Trail Blazers

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.

NBA playoff schedule 2019: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors Western Conference Finals dates, times, TV

NBA playoff schedule 2019: Trail Blazers vs. Warriors Western Conference Finals dates, times, TV

The Trail Blazers are headed to the Western Conference finals for the first time in 19 years.

They reached the third round of the NBA playoffs Sunday by defeating the Denver Nuggets 100-96 in Game 7.

This year's Western Conference finals will be a battle of the Currys, and feature perhaps the two best backcourts in the NBA.

Portland and Golden State split their four-game series during the regular season, with each side winning a game on the other's home floor.

The Western Conference finals will begin Tuesday in Oakland.

Here's the Western Conference finals schedule. All games will be televised on ESPN: 

Game 1 -- Tuesday, May 14, at 6 p.m. PT in Oakland
Game 2 -- Thursday, May 16, at 6 p.m. PT in Oakland
Game 3 -- Saturday, May 18, at 6 p.m. PT in Portland
Game 4 -- Monday, May 20, at 6 p.m. PT in Portland
Game 5 -- Wednesday, May 22, at 6 p.m. PT in Oakland (if necessary)
Game 6 -- Friday, May 24, at 6 p.m. PT in Portland (if necessary)
Game 7 -- Sunday, May 26, at 6 p.m. PT in Oakland (if necessary)

Seth Curry, Steph to test brotherly love in Western Conference finals

Seth Curry, Steph to test brotherly love in Western Conference finals

Arguably the two best backcourts in the game.

Damian Lillard returning to his hometown of Oakland, for what could be the final playoff series ever at Oracle Arena.

The potential returns of both Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins.

The Western Conference finals matchup is now set after the Trail Blazers eliminated the Nuggets in Game 7 on Sunday, setting up a matchup with the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors. The series offers plenty of reasons for intrigue, but there's one in particular that stands out for its historical rarity.

And it's bound to stress out every member of the Curry family.

In these Western Conference finals, Portland's Seth and Golden State's Steph Curry will become just the seventh pair of brothers in NBA history to face each other in an NBA playoff series.

This, however, will be the first-ever time two brothers have gone head-to-head in the conference finals.

Apparently, the elder brother was anticipating this outcome:

It's a simultaneous best-and-worst-case scenario for Dell and Sonya Curry. One of their sons is guaranteed to play for the NBA championship. The other won't get the opportunity (this year, at least).

If you think that's tough, just imagine what Sunday would have been like had the Warriors not eliminated the Rockets in six games of their second-round series. Had that series gone seven games, their Game 7 would also have been on Sunday, forcing the Curry parents to divide-and-conquer in support.

Luckily for the parents, the Warriors handled business in Houston, allowing them to be present for Seth's contributions to Portland's thrilling Game 7 road win in Denver.

You can be sure the Curry parents will be in attendance for all games of the Western Conference finals, however many there may be.

How they split up the team allegiances, though, is anyone's guess.

Dell, Sonya Curry have plan for if Steph, Seth meet in West Finals

Dell, Sonya Curry have plan for if Steph, Seth meet in West Finals

by Josh Schrock

 

Dell and Sonya Curry could soon face an impossible choice that no parent wants to be faced with: Which kid do we cheer for?

After Steph Curry scored 33 second-half points to eliminate James Harden and the Houston Rockets on Friday night, the Warriors now will await the winner of Sunday's do-or-die Game 7 between the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers. 

Of course, Dell and Sony will be at the Pepsi Center to cheer on Seth Curry and the Blazers, hoping their youngest son can help set up an All-Curry Western Conference finals.

Should Steph vs. Seth become a reality, how will Dell and Sonya choose which son to pull for? They have a simple plan.

Not a bad idea. 

After losing Kevin Durant to a mild calf strain in Game 5 against the Rockets, many thought the Rockets would finally get the best of the Warriors, who appeared to be vulnerable for the first time since Durant's arrival. But Klay Thompson kept the Dubs afloat early in Game 6 before Steph came alive late to send the rival Rockets to summer vacation. 

