Stotts noted that this Game 7 victory is the “biggest win in the franchise for a long time,” explaining that he gets to experience the group’s emotions and joy in the win, especially thanks to all of the different players who stepped up.
- Asked about what he said to his players in the huddle in the second quarter to get them engaged, Coach Stotts said that his team never stopped believing in themselves, explaining that he didn’t have to say much as “trust and competing as the two biggest things for us.”
- Stotts made it clear that he appreciates that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum can score in different ways, calling it a “luxury.” He said, “One of them is going to have something going. You kinda count on that. It was CJ tonight. It’s a luxury to have two guys who can score like that.”
- Questioned about an improvement on perimeter defense, Stotts said that while he would like to take credit for it, and that they did better in transition, he noted that Denver only took 19 three pointers, and after they allowed Jokic to have two, he never got a clear look after that.
- Talking about Evan Turner, Stotts stated that the Blazers forward “quietly had a good series.” He praised the efforts of the second unit, specifically Turner’s ability to go against Paul Millsap in the post.
- Coach Stotts said that he felt the starters didn’t do well all series, and that is why he felt comfortable putting Rodney Hood and Zach Collins in at the start of the second half, “especially with our season in the balance.” He noted that Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard both contributed meaningful minutes after foul trouble.
- Stotts explained that the whole series was competitive, so it made the blowout loss of Game 5 easy to dismiss.
Enes Kanter and Evan Turner
- Asked about Nikola Jokic’s performance, Enes Kanter replied that Jokic is “a quarterback” that can do everything, and if the opponent does not push back, “he will pick you apart.”
- When questioned about his performance, Evan Turner spoke about staying ready, working to defend a bigger player, noting that his experience as a veteran player has allowed him to respond to pressure.
- Turner said that after the timeout in the second quarter, the team knew they needed to close the gap in scoring, but they believed in themselves and knew it would work out.
- Regarding the team’s character and resolve, Turner noted that the team is tough, that they’ve hung in together this season, and they have “paid their dues” with the difficulties they have faced this season: “Pressure can bust pipes or make diamonds. We never thought we were about to lose or anything like that.”
- Asked about the energy levels of the rest of the bigs including Meyers Leonard and Zach Collins, Enes Kanter said that he felt he had an energy advantage in the fourth quarter, but he also stated that Portland’s bench is deep and “everybody can bring so much.”
- In response to a question about his Ramadan fast, Kanter said that he is doing well, and he has been getting a lot of advice from other pros, especially Hakeem Olajuwon. Though he was worried about how it would be in Denver, he thought it would be worse.
- Reflecting on CJ McCollum’s performance and chase-down block, Evan Turner said, “When he blocked it, I was like, Oh ---, I have to get down there or it won’t be on film. He is a superb athlete. He is a battler. That was a big play in the game. That helped us.”
- About guarding Paul Millsap, Turner noted it could be tough at times, but the biggest issue he faced was rebounding. He noted that his own strength played a considerable role.
- Kanter spoke about the mood in the locker room after the win, which he reported as “cheerful” and special. Kanter said that since he joined the team in February, he has come to view them as a family: “I can tell how much off the court stuff translates to on the court stuff.”
- On Jody Allen visiting the locker room after the win, Evan Turner explained how much it meant to the team, saying she has been there to support them throughout the playoffs. He went on to say, “Even when things occur, you can have a special year. Not to make it weird but the spirits of Paul and Nurk are alive and well. I think it is great for Jody to be able to support us and do all of that stuff. This win was just as much for her as everybody back in Portland.”
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum
- Asked about his performance, CJ McCollum said that he felt he was aggressive, noting that his brother Erick texted before the game and told him “not to settle.” McCollum wasn’t without critique for his own performance, saying he “shot one too many threes.”
- Damian Lillard responded to a question about the team’s culture, noting how what the team has become “speaks to the character of our organization.” He spoke about the team’s struggles after the roster turnover, about how they relied on “the culture we wanted to create, doing things the right way, working hard, being by each other, not being about one guy or two guys. To have that, it takes everybody. Not just the players. You have to have the coaches, training staff, front office, security. Everybody who is with us every day. The PR staff, everybody we see everyday. Everyone is invested in what we have created. When we come out on top in a tough series, you see it in everybody’s celebration. Everybody is excited because they all play a part. You don’t just create this type of thing with just the players. It takes everybody to be all in.”
- Regarding being down at the half, McCollum said they tried to take it one possession at a time, especially by loosening up on defense as the Blazers were making it “too easy” for the Nuggets to score. The team felt that if they closed the gap, the Nuggets would feel the pressure. Lillard agreed with what he said.
- Reflecting on Torrey Craig’s defense, Lillard gave credit to the Nuggets’ game plan, but he also cast doubt on the Nuggets’ ability to keep him out of the game, noting he could still get to where he wanted to be. He said that he didn’t feel the need to force anything because McCollum “had it going.” Lillard praised McCollum’s ability to operate in the paint. He said that he felt the defense opened up the game.
- Asked about Meyers Leonard battling Nikola Jokic, Lillard explained that the defense Leonard played allowed them to get their feet back under them as Jokic had to work.
- In response to a question about talking with family, CJ McCollum said that after the game, he spoke with his fiance, and he would be speaking with his brother later to “tell them I’m not going to be able to make it to Russia.”
- About the chase-down block, both McCollum and Lillard agreed that it was the kind of play that changed the momentum of the game. McCollum called it a “mini version” of LeBron James’ similar block. Lillard said that it was huge for the Blazers, as they wanted to make the Nuggets work on offense.