James Ham

Portland was the story of the playoffs, but got overwhelmed by Warriors

Portland was the story of the playoffs, but got overwhelmed by Warriors

PORTLAND -- A sea of red. A crowd worthy of a win. A team that hasn’t been there before.

Winning in the NBA is a process and the Portland Trail Blazers learned that the hard way in their four game sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.

It’s not often that teams skip steps. The Denver Nuggets went from a team on the outside looking in last season to a double-overtime loss in Game 7 away from an appearance in the Western Conference Finals.

The Trail Blazers made a larger leap.  

After being swept in the first round last year, Portland became the best story the 2018-19 postseason. Their epic win over the Denver Nuggets proved that they were ready to compete with other up and comers.

With Monday’s Game 4 loss to the Warriors, the gap in experience was obvious and too much overcome.

“We couldn’t get over the hump,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said following the game. “I think it was more of a demonstration of how good they are and how good they have been over the years and they find ways to win.”

Down Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Iguodala, the Warriors never seemed to miss a beat. They’re headed to a fifth straight NBA Finals and their experience level is far beyond anything any other team at this point.

“Our experience has really been a big factor in our success, not only this playoff run, but the last couple,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said earlier in the evening.

Despite leading by as many as 17 in the third quarter, the Trail Blazers allowed the Warriors to close within eight to end the third quarter and you could feel the momentum shift.

This was a theme of the series. Portland led in Game 2 by 17 and lost. They led by 18 points in the first half on their home floor in Game 3 and fell by a final of 110-99.

“There is a different intensity in the playoffs just naturally because it’s win or go home,” Stephen Curry said. “We know how to find that next gear and it comes with the experiences that we’ve been through.

While the two split the season series two games apiece, there is something different about the Warriors and postseason basketball.

“It’s so hard over 82 games to elevate to that level on a nightly basis, but when it matters most, we have nights like tonight where we just find a way,” Curry said.

The Warriors won 73 regular season games during 2015-16 season, but lost a seven game heartbreaking series to the Cavaliers in the finals that season. That defeat seemed to sharpen their focus on postseason play, which is one of the reasons why they’ve rattled off consecutive NBA championships.

For Portland, they haven’t been this far in the playoffs since the 1999-2000 season, long before Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were hoisting triples at Moda Center.

Outside of reserve Rodney Hood, they don’t have a single player on their roster that has ever been to a conference finals and their leader in postseason appearances is Evan Turner, who has played in 63 games over his nine year career.

By comparison, Andre Iguodala has logged a 139 postseason contests and Kevin Durant is just a game behind with 138. Curry, Klay Thompson, Shaun Livingston and Draymond Green have all played over a 100 postseason games as well, many of which have come together as the core of the Warriors dynasty.

“It seems like these days, we’re always going to be more confident because we’ve been doing this for a long time and we’ve seen pretty much every situation and had to respond to it,” Kerr added.

Portland may have jumped a step or two in their progress. They will be better for the experience. They’ve learned what a championship team looks like when the chips are down.

“It’s the furthest we have played in the postseason, and that’s a bit deeper water than what we’ve seen,” Damian Lillard said. “It’s a bit more physical and mentally trying; the level of play is higher. There’s more on the line.”

The Blazers were able to take leads, but holding on to them against one of the great offensive clubs in history was too tall of a task.

There is no shame in losing a series to the Warriors. It was clear from the opening game that one team was celebrating the accomplishment of making it to the Western Conference Finals, while the other had a much larger focus in mind.

Portland can walk away with their heads held high and with a new appreciation for what it takes to get to the next level.

Skal Labissiere learning from Trail Blazers' bench in NBA playoff run

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NBCS Bay Area

Skal Labissiere learning from Trail Blazers' bench in NBA playoff run

With the clock winding down, Damian Lillard measured Paul George and stepped into a 37-foot game winner to push the Portland Trail Blazers into the second round of the NBA playoffs.

It was bedlam. In a single moment, Lillard transformed from All-Star to something more. A superstar? Maybe. A legend in Portland? For sure.

As his teammates stormed the court, a photo was taken which captured a deadpanned Lillard staring into the lens as his teammates piled on.  

“That was the craziest shot I’ve ever seen in person,” Skal Labissiere told NBC Sports California. “It was great, just the atmosphere and the moment, the magnitude of the moment. It was the last game of the series and being against OKC. It was just a great shot.”

Labissiere’s huge smile lights up the picture. He’s in the upper right hand corner embracing his star guard.

One of the biggest moments of the 2018-19 playoffs and somehow Skal Labissiere makes the picture? This is the NBA life. One moment you can be wasting away on the Sacramento Kings' bench preparing for a 13th straight year without a postseason appearance and the next thing you know, you are in the Western Conference finals.