[RELATED: Steph goes from ice cold to red hot, ends Houston's season]

As for Seth and the Blazers, they staved off elimination Thursday in Game 6 behind Damian Lillard's 32 points and CJ McCollum's 30.

Setting up an All-Curry conference finals won't be an easy task for the boys from Rip City. 

The Nuggets went 34-7 at during the regular season, good for the best mark in the NBA. During the playoffs, Denver has lost two games at the Pepsi Center. Game 1 of their first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs and Game 2 against the Blazers.

Lillard and McCollum will need to get help from Curry, Rodney Hood and the rest of the Blazers' role players in order to beat the "sassy" Nuggets in the pressure cooker that is the Mile High City. 

Should the Blazers escape Denver with a win and their first Western Conference finals birth since 2000, they'll face the battered two-time defending champions, and Dell and Sonya will face a tough question: Heads or tails?

Entering Game 7, Jusuf Nurkic has become the Trail Blazers biggest fan

Entering Game 7, Jusuf Nurkic has become the Trail Blazers biggest fan

The Trail Blazers staved off elimination Thursday night at the Moda Center. But when they board the team plane to head to Denver on Saturday afternoon ahead of Game 7, the guy who wants to be there the most likely won’t be on the flight.

“It’s ridiculous,” Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic said almost scoffing at the challenge of watching his team play the biggest games of the season while he is forced to watch from the sidelines. “But I gotta take it. For me, it’s harder when you’re out there (on the bench) and not out there (in the game). When you’re watching and you actually just can only watch as a fan, it makes even harder.”

Six weeks ago, Nurkic suffered a gruesome leg injury, sustaining compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula. That he’s even at the games walking around without support is a surprise. Yet he’s become a bench staple at second half of home games, emerging from the Moda Center tunnel with a suit and a custom t-shirt to be welcomed by an eruption from the Blazers faithful when he is shown on the arena screens.

He smiles. Waves. Pumps up the crowd. And basks in the cheers for a moment. But there’s agony under the surface. There is nothing Nurkic would like to do more than help his team on the floor during these playoffs.

“I wish I could play,” he says more than with a hint of resignation.

Nurkic was telling anyone that would listen that he wanted to be in uniform Thursday night. He told assistant coaches, he told the team’s security guard, he told Terry Stotts, and he told Damian Lillard.

“Today was actually the first time that he said to me when I was sitting next to him on the bench, he said, ‘Man I wish I could play with my broken leg. I would go out there right now and get hurt again if I could,” Lillard said. “And I was like, ‘This dude is crazy.’”


On the bench, Nurkic is believably vocal. He’s calling out defensive coverages, encouraging his teammates’ effort and of course seizing the moment to talk trash to his former Nuggets teammates.

“He’s talking,” Seth Curry said. “He always talking. And just … he’s just Nurk.”

Nurkic is brash, bold and, as Lillard has described him, as petty as they come. That’s why when he made his post-injury debut at the Moda Center he came wearing a custom t-shirt that read “Got Bricks? Next question” to directly mock Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook. On Thursday, the t-shirt had names of Bosnians killed in conflicts during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. A strange, but not so subtle nod to Denver’s Serbian star Nikola Jokic.

“All I can do is cheer for my teammates and just be who I am,” Nurkic said.

He’s just Nurk. More playful than incendiary, but incendiary nonetheless. He and Jokic have a rivalry on the court, but they’re friendly off it. It’s why Jokic ended his press conference with an unprompted message to Nurkic.

“I know he had a tough injury and, yes he was with us and we’re conference whatever; we’re rivals,” Jokic said. “But for me it’s really nice to see him walking by himself in such a short period.”


Custom shirts aside, Nurkic said he’s happiest when he’s seeing his teammates win the very same games that he would do nearly anything to be a part of. While it’s been hard for him, he has been a welcomed addition to the Blazers bench.

