With adversity and experience, Evan Turner was ready for it all

With adversity and experience, Evan Turner was ready for it all

DENVER – “This is surreal.”

That was the statement heard around the Trail Blazers locker room as Meyers Leonard said it loud and proud knowing the Blazers are heading to the Western Conference Finals.

Down 17 points in the first half, Rodney Hood, the most consistent second unit player, goes out with an injury midway through the third quarter, starting the game 0-for-10 from three, and Damian Lillard scored zero points in the first quarter for just the second time in his playoff career, after hearing all of that wouldn’t you say that was “arguably the biggest win for the Blazers franchise in a long time?”

That’s exactly what Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said after his team fought back to take their series against the Denver Nuggets in Game 7, 100-96.

Coach Stotts’ big second half adjustment was starting Rodney Hood along with Zach Collins at the forward positions in the third quarter instead of Maurice Harkless and Al-Farqou Aminu.

But not even six minutes into the quarter, Hood went down with a left knee hyperextension and he did not return to the game. 

Just as it has been all season long, a Trail Blazer player stepped up when called upon.

With Hood out, Evan Turner became Mr. Clutch on Sunday.

“You can’t really put into words how much [Evan] meant to us out there tonight, especially with Rodney going down, obviously we know how good Rodney has been this whole series and to see him go down was tough, but it speaks to the resiliency of this team,” Collins said.

Turner was the only bench player to score in double figures with 14 points on 3-of-7 shooting and unwavering 8-of-9 from the free throw line.

In true Evan Turner fashion, he told Trail Blazers radio immediately after the game, “not bad for an end of the bench scrub.”

Yes, counting on ET for good laugh while listening to his postgame comments is always a no-brainer.

In Game 7, the Blazers counted on him down the stretch.

Two of Turner’s eight free throws were made with 8.0 seconds remaining on the clock. Those two free throws iced the game.

“We just kept leaning on each other and tonight we had to lean on Evan a little more and he was more than up for that task, Collins said. “[He] made so many big plays at the end of the game – rebounding, making free throws, getting fouled, getting stops on defense, I mean, he was huge."

It was CJ McCollum who carried the Blazers for the entire game. McCollum finished with 37 points and nine rebounds in the win.

But as the Blazers said, it was a total team effort in Game 7.

Coach Stotts’ faith in Turner has never wavered.

“Evan quietly had a really good series. I know everybody kind of looks at his scoring, but our second unit was really good throughout this series, all seven games…  His ability to guard Paul Millsap one-on-one in the post gave us the ability to space the court on offense and have him be a ball handler,” Stotts said. 

“Evan has been in big games. Evan is a big-game player.  He’s got a lot of confidence, he’s a team guy and kind of does whatever we need him to do,” Stotts added.

Turner attributes him staying cool under pressure to being in the league for nine years. 

“Me being a pro, and me being in the league for so long,” Turner said. “[I’ve been] fortunate to be in these types of situations already throughout my career. I kind of knew that in pressure time, I’d be fine. That’s just how I’ve always been.”

When Turner knows he has to contribute on offense that’s when ET shines the brightest. Some might even say like a diamond.  

“Pressure can bust pipes or make diamonds so we never thought we were going to lose,” Turner said.

The Trail Blazers are now heading to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 19 years.

There’s no doubt the Blazers have built a special culture and in his postgame press conference, Damian Lillard mentioned how “it takes everybody” to build what they have built over the last few years.

“Everybody is invested in what we’ve created… It takes everybody to be all-in and that’s what it was tonight,” Lillard said.

That all-in mentality will now be heading to the Bay Area.

CJ McCollum, team culture carry Trail Blazers to Western Conference finals

CJ McCollum, team culture carry Trail Blazers to Western Conference finals

DENVER – This amazing, incredible Sunday afternoon triumph – Trail Blazer owner Jody Allen called it “gritty” in her passionate speech to the Trail Blazers in their locker room – that vaulted Portland into the Western Conference finals against Golden State was a long time coming.

And it had so much to do with the team’s culture, its pride and its unwillingness to quit. And oh yes, CJ McCollum was other-worldly. And staff, front office, coaches – everyone there in the team’s family – was celebrating hard in the locker room and its vicinity when it ended.

“It speaks to the character of our organization and what we’ve become,” said Damian Lillard, after his team rallied from a 17-point second-quarter deficit to beat the Nuggets 100-96. “Obviously, we had the roster turnover four years ago and everybody was quick to shoot us down, count us out.

