Here are the 3 most important Blazers heading into the playoffs

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USATI

Here are the 3 most important Blazers heading into the playoffs

Last week TNT analyst Charles Barkley did what he does best. Ol’ Chuck said the Portland Trail Blazers were going to make the NBA Finals as representatives of the Western Conference this season, and that seemed like a stretch to just about everyone. Picking a squad that was swept in the playoffs just a year ago felt like a take-ism more than anything.

But there is reason yet to be bullish on the Trail Blazers.

Portland has increased its winning percentage nearly four points since the Feb. 7 trade deadline, going 9-5 heading into Friday night’s game against the Pelicans. That ties them with the Los Angeles Clippers for the second-best record since the deadline out of any playoff team in the Western Conference, just behind the Houston Rockets. 

There's already been some significant evidence that general manager Neil Olshey’s decision to add Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter to this roster has returned dividends. Both players have integrated quicker than expected, and each know their role both within the locker room and in the rotation.

It’s also helped that Maurice Harkless has been on a bit of a tear lately. The Blazers starting forward has continuously battled with his left knee, but starting in late January Harkless came on strong in the way we've expected from him over his tenure in Portland. “Playoff Moe” appears to be a very real thing, and he's rounding into form just in time for the Blazers to try and secure home court advantage in these upcoming playoffs.

But outside of raw performance, it feels like there's been a bit of a shift since the All-Star break in the attitude of this team. In typical fashion, the early part of this season for Portland included big 3-point outbursts building to gigantic leads, quickly followed by a sense of dread that they could blow it all by the mid 4th quarter. This has been going on for four years now, and it didn't seem like it was poised to stop. Instead, it’s now the Blazers who are going crazy in the fourth to rack up wins

Much was made about the insane seven-game roadtrip the Blazers embarked on starting with the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 21, particularly as Portland was five games under .500 on the road before that matchup. The Blazers returned home with a 5-2 record, and but for a game-winner here, an empty tank at the end of the Memphis game there, and a sidestepping of a refereeing fiasco against OKC, Portland could be in the midst of a 12-game win streak. 

A late-season run would be par for the course for the Blazers, but the difference this time is that Portland doesn't seem to be catching teams as they flame out of the playoff picture or as they rest crucial players at the end of road trips. Now it's the Blazers taking it to big name opponents — Golden State, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles — right when those teams need wins the most.

With just 14 games to go left in the regular season, Portland is trying to grab the final spot garnering them home court advantage in the first round. That leads us back to Barkley's comment, and a pondering of where this team could go in the postseason.

Despite all their added depth, Portland still has the same Achilles heel on paper. No doubt teams will try to slow the Blazers down and trap its two star guards come playoff time. And while added depth should help the Blazers solidify their rotation and scoring if they get in a hole, three players will be the key to Portland’s chances at the second round.

The first is Jusuf Nurkic, who has become an offensive instigator with the ball at the high post, allowing the Blazers to operate in a similar fashion to the way they did it with Mason Plumlee some years ago. Nurkic has become a better passer from that area of the floor, and it allows both CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard to act as off-ball shooters early in the shot clock.

Nurkic has also become a much better roll player, both as a screen setter and as a drawer of fouls. He has moved up significantly in that regard with respect to his position, and it shows in his on-court performance. Where before Nurkic might try to clumsily get a foul several feet from the basket, he now picks his chances and has developed a long, striding scoop move that allows him to put the ball in a better position to score points. 

Then there’s Rodney Hood, who has seen a lot of time with the starting unit with Evan Turner out. Hood, Kanter, and Jake Layman were platooned into the starting unit with McCollum and Lillard during Turner's absence in late February. I expect to see Terry Stotts experiment with Hood as the first substitution to keep shooting on the floor and pressure off of his guards.

But the man who can most tip the scales for the Blazers will once again be Harkless. Stotts’ offense puts Harkless — or whoever is playing that position — at a certain advantage on the floor, both in the regular flow as a shooter and as an outlet valve in a trapping situation. Al-Farouq Aminu is having an average 3-point shooting year, but his variance separate from his average is so high as to be unreliable. Team know that, and they’ve used it to their advantage before.

Harkless gathers steam as the season runs along, and his plus/minus impact on the team has trended upward monthly at the end of each season he has been in Portland. The only problem this time around is that he isn't shooting the ball all that well. The small forward is shooting just 22.5 percent from 3-point range combined over the last two months, and there’s a real concern that his efficiency could take a dip if he’s not able to knock down jumpers at a normal clip here soon.

Portland fans are right to be naturally wary of this team. The Blazers have let them down in the playoffs before, and the holes on this roster have been glaring for some time. Olshey has done his best to plug those gaps with some depth, and everything appears to be trending upward for a playoff push. The West is incredibly difficult this season, and Portland will not have an easy time even if they grab that home court spot.