The 7-footer was dealt at the trade deadline from Sacramento to Portland in a swap for Caleb Swanigan. While he hasn’t found a spot in the rotation quite yet, the Haitian-born big was in desperate need of a career reboot.

Selected by Sacramento with the 28th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Labissiere played 106 games in a Kings uniform before the trade. With the focus shifting to young players like Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles, the 23-year-old center was a spare piece.

“It’s been a great experience so far,” Labissiere said of the trade. “Since I’ve been here I’ve been learning a lot from all the veterans here and the coaches. I’ve been learning a lot - the culture, the game, the guys here, they welcomed me with open arms. I’ve gotten a lot better since I’ve been here.”

Labissiere played in just nine games for the Blazers as they fought for playoff positioning down the stretch. In the season finale against his former team, the smooth shooting big dropped in 29 points and 15 rebounds in 41 minutes, reminding the Kings what could have been.

While things didn’t go as planned for Labissiere in Sacramento, he has no ill-will towards the franchise. If anything, he was gracious for the experience.

“Thank you for everything,” Labissiere said of his two-plus years in Sacramento. “Thank you to Vlade (Divac), Vivek (Ranadivé) for taking a chance on me on draft night. Even coach Joerger, giving me a chance to play in my rookie year and after the (DeMarcus Cousins) trade and in my second year in the league, just believing in me and cheering for me.”

Even when he wasn’t playing major minutes, Labissiere said he appreciated the cheers he received from the fans. He’s starting over in Portland with the hopes that he can find a permanent spot in the league.

He’s also getting an incredible experience of playing deep into the playoffs. He’s made three appearances in the postseason so far, but he’s taking it all in and trying to absorb as much as he can from the opportunity.

“This is a first time for everything, so I’m very excited to be here, just getting to experience this, even though I’m not playing a whole lot,” Labissiere said. “I’m still watching and learning how the guys approach every game and just supporting. Hopefully at some point I’ll get out there and be able to help the team, but as of right now, I’m satisfied with just learning and watching from afar.”

There’s a lot you can learn about the game of basketball by sitting back and watching. There is also a lot you can learn by walking into a new environment.

“I could tell when I first got here just the closeness of this group,” Labissiere said. “Everybody is for each other. They all care about winning, no matter what it takes. Whatever they have to do, sacrifice, as far as their roles, they’ll do it just for the betterment of the team.”

[RELATED: Damian Lillard playing through pain, team playing with pride]

Labissiere has a guaranteed contract next season in Portland and a summer to show that he can fit into the system and be part of the Blazers' family. For now, he’s trying to take it all in and enjoy the ride.

He isn't the only former Kings player still alive in the postseason. Seth Curry, George Hill, Eric Moreland and DeMarcus Cousins are all still playing as the playoffs inch towards the Finals.

Curry brothers go toe-to-toe in Game 2, Seth makes impact, Steph wins

Curry brothers go toe-to-toe in Game 2, Seth makes impact, Steph wins

OAKLAND -- The Portland Trail Blazers locker room was quiet before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. Maybe it was focus. Maybe it was anger. 

Sitting alone in his locker stall sat reserve shooting guard Seth Curry. Reserve has a double meaning when it comes to the younger brother of NBA superstar Stephen Curry. He comes off the bench for Terry Stotts, but he’s also a bit of an introvert.

His annual trip to Oakland to watch postseason basketball this season came courtesy of a team plane. He’s staying in a five star hotel, not at his brother’s house and he’s wearing Blazers red and black, instead of hanging out in the family suite. 

“It’s a weird experience for me because I’m usually here hoping these guys win and hoping Steph plays well,” the younger Curry told NBC Sports Bay Area during pregame. “I’m flipping the switch now and I’m trying to knock him off. I’m just trying to focus in on my job.”

Older by nearly three years, Steph has all the hardware. He’s a two-time MVP and three time NBA Champion. He’s led the league in scoring and is widely considered the greatest long range shooter in NBA history.

“Being able to watch Steph and experience his journey over the past five years going to the Finals, the playoffs, whatever it is, I’ve just been able to watch his process and how he prepares for every series in the playoffs and how he blocks out game by game all the storylines, I’m trying to do it as well,” Seth said. 

The younger Curry has fought his way into the league. The 28-year-old spent time in the D-League and played for four teams before having a breakout season with the Dallas Mavericks during the 2016-17 season. 

He sat out last year with a stress fracture in his lower left leg and signed with the Trail Blazers on a one-year deal over the summer. His play this season has likely earned a longer-term deal next year, whether in Portland or somewhere else in the league.

Curry has carved out a niche as a spark plug off the bench. He has that Curry range, like his brother and his father Dell, who played 16 years in the NBA beginning in 1986. 