“And at that point, we didn’t know for sure what direction we were going to go in. But we definitely leaned on the culture that we wanted to create – doing things the right way, working hard, being about each other, not being about one guy or two guys. I think we really built that up from the jump. And to have that, it takes everybody – not just the players. You’ve got to have the coaches, the training staff, the front office, the security, everybody who is with us there every day. The PR staff – everybody we see every day.

“Everybody is invested in what we created,. I think when we come out on top in game like this, a tough series like this, you see it in everybody’s celebration.

“It’s exciting because we all play a part in it. You don’t just create this type of thing with just the players. It takes everybody to be all in. And that’s what it was tonight.”

Lillard was only 3-17 from the field but had 10 rebounds and eight assists to go with 13 points. McCollum carried the heavy scoring burden with 37 points on 17=29 shooting and he added nine rebounds.

But as Lillard said, even when Rodney Hood was lost for the game with a hyper-extended knee, the team got major contributions from Zach Collins, Enes Kanter, Evan Turner and Meyers Leonard.

Leonard, who arrived in Portland the same season as Lillard, was visibly emotional in the locker room.

“Emotional and happy,” he said. “This is surreal, man. This is seven years in the making. I was just talking to Dame. We were horrible our rookie year, then we were a 50-win playoff team two years in a row, then we decided to blow it up. We continued to bring in guys who wanted to work, who were good people, who were true professionals, who understood what we wanted.

“Then we go to the second round, then we get swept by the Warriors, then we get swept by New Orleans. All with the same team – almost the same people. Yet, we came out on the other end of it that much better. And that’s the most amazing thing about this team.

“We’ve added some guys but this has been an incredible run. But we’re not done yet. I’ve said this, I had a quote the other night, people from the outside looking in don’t know about this locker room and what we’ve been through.

“Every single guy is ready to play at any given moment. Every single guy wants the next guy to do well. And this has been a special run and this is a special team. There’s just been a lot of things that have happened – us getting swept, Mr. Allen’s passing, Nurk’s injury, I can go on down the line. There’s just been things that you would have thought would have knocked us out, that we would have thrown in the towel.

“But we haven’t. I would tell you, I’m a big communicator on the bench,. And I’ve never been around a group of guys that believes so much. And I’m a big believer, also.

“Even when we were down 17, I wasn’t worried because this is just a special team and guys that know how to get it done. It’s unbelievable.

“Maybe in the morning I will wake up and understand what happened but you should have seen us – staff, front office, coaches, players, everybody from top to bottom so happy for each other. This is a truly special team and special organization.

“People care and people work together. (Jody Allen) spoke really well. She was passionate, told us how immensely proud she is of us, the way we played with heart and determination and grit, that she’s proud to be a part of it.

“I thought that was pretty special considering everything that’s happened.”

Bert Kolde has been a part of the organization since his friend, Paul Allen, bought the team in 1988. Allen lost his battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in October and his sister, Jody, took over at the helm of the team.

“It’s been a legendary playoff run,” Kolde said after leaving the locker room celebration. “A magic carpet ride. And I feel that Paul’s spirit is watching over us. It’s special. It feels really special.”

Portland caught up with the Nuggets at the end of the third quarter and took a brief one-point lead but Denver led by a point heading into the final quarter, when the winners outscored the Nuggets 29-24.

McCollum had a chase-down block of a breakaway layup after Seth Curry went low to force the shot up high and that was a big play in the period.

“He put it right there for me and I just went and got it, ‘Bron-style,’” McCollum said. “Shout-out to my guy Bron (LeBron James). It was a mini-version of LeBron’s block on Iggy a few years ago. It’s something we will remember forever. I might have to get a picture of that one.”

Turner iced the game with two clutch foul shots with eight seconds on the clock.

“Pressure can cut pipes or make diamonds,” Turner said later. “So we never thought we were going to lose or anything like that.”

Ahead are the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, in a series that beings Tuesday in Oakland. But I doubt the Trail Blazers will be intimidated.

“Jody told the team, it’s been a great season – SO FAR,” Kolde said with a smile.

Her late brother couldn’t have said it any better.

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Blazers comeback win over the Nuggets in Game 7

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Blazers comeback win over the Nuggets in Game 7

DENVER – It was pretty fitting that the Trail Blazers and Nuggets had to decide their best-of-seven series in a Game 7.

