OKLAHOMA CITY – The Trail Blazers and Thunder series now shifts to OKC with Portland leading 2-0.
Before Thursday’s practice, the Blazers spoke with the media on a number of topics and it’s apparent this team is dialed in.
Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts said all of his guys are available for Friday’s game, including Enes Kanter, despite Kanter suffering a contusion to his right hand in Game 2.
Just as CJ McCollum put it, the postseason is a different animal.
“Playoffs is a different brand of basketball. The intensity is different, the magnitude is different,” McCollum said before the Blazers hit the court for Thursday’s practice ahead of Game 3.
Playing in OKC is not gonna be easy
As the saying goes, “it’s not a series until someone wins on the road,” and for the Blazers, this squad is looking forward to continued success against the Thunder, but they’re expecting a different kind of energy playing in Oklahoma City.
“It’s different playing against a team on your home floor vs. their home floor. They have a great crowd here. It’s probably gonna be the toughest game of the series up to this point. I’m just excited about the opportunity to come out here and get another win,” Lillard said.
“They’re playing at home, so they may be more comfortable. As an opponent we don’t worry about the other team… We don’t worry about what the Thunder are going to do, we don’t worry about what their mindset is going to be, their approach, we worry about our team,” McCollum added.
If history is on the Thunder’s side, they’ll take Game 3. Oklahoma City is 3-0 in Game 3 when they’re down 2-0.
By no means are the Blazers thinking OKC is just going to roll over.
“I expect them to come out and play super hard,” Moe Harkless said Thursday before practice. “We expect them to come out and be very aggressive on both ends of the floor and give us their best shot from the jump. We just have to be able to withstand that and punch them right back.”
McCollum is “rising to the occasion”
CJ McCollum has been taking it to Terrance Ferguson through the first two games. McCollum is averaging 28.5 points in the series.
When Lillard was asked about the difference in play from McCollum’s regular season performance against OKC to his current playoff performance, Lillard answered by first stating, “I think a lot of things play a factor.”
“Obviously, CJ is a tough cover to begin with. I think in the regular season sometimes you’ve got a team on a back-to-back and sometimes you’ve got this team and then after that you’re fatigued. Right now I think we are all they have to worry about and they’re all we have to worry about, because this could be it for both teams, Lillard said.
“So, you just lock in more, you’re sharper. I think CJ has come into the series sharper. I think that could present a bigger problem than maybe some of those other times [in the regular season.]” Lillard added.
As for McCollum, he mentioned how his “shark-like” mentality has helped him with the game of basketball from a very young age.
“I’ve always been a killer ever since I was a kid. I’ve taken this game very seriously and that’s why I’ve been successful. With failure and success you’ve got to have the same mentality and same mindset. I’ve always said it -- I’m a shark; sharks eat. Sharks are killers, they figure out ways to provide for themselves and that’s what I’ve done,” McCollum said.
Being able to throw different guys at George has been key
Maurice Harkless has been tasked with the tough assignment of starting out the game guarding Paul George.
Harkless knows the importance of not allowing PG13 to see the ball go through the hoop early.
“It’s big time,” Harkless said of jumping on George early.
“He’s the kind of guy that once he gets into a rhythm, it’ll be hard to stop him. You’ve got to set the tone early and I think we’ve done a good job,” Harkless said.
Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts mentioned how nice it has been to have Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Evan Turner and Rodney Hood all defend George at different times.
Harkless agreed with his coach.
“Everybody plays him a little differently. So, it’s kind of hard for him to get consistency throughout the game and that’s huge for a guy like that because once he gets going it’s hard to stop him,” Harkless said.
The team knows it’s about making it as tough as possible on the Thunder All-Star forward.
“I don’t think Paul George is somebody you can just lock down, you know what I’m saying, he’s hitting threes and crafty, pulling up midrange, drawing fouls, getting to the rim. It’s hard to lock him down. But I think being able to make his life hard. We’ve been able to throw bodies at him. All of our wings have done a good job of not allowing him to just come out here and have his way,” Lillard said.
As for Coach Stotts, he has been pleased with his team’s overall defense.
“I thought Game 2 was a big improvement over Game 1. The areas that we were concerned about we got better in each one of them – transition, offensive rebounds, pick and roll defense. Up and down the line we were much better in Game 2,” Stotts said.
Game 3 between the Blazers and Thunder tips off at 6:30 pacific time on NBC Sports Northwest and the MyTeams App.