The Blazers are the same team as they ever were. That is, until they can prove that they are something new entirely. The roster has changed, and Portland is confidently surging. We might not have to wait all that long to decide this team has turned the page. 

As Damian Lillard takes questions, Russell Westbrook is left searching for answers

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As Damian Lillard takes questions, Russell Westbrook is left searching for answers

Damian Lillard has become one of the most lethal players in the NBA.

According to NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh, Lillard generated the fifth-most wins in the NBA while the Portland Trail Blazers are the third-most efficient offense in the league.

On Tuesday night, Lillard, in the 45th minute, delivered a legendary 37-foot three-pointer over Oklahoma City’s Paul George that proved when there’s nothing left in the tank, Lillard’s ready. The game-winning shot sealed the deal for Portland, who is on its way to the second round of the NBA Playoffs.

While Lillard was drilling shots and dropping 30-footers, the Thunder seemed puzzled on how to defend Mr. Unguardable. This used to be the way people would talk about Russell Westbrook, but according to Haberstroh, the tides have changed.

Here’s a few takeaways from Haberstroh’s latest article: How Dame Lillard and the rest of the NBA left Russell Westbrook behind

On Westbrook’s performance in the Blazers-Thunder series:

In this series, Westbrook struggled to get to the rack and finish at a high level. He missed over half his layups, making just 48.8 percent of his shots at the rim (league average is about 60 percent). Westbrook finished with zero dunks in the series and his transition efficiency ranked dead-last among players with at least 20 transition plays, per NBA.com tracking. Normally, we could chalk that up to small sample size, but Westbrook ranked last in transition efficiency in the regular season among the 27 players with at least 250 transition plays. This is more than a blip.

On what’s changed in Westbrook:

He’s dunking less, getting to the foul line less and missing more layups than he makes. These are all the markings of a player either in decline or in the wrong era, perhaps both. George’s arrival was supposed to weed out Westbrook’s most inefficient shots and make him more effective. But the opposite has happened: George’s efficient shot has only made Westbrook’s weaknesses more glaring.

On how Lillard and Westbrook differ:

Lillard doesn’t overwhelm with his size. In fact, he was equally inefficient at the rim as Westbrook, shooting 47.4 percent on his 38 attempts in the restricted area. But Lillard has a counter.

The difference is that Lillard has put in long hours behind closed doors and developed a knockdown jumper in case he can’t get to the rim as easily as he used to. In this series, Lillard made 48.1 percent of his 3-pointers and was a mind-numbing 10-of-15 from 28 feet and beyond. It’s something you can’t readily defend, as George found out the hard way.

Lillard was facing a nearly impossible task there in the closing seconds: Find a good shot against George. These moments are extremely difficult to begin with. Potential go-ahead shots in the final 10 seconds in the last give postseasons have gone in only 26 percent of the time (17-of-64), according to data from Basketball Reference. That was the baseline from which Lillard was working. Out of nowhere, he created a shot he has made nearly 40 percent this season.

On Lillard ushering in a new generation of players shooting from 30-foot-plus:

Lillard’s long-range jumper serves like David’s slingshot in a game of goliaths. With diminutive ball-handlers like Lillard, Trae Young and Stephen Curry bombing away from deep, it’s easy to see how this might be the future of the NBA. This season, a record-breaking total of 1,008 shots were taken from 30 to 40 feet, up from 860 from last season and nearly double the total of 525 from 2016-17, per Basketball Reference. 

Read full story here

Rip City Rewind: Lillard's 'bad shot' goes down as one of the best shots in Blazers history

Rip City Rewind: Lillard's 'bad shot' goes down as one of the best shots in Blazers history

With the Portland Trail Blazers leading the playoff series 3-1 over the Oklahoma City Thunder heading into Game 5, the Blazers knew it was time to take care of business on home-court Tuesday night.

Portland trailed 107-92 with 7:12 left in the game, but the clock struck Lillard Time and the Blazers All Star guard was not going down without a fight. The Blazers went on a 26-8 run to end the game with Lillard notching a basket with 32.8 seconds left to put Portland within two. As seconds ticked off the clock, Lillard silenced the Thunder with a buzzer-beater from the logo to give Portland the win.

Here’s a look at your Rip City Rewind with everything you might have missed as the Blazers beat the Thunder to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.

It was the shot that sent shockwaves across the NBA and left players around the league singing Lillard's praises. With 18.4 seconds left on the clock, Damian Lillard drilled a three-pointer from 37 feet over Oklahoma City’s Paul George to make one of the biggest shots in basketball history.