The two teams have gone back and forth throughout their entire Western Conference semifinal series. Even looking back at the regular season, Denver won the season series against Portland, 3-1, but all four games were decided by single digits.

Even though this has been an even series for the most part, on Sunday night, the Nuggets started the game with a dominant performance.

With everything that was going wrong for the Blazers in the first half, missing open shots, especially from deep, picking up quick fouls, and letting the Nuggets see the ball go through the hoop early and often, the Blazers were fortunate to escape the first half only being down nine.

After making rotational adjustments, the Blazers found themselves in a dog fight until the final buzzer sounded. The Nuggets biggest lead of the game was 17, but Portland would not go away. The Blazers took the lead early in the final period and were able to hit clutch free throws and shots when they needed them. Portland charges back and finished the series with a 100-96 win over Denver.

Portland is not done yet.

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 100, Nuggets 96

Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers Game 7 victory:

1. Nuggets on the attack early

From the jump, the Nuggets were locked in on the offensive end, attacking and finishing at the rim. With early dunks as well as three-pointers falling, the Nuggets were able to get their crowd going early. The first half was all Nuggets. While Denver was working on all cylinders the Blazers offense was a slow go. 

The Blazers needed to make some in game adjustments after the first 24-minutes of play. (More on the adjustments later.)

CJ McCollum kept the Blazers in the game in the thirst half. He had it going from the mid-range as Trail Blazers fans have become accustomed to. McCollum led all scorers at halftime with 15 points. The third quarter Blazers fans were blessed with a rare McCollum dunk. It was apparent the Blazers starting shooting guard was not ready for his season to be over.

2. Fouls stack up

The whistles were blown early as the officials tried to keep the chippiness under control. When Denver got called for a foul the Nuggets fans were on their feet yelling at the refs. But in the first half Portland’s bench was getting hit with both offensive and defensive fouls. Blazers backup big man Zach Collins picked up three quick fouls in 12 minutes of action. That was a big blow for Portland who has relied on Collins defense and energy late in this series. Evan Turner and Seth Curry each had two fouls heading into halftime.

Collins getting in foul trouble made way for Meyers Leonard to see the floor in the first half. Leonard bodied up Nikola Jokic and defended the potential MVP candidate as best you asked for from your backup big man. Coach Stotts went back to Collins in the second half.

The good news for the Blazers was the Paul Millsap had picked up three quick fouls in the first half too. Millsap has given Portland trouble with his size on the Blazers smaller wings. Millsap played limited minutes which helped the Blazers chip away at the lead and take the lead early in the final period.  

3. Second half adjustments

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts changed up his starting lineup to begin the second half. Coach Stotts started Rodney Hood and Zach Collins for Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu to go with more offense and length.

Unfortunately for the Blazers, Hood, who has been the most consistent scorer off the bench for Portland, went down with an apparent leg injury.  Hood made contact with Torrey Craig after Craig set a screen at midcourt. He did not return to the game.

After missing their first 10 three-pointers, Lillard came up with a clutch three at the 8:53 mark of the fourth. That three forced Denver to call a timeout. That three also quieted the crowd.

With Hood out due to injury, Evan Turner was called upon. ET stepped up on both ends of the floor. Turner completed a three-point play at the 7:24 mark and helped facilitate the offense while taking pressure off of Lillard. ET also iced the game with two clutch free throws with under 1 minute to play. 

NEXT UP: The Trail Blazers and Warriors will tip-off Game 1 on Tuesday. You can our pregame coverage on NBC Sports Northwest 30 minutes before tip-off.

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Game 7 of Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets: How and Where to Watch

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Game 7 of Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets: How and Where to Watch

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your Trail Blazers on your device.

 

As the Portland Trail Blazers look to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2000, the Blazers said Saturday they’re confident and feeling good heading into Sunday’s early game vs. the Nuggets.

Both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are happy Game 7 is tipping off earlier in the day.

Lillard said Saturday morning before practice that it’s nice “to not have to wait around all day for tip-off.” Now that these two teams have played each other six times in the best-of-seven series, things have been getting a little more chippy between the two.

The Blazers feel that’s how it should be. Lillard compared playing against the Nuggets in this series to fighting with your cousins when you were younger. “

To me it’s like when you’re growing up with your cousins and you’re spending a lot of time with them,” Lillard said. “At the beginning of the summer you’re excited to be around them, and then about two or three weeks later, you’re all fighting each other, and nobody likes each other anymore. I think that’s kind of what it is.”