“He’s a part of the team so having him there it feels more complete,” Lillard said. “Sometimes you look down there and when he’s not there, it’s like, ‘Man …’ You can tell somebody’s missing, a player’s missing. He’s also a talkative person. So you feel his presence.”

The Blazers will play will their most important game in nearly two decades on Sunday. Nurkic almost certainly won’t be there. He’ll be at home, filling up Twitter timelines with GIFs, anxious that he can’t be on the court.

“I’m excited for Game 7,” he said. “It’s going to be a really interesting game.”

There was some torment hidden behind that answer. It’s been a challenge being reduced to spectator. But if the Blazers pull off the road win and end up in the Western Conference finals on Sunday night, no one in Rip City will be happier than the self proclaimed Bosnian Beast.

“Can I enjoy them?,” Nurkic asked ruminating on the question for a moment. “If we’re winning I enjoy every game, man.”

Trail Blazers Video Coordinator, Jonathan Yim, leaves hospital with the help of Noah Vonleh

Trail Blazers Video Coordinator, Jonathan Yim, leaves hospital with the help of Noah Vonleh

Jonathan Yim, the team’s hard-working video coordinator and a developmental coach, was recently hospitalized after a serious auto accident that involved his mother, sister and sister’s husband.

Today, he left the hospital, with a little assistance rom former Trail Blazer Noah Vonleh. 

During Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals, the coaching staff wore bow-ties in honor of Yim, a shoutout to Yim's "Bow-tie Wednesday" throughout the season. 

You can read more about the gesture in this piece written by Dwight Jaynes

A favorite among the media and those who work with the team, we wish Yim a speedy recovery. 

Defiance, and defense, continue to be the signature of Trail Blazers postseason run

Defiance, and defense, continue to be the signature of Trail Blazers postseason run

The Portland Trail Blazers were not a particularly effective defensive team during the regular season. They're ranked 16th in points per possession by Synergy Sports over the course of the 2018-19 NBA season, and held the same position in terms of defensive rating.

In playoffs, Portland has suddenly skyrocketed to one of the best defensive units in the league. They're now out fourth in points per possession, moving up to the top quartile in a fashion that has helped them keep the offenses of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets at bay in the postseason.

So what has been the difference?

The old adage that defensive intensity gets ratcheted up in the postseason is not something to be dismissed. The Golden State Warriors are not the only team that goes from cruise control in the regular season to putting their foot on the gas in the playoffs. Each team, including the Blazers, flip some kind of switch, and Portland’s past postseason experience has helped them find the next level better than some.

We've seen that Damian Lillard has clearly added some tricks to his bag this year. Lillard's left hand has been adept at poking away the ball from opposing players, even the likes of Russell Westbrook, whose handle is a strength of his game.

Terry Stotts has also clearly employed new tactics and strategy to try and defend the 3-point line. It hasn't always worked, as we saw most recently in Game 1 against the Nuggets, but it's more about finding what works over the course of a seven game series. 

Tactically, the Blazers have closed out hard, and Portland’s normally jumpy guards have stayed low and look often like they are running drills in practice. They’ve sprinted to the corners, and instead of immediately jumping to contest, they’ve stayed down in an athletic position. It’s made them both ready to rise and close out from the top if necessary while keeping them ready to guard the drive. 

Even on possessions like this, where Lillard gets caught ball watching, he makes the right close out on the corner. This play led to a turnover, followed by a desperate attempt to beat the shot clock by Mason Plumlee, and two extra points at the end of the first quarter for Portland. All because Lillard closed to the corner properly.

Strategically, Portland has tried to limit scoring from key players as a means to both stop production and throw off the flow of opposing offenses. We saw against the Thunder that Paul George was the key player that's Stotts wanted to eliminate from the 3-point line. Against Denver, the strategy has shifted but it's largely meant doubling or helping off of cutters and motion at the arc when Nikola Jokic has the ball and is looking to pass above 17 feet. 