Seth knocked down 45 percent on the season from long range and boasts a career mark of 43.9 percent from distance. 

This is his first chance to make the postseason since joining the league during the 2013-14 season. His Portland team has shocked the NBA with their play in this year’s playoffs, but facing off against his brother and the star-studded Warriors was not exactly what he was looking for. 

“No, no, no, no,” Curry said when asked if he was glad his first experience was again his brother. “It’s a weird experience to be here for myself, but they’ve been the best team in the league for a long time. It’s not an easy road, that’s a tough team. It’s never fun playing against Step and these Warriors just matching up head-to-head. But if we can knock them off, it’d be even sweeter.”

Curry came into the night averaging just 5.2 points in 19.2 minutes per game. Starters Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have carried a ton of the scoring load throughout the postseason, but Golden State has done a nice job against the duo.

In Game 2, Curry was a difference maker early. He posted a +14 in 15 minutes during the first half of Thursday evening’s game. He was aggressive on both ends of the court as Stotts turned to a 3-guard small ball lineup. 

After the intermission, Stotts waited to turn back to Curry and paid the price. The Warriors quickly erased a 15-point halftime deficit and took a two-point lead with 2:01 remaining in the third. 

Curry entered the game and helped Portland get to the fourth quarter tied at 89-89. He continued his strong play in the final frame, leading the Blazers in scoring in the fourth with nine points on a perfect 3-of-3 from behind the arc. 

“Seth was incredible,” Klay Thompson said following the win. “He almost won the game for them. We got to do a better job on him. He had 16 points. That’s a huge impact, plus-13, se we got to try and eliminate his looks in the next game.”

Curry hit 5-of-9 from the field and added two assists in 29 minutes. On the defensive end, he picked up four steals, most of which came off of his big brother.

“It felt good, it felt like I changed the game and put in more energy,” Curry said following Portland’s 114-111 loss. “I just made him work harder to get shots. I mean, he is going to put up numbers, he is going to play well to try and change the momentum.”

The two brothers went at each other with the game on the line. Both hit tremendous shots, which helped their team, although the older, more experienced brother came out on top.

“I thought of their parents at one point,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “Can you imagine watching your two boys go head-to-head in a playoff game and both of them hitting huge shots?”

“It’s an incredible story to have two boys in the NBA, but particularly in the Conference Finals, playing head-to-head and knocking down all of these big shots. That must have been fun.”

Fun or gut wrenching. Dell and Sonya Curry have watched their sons battle in the regular season, but never in the playoffs. 

“This was like the coolest experience I think I've ever had playing against him,” Steph told media members following the Warriors win. “We talked about the stage and he was -- he was amazing tonight.” 

“You know, every minute he was out there defensively, he was a pest,” Steph added. “Made three big shots the fourth quarter that were very timely and for my parents, I know we talked about the whole series, and these last two games, it's probably nerve-wracking as heck for them, but it worked out perfectly tonight: He played well and we won.”

Seth and his Trail Blazers teammates need to regroup. They’ll travel home to Portland and prepare for another match up against the Warriors Saturday at Moda Center. They’re down 2-0 in the series, but they’re home crowd is sure to be raucous. 

Warriors' blowout win in Game 1 wasn't all bad for Trail Blazers

Warriors' blowout win in Game 1 wasn't all bad for Trail Blazers

Billed as a battle of David vs. Goliath, Game 1 of the Western Conference finals went exactly how you would have expected. The veteran, experienced team got out ahead and held off their young challenger throughout the evening.

The Portland Trail Blazers pulled to within six to start the fourth quarter, but then it was all Warriors. Golden State pulled away for an 116-94 victory to take a 1-0 series lead.

It wasn’t all bad, but the Blazers have some glaring issues they need to work out before Game 2 on Thursday evening.

Here are two positives and two negatives that the Trail Blazers can take away from their loss in Game 1:

POSITIVES

Hood Plays

Rodney Hood came into Game 1 questionable with a hyperextended left knee. Not only did he play, but he made a very nice contribution.

The veteran wing finished the game with 17 points on 4-for-8 shooting off Portland’s bench. He knocked down two 3-pointers and shot a perfect 7-for-7 from the free-throw line.

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are the straw that stirs the Blazers' drink, but in order to beat the Warriors, coach Terry Stotts needs major contributions from players like Hood, Moe Harkless, Seth Curry and Al-Farouq Aminu.

Hood needs to repeat this performance a few more times if Portland is going to have a shot.

Freebies

Portland was outshot from the field, outshot from behind the arc and lost the turnover battle 21-14. Somehow they still managed to stay in the game until a late fourth-quarter barrage by the two-time defending NBA champions.