McCollum added, “You play against someone enough you start to dislike them… If it’s too friendly that means you don’t care.”


GAME DETAILS

Where to Watch: ABC

Tip-Off Time: 12:30 p.m. 

Point spread: Denver -5.5

NBCS NW Coverage: Blazers Outsiders Pregame Show (12:00 p.m.), Blazers Outsiders Postgame Show (immediately after the game). 

Radio: 620AM Rip City Radio
 

INJURY UPDATES

For the Trail Blazers, Jusuf Nurkic (left leg) is out for Sunday’s Game 7 in Denver.

For the Nuggets, Michael Porter Jr. (lower back) is out.


QUICK LINKS

Dwight Jaynes: Neil Olshey offers insight into deals that kept Blazers alive in playoffs

Jamie Hudson: Game 7 on Mother's Day: Just another game, but not just another day for Damian Lillard

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

VIDEO: Blazers ready to face the challenge Game 7 presents

VIDEO: Curry on scuffle with Nuggets' Barton: "That's real sassy"

VIDEO: Blazers bench erupts, forces Game 7



Download the brand new MyTeams app today - This is the app for everything Blazers: highlights, articles, podcasts and more from your NBC Sports Northwest Blazers team.

Game 7 on Mother's Day: Just another game, but not just another day for Damian Lillard

Game 7 on Mother's Day: Just another game, but not just another day for Damian Lillard

It all comes down to this – Game 7 Sunday afternoon.

The Trail Blazers and Nuggets have one last chance to prove they belong in the Western Conference Finals.

The Blazers backcourt duo is not treating their first Game 7 as anything other than “just another basketball game.”

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum spoke with the media before practice in Portland on Saturday morning to discuss their feelings on the eve of Game 7.

“It’s just another basketball game... The ball doesn’t change; the height of the rim doesn’t change.  It’s all the same to me,” McCollum said. “You just go out there play, understanding what’s at stake, but also understanding there’s a reason why you’re in this position, there’s a reason why you’re in the NBA, you have to go out there and do what you do.”

“For us it’s just about advancing,” Lillard said.

[RELATED]: Damian Lillard on Game 7: "I’m going in there to get the job done"

The Blazers are making sure to not put too much emphasis on Sunday’s Game 7 in order to stay loose and in the moment.

However, Lillard did want to clarify one thing about playing on Mother’s Day:

“It’s just another game, but it’s not just another day,” Lillard said emphatically.

Gina Johnson, Damian Lillard’s mother, as well as CJ McCollum’s mother Kathy Andrews, will be in attendance at the Pepsi Center to watch their sons in their very first Game 7.

McCollum said “that’d be nice,” to get a win for his mom. He added, “mom’s are very important in this world. I’m very thankful to have a mother in my life.”

McCollum makes sure to let his mom know she means a lot to him every single day.

“It’s unfortunate that she has to spend Mother’s Day at a game, but I’m sure she’ll enjoy it if we’re able to come away with a win… I always tell her everyday is Mother’s Day,” McCollum said.

Lillard started talking to the media about playing on Mother’s Day by stating, “obviously none of us would be here without our mothers. They go through the most pain, and the most stress and suffering to give us life.”

[RELATED]: More than just his Mother: Damian Lillard’s leadership rooted in deep influence from his family

As Portland looks to keep its basketball life alive and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2000, the Blazers said Saturday they’re confident and feeling good heading into Sunday’s early game.

Lillard mentioned how happy he is to have an early game on Sunday so that he doesn’t have to wait around all day for tip-off.

Lillard also continued to speak highly of his mother, who has given so much to him over the years.

“My relationship with my mother is special. A lot of people don’t have some one in their corner a hundred percent of the time, somebody who supports them a hundred percent of the time -- show them love, teach you, care about you… teach you to be the right kind of person,” Lillard said.

“That’s kind of your foundation – is your mother, more times than not. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my mom – from my character or an athlete standpoint,” Lillard said.

For Zach Collins, “it would mean a lot” to secure a win for his mother, Heather Collins.

“I know how much she cares about my career and how much she cares about the Blazers, period… Just to have her support… I’m very blessed to have a mom like that,” Collins said.

So, the question is: Will Lillard be focused on winning the game for his mom on Sunday?

“Yeah, but I gotta win it for my team too,” Lillard said with a smile. 