Portland’s ability to move Lillard into the helper spot at the elbow, then shade Kanter down as the cutter moves diagonally through the paint here is impressive. 

Aminu also shades to stop the cutter, then rotates correctly to the corner. Lillard then calls out the right re-assignment, and things reset. Despite Paul Millsap eventually working free with a great behind-the-back move on this play, the takeaway is the same: The Blazers are working effectively as a team on defense, and it shows.

Because of these coaching changes and increase effort on defense, Portland has gone from 21st in defending the halfcourt to 7th. Things often slow down in the postseason, and Portland's ability to at least stay in the middle half of Defending slower playsets has kept them as playoff favorites. 

The Blazers are also helped by the fact that they’re now the number one transition-defending team in the NBA according to Synergy Sports. That’s helped them against the Thunder and the Nuggets, teams that don't rely on the fastbreak but that can punish opponents when the opportunity strikes with select personnel.

Sometimes the biggest questions have the simplest answers. That's been true of the Blazers, who have bought in as a team on defense and have increased the amount of effort they've given individually. Coupled with the amount of trust they have, both in the system and in their teammates ability to make the right rotation behind them, Portland has been able to thrive.

It’s surprising that the Blazers have been kept afloat by defense in this postseason. But as we’ve seen all year long, Portland’s success has been one that’s continued to break expectations. Moe Harkless, Enes Kanter, Jake Layman… all of them have stepped up in a way that wasn’t planned. Maybe it follows the attitude of its leader in Lillard, but defiance is the signature of this team.

At this point, a defensive renaissance is just another in a long list of why fans love these Blazers. It’s also why they keep winning.

Trail Blazers show their character in epic, four-overtime win

Trail Blazers show their character in epic, four-overtime win

When it was finally over some three and a half hours after it started, and the Trail Blazers had survived the marathon there were a mix of emotions as the team huddled at the center of the pinwheel at mid-court.

A pulsing whirlwind of elation and exhaustion swept over the group that had just wrapped a four overtime thriller to take a 2-1 series lead over the Denver Nuggets.

“It was just relief,” Al-Farouq Aminu said. “At the end of the day no matter how long it took we completed the task at hand. So it was just a relief. There were so many moments where it looked like the game might’ve slipped away or we missed on opportunities. And for us to just continue to battle and get that ... it was just a great feeling.”

This night was just the latest affirmation that this team, this season and this playoff run is truly special. Not just because Moe Harkless shrugged off the ‘questionable’ tag to log 45 minutes on a bum right ankle, and not because Enes Kanter is playing with essentially one arm after re-aggravating an already separated left shoulder. Not because CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard scored every single point for the Blazers in the first three overtimes periods, doing what stars do in crucial moments. And not because Rodney Hood came off the bench to deliver the game-clincher, after telling his teammates he would do just that.

It’s affirmation is because of all those things happened in one night for one team. Rip City is a metropolis built on heartbreak and cynicism, but nights like Friday at the Moda Center threaten to convert even the most ardent non-believers.

What this game exposed was what makes this group of Blazers special. Kanter spent his postgame media session groaning through excruciating shoulder pain, explaining that he thinks he further separated his already injured left shoulder at some point in the first overtime. He had to tuck his arm into his jersey in order to run down the floor. He then played three more overtimes with an arm he could barely feel.

In the locker room, his left shoulder was wrapped in what has become a customary ace bandage, and he also had another smaller wrap on his right elbow, a new injury earned from diving out of bounds to track down a long rebound.

“Sometimes you got to make some sacrifices to get a win,” said Kanter, who logged 56 grueling minutes. “I’ll get painkillers for next game. I hope I can play. But I’ll be fine.”

Harkless’ night didn’t end with as quite a dramatic scene. Instead he answered questions at the podium while his as eyes kept drawing back to the box score on the table in front of him.