One of the primary reasons was due to Portland’s ability to get to the foul line and make their freebies. They were the aggressors in the paint and the refs called the game accordingly.

Portland knocked down 27-of-31 from the line, outscoring the Warriors by 12 points at the charity stripe.

NEGATIVES

Kanter on the Perimeter

The acquisition of Enes Kanter worked out tremendously for the Trail Blazers in the second half of the season and into the postseason. But his limitations as a defender on the perimeter make him nearly unplayable against certain players.

Steph Curry called for and got the screen on multiple occasions and Kanter didn’t even try to show high against the greatest shooter the game has ever seen.

If Kanter can’t play outside, the team might be better served sitting the big man for long stretches and going with long, versatile defenders.

In addition to his defensive woes, the Blazers starting center posted just six points on 3-of-8 shooting in 32 minutes of play. He hit the boards hard, leading Portland with 16 rebounds, but he has to be more versatile.  

Draw and kick?

If Portland is going to compete, the Rod Strickland jump passes from Lillard have to stop. The All-Star guard turned the ball over a game-high seven times on the evening and a high percentage of those gaffes were completely forced.

Lillard tried to beat his man off the dribble, collapse the lane and kick to open shooters. It didn’t work against the length of the Warriors' defenders. He often got too deep and the Warriors collapsed on him in the key.

To compound matters, the Blazers leading scorer hit just 4-of-12 from the field to finish with 19 points, six assists and four rebounds.

Lillard is a huge reason Portland is still alive in the postseason. Whether it was Game 1 jitters, fatigue or playing at home, he wasn’t at his best. If the Trail Blazers are going to pull off the upset, Lillard has to star.

Trail Blazers drop Game 1 to Warriors, 'We did this to ourselves'

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USA Today

Trail Blazers drop Game 1 to Warriors, 'We did this to ourselves'

OAKLAND -- Was it Game 1 jitters or did fatigue play a role in the Portland Trail Blazers’ 22-point loss Tuesday evening at Oracle Arena?

After battling the Denver Nuggets and coming away with a Game 7 victory on Sunday, the Blazers flew directly to Oakland to prepare for the Warriors. They looked gassed and for good reason.

“Having played a tough emotional game two nights ago, that could play into it but I don’t think anybody will use that as an excuse,” coach Terry Stotts said following the 116-94 loss.

The postseason has been an emotional rollercoaster for the Trail Blazers. Dramatic come from behind victories, buzzer beater shots and an extremely emotional finally on the road in Denver looked like it took its toll.

“I mean, obviously it’s a difficult physically, you know, and a little bit emotional just because you’re excited about being in the Western Conference Finals,” Lillard told a packed media room following the loss. “You win seven games, got one on the road and you’re excited about that and you have to come straight here right from Denver and start prep and get ready for the best team in the league right now.”

With hardly any recovery time and not even a day to gameplan, Portland looked disorganized and sluggish at times.

They’re starting backcourt shot a combined 11-for-31 from the floor. Their bigs didn’t even show on high screens while Steph Curry and Klay Thompson launch without challenge.

“Yeah, that was very poor execution, you know, defensively on our part,” Lillard added. “Just having our bigs back that far; understanding the team we are playing against, they are not going to shoot mid-range jumpers and try to attack the rim.”

Coming off a series against a Nuggets team that runs their entire offense through center Nikola Jokic takes a completely different strategy than defending two of the greatest perimeter shooters to ever play the game. With a month to prepare, Portland would still be in trouble.

“You can prepare, in terms of going over certain things and tendencies they like to do, but a lot of it is just basketball,” C.J. McCollum said. “They make good basketball plays. Moving without the ball, their role players are constantly setting screens, their bigs are constantly looking and guys that can’t shoot, don’t shoot. That’s why they are so successful.”

Golden State has raised the Championship banner two straight years and three of the last four. Not only are they extremely talented, they have a massive advantage in experience that will be difficult for any team to overcome.

Portland hasn’t been in this situation before and it showed in game one. They shot just 36.1 percent from the floor. They turned the ball over 21 times. They allowed the Warriors to shoot 50 percent from the field and 51.5 percent from long range. You can’t beat the champs with these types of stats.

With just a day of recovery and still no trip home, the Blazers have to find a way to mentally and physically overcome some tremendous obstacles if they hope to make a series out of this.

“We did this to ourselves,” McCollum added. “We went to a seven game series and that’s what happens. You got to travel, your back is against the wall a little bit and they were able to take care of business in six games, so they were able to get a little bit more rest. No excuses, we got to be ready to play on Thursday.”

As the old adage goes, a playoff series never truly begins until the road team wins a game. With just a day to make adjustments and recover, Portland is in a tough spot. The Trail Blazers might need a huge boost from their home crowd over the weekend if they hope to avoid a quick out.