Damian Lillard on Game 7: "I’m going in there to get the job done"

Damian Lillard on Game 7: "I’m going in there to get the job done"

If there’s one thing avid Trail Blazer watchers expect on Sunday it’s Damian Lillard to have a big game. He loves the big stage and has a way of performing on a level to match the spotlight. And he’s a true leader, the captain whose teammates will willingly follow him into whatever situations this team is likely to face.

Here are his thoughts about Sunday’s Game 7, the first Game 7 of his career:

“I mean, I think it’s always people saying people have never been in a Game 7, but it’s basically a game where only one team is going to make it out. It’s your last opportunity to play, so facing elimination is what it is to me. That’s going to be my approach. We were facing elimination (Thursday). The only thing that’s going to change is that it’s going to be on the road.

“It’s for our season. for all the marbles. For me, I’m not going in there saying I’ve never been in a Game 7. I’m going in there saying I know what this team is capable of.

“I know what I am and I know who I am as a player and I’m going in there to get the job done. I’m not concerned with it being a Game 7 or whatever. It’s not Game 7 of the Finals, so it is what it is,

“The No. 2 thing is to get rest, stay off our feet, rest our bodies, make sure we do that part. And the No, 1 thing is to have our minds right. Don’t overthink. Don’t make it some big crazy deal or anything like that. We’re going to play a basketball game. It’s a big game and we’ve won on their floor before and we know what kind of mentality we had when we did that.

“We’ve got to go out there, be tough, be physical, be sharp in our scouting report, play for each other, play with each other on both ends and just put the pressure on them. Make them earn everything on the offensive end and then when we get the ball, make sure we get shots up. Value each possession. Don’t go out there turning the ball over, playing into their hands where they get the opportunity to get their crowd involved.

“So that has to be our mentality – to just be sharp, be physical, go in there ready to take the game because the only way it’s going to happen is us going in there and taking it.”

And it's possible that the physical stress of a long, second-round series will have an impact on who "takes it."

Famously, Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

I’m not sure about cowards, but it makes us tired enough to affect our performance, whatever our occupations. For NBA basketball players, it’s could be a matter of winning or losing a game. A series. Or a season.

And fatigue might be a real factor Sunday when the Trail Blazers face off against the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 of a series where key players have been playing a huge number of minutes (H/T Truehoop.com).

Very much because of that four-overtime Game 3 in Portland, this series features the top six players in the minutes-played category of the playoffs. And four of those are Nuggets – 1. Nikola Jokic (515). 2. Gary Harris (478). 3. Jamal Murray (471). 5. Paul Millsap 471. The two Trail Blazers are: 4. Lillard (442) and CJ McCollum (431).

The adrenaline of a Game 7 to decide a trip to the Western Conference finals will carry these players for a while, no question. But there is serious doubt it can carry them through another complete game.

And whoever gets tired first is going to be at a big disadvantage. It’s definitely something to keep in mind as the game unfolds.

Trail Blazers have fight in them and Damian Lillard lives for “those moments”

Trail Blazers have fight in them and Damian Lillard lives for “those moments”

On Thursday night, a scuffle broke out between Trail Blazers guard Seth Curry and Nuggets wing Will Barton.

That ‘fight’ midway through the fourth quarter, which consisted of Barton poking Curry in the eye, was not the fight everyone was talking about after Game 6.

Sure, people were commenting on how Curry didn’t back down and how Zach Collins jumped off the ground to get right in the middle of it all as Collins has been known to do, but it was the overall fight and effort of the Blazers that the players were talking about late Thursday night.  

“We don’t quit, we don’t quit.”

The words that Enes Kanter responded simply with when asked about how much fight is in this Portland squad.

The Trail Blazers brought the fight when their backs were against the wall, facing elimination in Game 6 against the Denver Nuggets.

Both Portland and Denver showed signs of fatigue. Shots fell short for both teams, but behind a complete team-effort, the Trail Blazers defeated the Nuggets 119-108.

Entering Friday night’s Game 6, the Trail Blazers had lost four straight elimination games.

Damian Lillard was determined to change that stat.

With ‘Logo Lillard’ threes, along with a couple of “how did that go in” shots, and defensive stops, the Blazers forced a Game 7.

There are certain moments that Lillard has said he lives for and in Game 6 those moments were getting the crowd going and forcing Denver to call timeouts.