“65 minutes. That’s crazy,” Harkless said, catching the workload for Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. “A lot of guys played a lot of minutes tonight. Man ...”

When he showed up at the arena, Harkless’ official injury designation was still ‘questionable’ with a right ankle sprain. He always knew he was going to play and told the Blazers coaches and training staff that he didn’t want to be on a minutes restriction. The ankle injury that he suffered Wednesday night that kept him out of the final 29 minutes of Game 2 wasn’t going to stop him from pouring himself into Game 3.

“It’s the playoffs,” he said. “I’d go out there with one ankle if I had to. So it was just -- as long as I was able to run up and down the court I was going to play.”

The nights from Harkless and Kanter epitomize this group. This team lost its star center to a gruesome leg injury in late March, and barely had a lull, surging forward when things could have easily tumbled in the other direction. When Jokic bullied them in Game 1 to give Denver an early series lead they responded by gutting out two gritty wins, the latest in historically epic fashion. Instead of looking for excuses the Blazers have looked at each other to find their collective strength.

“I mean, it doesn’t surprise me,” Lillard said. “We all depend on each other. We lean on each other. Those guys [Kanter and Harkless] know how important they are to our team, so the fact that they’re out there playing through injuries, I think it just shows how tough they are for one, and it also shows how bad they want it, how much they’re invested into our team, how much they care. They’re willing to go out there not 100 percent, banged up, and still fight with the team. They know how much we need them.”

Friday night’s win was revealing not for its new discoveries, but for its confirmation. All those things you think about this team: The toughness, the perseverance, the unshakeable will. They were all there. This was less stunning than it was affirming. Of course they came out on top in a game like that. This is a determined group on a remarkable run, and they keep finding a way. Adversity can break teams. It has forged this one.

“It showed a lot about us,” Aminu said. “To be in the condition and to be able to do that that’s tough. And guys just kept on making plays, kept on stepping up and kept on doing what we had to do, and we pulled it out. It was beautiful.”

How the Trail Blazers' bench is helping cause the Denver Nuggets to miss 3-pointers

How the Trail Blazers' bench is helping cause the Denver Nuggets to miss 3-pointers

by Drew Shiller

The Trail Blazers lost Game 1 of their second-round playoff series to the Nuggets.

The Trail Blazers won Game 2 of their second-round playoff series against the Nuggets.

What was the difference?

Well, perhaps it has something to do with how Denver shot 3-pointers directly in front of Portland's bench.

The good folks over at SB Nation have the details:

In two games, the Nuggets have played 48 minutes in front of Portland’s bench — the first half of each game. In Game 1, Denver took and missed just one three in the space of the Blazers’ bench contingent. The Nuggets ended up scoring 121 points in a victory.

But in Game 2, they were almost welcomed to launch from in front of Portland’s bench. Portland allowed the Nuggets to take EIGHT attempts from the left corner. They bricked each and every one.

As the article discusses and shows, the players (and even coaches) on the Blazers' bench did everything in their power to distract the Denver shooter.

The "strategy" worked!

To borrow a phrase from Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob, that's some "light years ahead" stuff.

Trail Blazers' Brian Wheeler take leave of absence for rest of the NBA Playoffs

Trail Blazers' Brian Wheeler take leave of absence for rest of the NBA Playoffs

The following press release was issued from the Trail Blazers this afternoon:

The Portland Trail Blazers have announced that longtime radio play-by-play voice Brian Wheeler will step away from the microphone for the remainder of the postseason. For the upcoming NBA Western Conference Semifinals against the Denver Nuggets, Travis Demers, radio host for the Trail Blazers flagship carrier NBC Sports Rip City Radio AM-620, will handle the team’s broadcasting duties just as he did during Wheeler’s earlier absence.  He’ll be joined on the broadcasts by former Trail Blazers player Michael Holton for game analysis. 

 

Portland begins the best-of-seven semifinal-round against the Nuggets in Denver tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. PT.

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