“Coach, sometimes in the huddle, he’s saying give our crowd something to get behind because we know that we’ve got a great home court. We know our fans get into the game, we know how much they care. For me, I’m looking up saying, alright, we’re on a run, they’re a possession away from taking a timeout… A few times I looked up – three, four, five-point lead, if I come off a screen and get a look, I’m going to raise up and it’s going to be eight, make them call a timeout, crowd is going to go crazy,” Lillard said in his postgame interview.

“For us you look for those, well for me, I’m looking for those moments where it’s like, okay this could be a moment where they call a timeout, get our crowd behind us because I know how it feels being on the other side, the visiting team and the crowd is going crazy, you’ve got to call a timeout and it’s like, you’ve got to regroup… So, I guess it’s true – I look for those moments,” Lillard said.

Lillard’s deep three-pointers get Blazers fans hyped especially after ‘The Shot’ in Game 5 that sent the Oklahoma City Thunder packing.

But the last time Portland played at home in Game 4 vs. the Nuggets, the Blazers scored just 14 points in the third quarter on their way to a loss. Lillard made sure that didn’t happen again. Of the Blazers 29 points in the quarter, Lillard had 17 of them.

“My job is to stay aggressive, keep doing what I do and tonight shots fell,” Lillard said of his scoring explosion in the third quarter.

The two-man game between Lillard and Kanter has become such a necessity for the Blazers in the postseason. Kanter said he’s been trying to set higher screens vs. the Nuggets to get Lillard open because he knows Lillard will knock down those long threes even with three defenders on him.

“When he’s hot nobody can guard him, that’s why they send him a double-team, triple-team… I know when he’s hot. It doesn’t matter if he’s gonna get a triple-team, I’m just gonna give him the ball and he’s gonna shoot the ball and he makes the shot,” Kanter said. 

Now it’s time to look to Sunday’s game.

“I’m looking forward to Game 7. Game sevens are special,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said as he wrapped up his postgame press conference on Thursday night.

We all know, Lillard will be looking for those special moments, but this time it’ll be to quiet the Nuggets crowd.

Zach Collins and Rodney Hood help send Blazers to Denver for Game 7

Zach Collins and Rodney Hood help send Blazers to Denver for Game 7

Rodney Hood talked about patience. Zach Collins mentioned energy.

But there was a lot more energy than patience in the Moda Center Thursday night – particularly from Hood and Collins, who earned a special place in Trail Blazer lore with sensational performances that helped win their team an all-expenses-paid trip to Denver to play Sunday for a bigger junket – a trip to the Western Conference finals.

Portland beat the Denver Nuggets 119-108 to knot their best-of-seven series at three games apiece, with Hood and Collins coming off the bench for a combined 39 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots.

But it was more than the statistics.

Hood came into the postseason with 28 games of previous playoff experience. But in that time he’d made just 38.6 percent of his field goals, including just 23 percent of his three-point attempts. And, in fact, he’d made just 66.7 percent of his free throws.

And last season, he was famously accused of refusing to go into a blowout win for Cleveland in Eastern Conference Finals. Then, in the first round this season, he contributed little in the five-game win over Oklahoma City.

And I guess that’s where the patience comes in.

“The talent has always been there,” said Hood, who had a career-playoff-high 25 points on 8-12 shooting. “It’s just God and the patience. It’s patience – everything isn’t going to happen how you want it to happen.

“Like in life, everybody has a dream. It’s supposed to happen now and last year, I wasn’t playing a lot. And I was kind of down on myself and I just kept working. I knew it would come through. I didn’t know when it would come through, but it did

“I’m just grateful. I didn’t give up on myself and I just kept plugging at it. There’s a lot more basketball to play and I’m happy about that.”

He’s lit up the Nuggets in this series, partially because Denver has chosen to put bigger players on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, leaving a guard, Jamal Murray, on him. Again, Hood talked about patience,.

“Just being patient. In the OKC series I was more of just a spacer,” he said. “Dame and CJ just had a great rhythm. I was more trying to affect winning – playing defense, getting deflections, those type of things.

“This series I got a matchup that I like. I’m real aggressive trying to pick spots I like – take some pressure off Dame and CJ. It’s working out right now. We’ve got one more game to get to the Western Conference Finals.

“We’ve got to keep trying to exploit everything.”

A trade-deadline deal that’s making Neil Olshey look smarter by the day, brought Hood to Portland and it flipped the script for him.

“It’s just been great.,” he said. “Sometimes when you make changes, it’s for the better. You’re around a great group of guys that kind of have a personality just like me – they want to win, good people, the community is great so it just adds to it.

“Give a lot of credit to Coach Stotts and the coaching staff for bringing me in – and to a team that was already third or fourth in the West. It enabled me to be a big part in what we’re doing here. I’m happy to be coming through for them and they’ve been great to me.”

Collins and Hood came into the game less than a minute apart in the first quarter with their team trailing by 10. They played the remainder of the half and helped their team to a 32-20 edge in the second period.

Collins racked up 14 points, four rebounds and five blocked shots and brought his usual snarly attitude into the game with him.

“It’s just his defensive mindset,” said Evan Turner, who didn’t take a shot but had seven rebounds and seven assists.

“He was huge,” Hood said of Collins. “He was huge. He finished around the basket, I don’t know the stat how many shots he changed, blocks, defensively what he did. He’s been a huge part of this whole series with his infectious energy on the defensive end.”

Coach Terry Stotts said, “Well, (Collins) had a big impact on the game. The fact that he was able to impact the game at the defensive end and stay out of foul trouble, it was important for him.

McCollum, who scored 30 points, talked about Hood and Collins. “They were great,” he said. “They’ve been killing this whole series. Rodney’s been exceptional in the midrange, dominating the block, hitting threes. Zach has impeccable timing. He’s going to lead the NBA in blocks in the future for sure. He’s fearless. He’s giving us a different dynamic.”

And that energy…

“That’s my job,” Collins said, “to come in and bring energy off the bench. It’s kind of been my job since I got here.”

Lillard was the steady hand at the controls all night. He hit six of his 13 three-pointers on the way to a team-high 32 points.

And there’s at least one more game to play, Sunday in Denver at a yet-undetermined time. As Lillard looks ahead, he does so with a sense of identity.

“I’m going in there saying I know what this team is capable of,” he said. “I know what I am and who I am as a player and I’m going in there to get the job done.”

Turner had another take on the game:

“I’d take Dame Lillard’s best over a lot of people’s best,” he said. “It’s a player’s league, so I don’t think anybody’s going against that.

“That’s honestly what I think.”

No time for the doubters (again) -- Trail Blazers are locked in for Game 6

No time for the doubters (again) -- Trail Blazers are locked in for Game 6

DENVER -- Statistically, the team that takes Game 5 wins the series 82.4% of the time, that’s with an overall record of 168-36 in NBA history.

Tuesday night was the critical Game 5 of the Trail Blazers-Nuggets series. The Blazers came out flat, while the Nuggets brought the energy. Denver rolled to a 124-98 victory and now take a 3-2 lead as the we head back to Portland.

History is not in the Blazers favor; media, fans, and Joe Schmoe off the street are most likely taking the Nuggets to win this thing after the Game 5 drubbing.

This is nothing new for Portland.

In fact, after the Game 5 loss, Meyers Leonard said he feels like having national media or whoever not believing in this Blazers team is "kind of the norm."

[RELATED]: Trail Blazers return home for must-win game after bowling-shoe ugly loss

Again, the Blazers have been here before.

During the preseason, Trail Blazers were projected by ESPN to finish 10th in the West and end up missing the playoffs because the Lakers now had LeBron James.

And then there was this from Bleacher Report in August of this last summer:

“Forty-seven wins was the cutoff for the top eight in the West last season, and that may be close to the standard again given the depth in the conference… Finishing anywhere between third and sixth should be the goal for Portland, since that will likely mean avoiding the Warriors or Houston Rockets until the Western Conference Finals.

While the Blazers could pull off another top-six finish, a level of regression should be expected.”

The Blazers did not regress this season and instead Portland hit the 50-win mark for the 14th time in franchise history and for the first time since the 2014-15 season.

Yes, they have been able to overcome adversity before and they'll be fighting for their playoff life in Game 6 on Thursday night in Portland.

“We’ve got to tighten up and understand if we don’t, we’ll be going home,” CJ McCollum said postgame.

While having naysayers, can fuel a team and it has fueled the Blazers at times in recent history, but in this playoff moment, McCollum is not worried about the doubters.

“We don’t really care about doubt,” McCollum said with a straight face. “We have to do a better job of playing -- focus on us, focus on executing the coach’s game plan, focus on getting stops and then we can get out and run and make the game fun.”

The Blazers did not look like a team that was having fun on Tuesday. In this postseason though, the Blazers have had plenty of fun games and crazy moments – i.e. ‘the shot.’

Just look at the OKC series; Portland was projected to lose to the Thunder in the 1st round, despite being the higher seed. The doubt has been around even after the Blazers grabbed the third spot in the Western Conference.

“Doubters and naysayers, and people that try to make assumptions or have thoughts about your team -- they don’t know who we are and they don’t know what we’ve been through, they’re not in this locker room everyday. We’re going to stick together and we’re going to be just fine because that’s the team that we have in this locker room,” Leonard said.  

That team in the Blazers locker room was not okay with the way they played on Tuesday night, and that team is going to lay it all on the line in front of thousands of Rip City fans on Thursday night.

Win or go home.

Will the Blazers quiet the doubters once again?

Third quarter costs Portland Game 4, could it cost them the series?

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Third quarter costs Portland Game 4, could it cost them the series?

“Now it’s a three game series.”

Twice the Trail Blazers articulated that exact statement on Sunday night after Portland dropped Game 4 at home to the Denver Nuggets, 116-112.

Both Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and backup wing Rodney Hood mentioned how it’s time to move on and, “now it’s a three-game series.” 

The Blazers were also on the same page as to what went wrong in Game 4 that cost them the game.

The third quarter.

After having a stellar first half performance with a new playoff-career-high of 16 points, Seth Curry was a non-factor in the second half.

“I think we just came out with a little bit of low energy in that third quarter it kind of cost us the game,” Curry said.

In that “low energy” of a third quarter, Portland was outscored 27-14.

Midway through the quarter, both Maurice Harkless and Enes Kanter picked up their fourth foul. Then just minutes later, Damain Lillard was charged with his second foul after the questionable call on Kanter.

With the Blazers racking up fouls in the third quarter, the crowd was getting antsy and showed their annoyance for the officiating with loud boos all across the arena.  

The Blazers, however, never made the officiating an excuse after the loss.

Coach Stotts emphasized that the biggest difference in the game was the third quarter.

“Our offense in the third quarter, our turnovers, our shooting percentage,” Stotts said. “We didn’t have a lot of pop in the third quarter, we were a little flat and that gave them some momentum. We went into the locker room at halftime with that momentum and we kind of gave it away.”

“When you score 14 point in the quarter, that’ll set you back and I think that was the difference in the game,” McCollum added.

[RELATED]: When does a 2-2 playoff series seem not all that even? This one!

Paul Millsap had nine points in the third quarter to help the Nuggets get going offensively.

With so many scorers on the Nuggets’ roster, that’s something Lillard points to as being a problem that can lead to issues on the other end of the floor for the Blazers.

“Turning the ball over, allowed them to get out [in transition], not being as sharp as we needed to be in our coverages and they’ve got a lot of shooters out there. So we know we’re trying to give Millsap and Jokic attention on the block when they have the ball. Our communication has to be right on the weak side or they’re going to take advantage of it with the shooters. I thought there was a lot of that mixed with turnovers, second and third opportunities on the glass,” Lillard said.

Portland closed out the first half with a Curry three-pointer to beat the buzzer, which put the Blazers up 63-57, yet Portland wasn’t able to keep that momentum going after the break.

“We had momentum going into halftime, but it’s a long game. You’ve got to be able to play 48-minutes. I thought that third quarter, our energy wasn’t where it needed to be,” Lillard said. 

Lillard went onto say, “a team that’s as good as they are, if you keep giving them opportunities they’re going to score. So I think it was a mix of all those things.”

The Nuggets finished the game with 20 second chance points after pulling down a total of 45 rebounds with 17 of those coming on the offensive end.

Curry felt the offensive boards were a “killer.”

“Those offensive rebounds they got are kind of momentum killers for us,” Curry said.

The Nuggets stole homecourt advantage back with the Game 4 win, but after talking with the Blazers this series is far from over.

Portland now travels to Denver for Game 5 that tips off on Tuesday night. Lillard feels the team “is in a good space,” while his teammates off the bench are confident they can steal one on the road.

“Both teams are scratching and clawing, it’s time to get homecourt advantage back,” Hood said confidently.

Curry added to that, saying, “We’re very confident as a team. We let one slip tonight, but we’ve been on a roll several times this year and got big wins, so we’re gonna look at the film and get some rest and then try to get another one.”

“We know we are capable of winning on their floor and that’s what we’ve got to get done,” Lillard said.