Lillard brought the knockout and waved “goodbye” to the Thunder bench in a moment that will be remembered in Blazers history. Here's a look at the game-winning shot from every angle and every call

Dwight Jaynes recounted Lillard’s 50 point performance, which was postseason franchise record: Lillard waves goodbye to the Thunder with 37-foot buzzer beater

Damian Lillard didn’t do it alone though. A surprise appearance from Jusuf Nurkic, who sustained a season-ending leg injury in March, helped give the Blazers the momentum to finish off the Thunder.

Nurkic sported a “Got Bricks? Next question” shirt and a pair of crutches while he cheered on his brothers in an electric Moda Center. Following the game, Nurkic let the f-bomb fly when describing why he drove to the Moda Center during the third quarter to support his squad.

Jamie Hudson wrote about Bosnian Beast’s game-changing appearance: Jusuf Nurkic couldn’t watch Game 5 from his house any longer and he showed up just in time

It was hard-fought game for Enes Kanter as well, who sustained a separated shoulder in Game 5. Following the game, Kanter said he got an injection at halftime, and would be good to go in the second round.

Jamie Hudson has the latest on Kanter’s shoulder injury: Enes Kanter plays through shoulder pain in Game 5

Next up, the Blazers will take on the winner from the Denver Nuggets-San Antonio Spurs matchup. The Nuggets currently lead the series 3-2 over the Spurs. Game 1 of the second round is set for Monday, April 29. Time and location is to be determined. 

MORE QUICK LINKS FROM GAME 5:

VIDEO: The legend of Damian Lillard grows 

VIDEO: Lillard may have been the hero, but Nurk saved the day 

VIDEO: Damian Lillard's series clinching shots, side by side

VIDEO: Lillard's Top 10 Plays from Game 5

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard delivers redemption from 37 feet out

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard delivers redemption from 37 feet out

The whiteboard inside the Trail Blazers locker room read “10:30.” Wednesday was an optional day at the team’s practice facility, a chance for players to come in and get treatment from the medical staff if they need it, but there isn’t anything formal scheduled.

It would be understandable if the place was a ghost town.

On the strength of Damian Lillard’s historic, 37-foot series ender, the Blazers earned a day off and a trip to the second round of the playoffs.

Lillard’s shot, a side-stepping laser from just right of the pinwheel logo at midcourt, is the stuff of legends, a storybook capper that might be too cliche even for fiction. And yet there Lillard was etching his own chapter in his ever-expanding book of Rip City folklore with a comically deep three-pointer and a wave goodbye to the Oklahoma City bench.

As the ball crashed through the net and the Moda Center erupted, it was natural to compare this to another great Lillard moment: The series-clinching “0.9” shot in 2014 that ushered the Houston Rockets out of the playoffs.

But this was less about one-upping a historic moment with another and more about catharsis and exorcising the demons from a playoff defeat just earlier. After a brutal early exit from the playoffs last season, Lillard’s 50-point masterpiece on Tuesday was an emphatic rejection that his team might suffer a similar fate.

That’s why the Blazers could take a moment to reflect on what Lillard’s shot meant in the moment. 

“Last year at this time we were going home,” Al-Farouq Aminu said. “This year we’re getting ready for another opponent. So, I can appreciate the mess out of this.”

“Anytime you’re able to advance in the playoffs and keep going it’s a big moment,” Evan Turner added. “Especially when it comes down to -- in a sense -- getting a monkey off our back because everybody talked about the past like it was a big deal.”

The Blazers spent much of this season saying they had moved on from the last year’s playoff sweep, choosing to look ahead when pressed instead of revisiting a painful week last April when they were dominated by New Orleans.

The Blazers don’t know their second round opponent yet. They’ll have to wait until at least Thursday night to find out whether the series might start at home against San Antonio or on the road in Denver. Moe Harkless said he planned to sleep in a little on Wednesday morning and indulge in a day off earned in the most dramatic way possible. Terry Stotts said he would go for a walk and maybe have a glass of wine on Wednesday evening.

They can thank Lillard’s heroics for their leisure time. He’s been saying for months that the Blazers recent playoff struggles would help his grow.

He delivered redemption from nearly 40-feet out, and after a year of waiting it was natural to circle back to those feelings of failure from a season ago.

“To go into the playoffs last year and have that type of experience, in my mind, I didn’t feel bad for myself,” Lillard said when asked to reflect on Tuesday night. “I was like ’I’m going to accept responsibility that we didn’t play well.’ It was embarrassing but when you go through stuff like that and you stay together and you keep working, you keep believing in what we do (and) our purpose, what we come into training camp saying to each other, what our coaches are saying, the unity that we have. We stay true to that and keep believingin what we’ve built up here, it’s going to be something waiting for us.”

“You don’t just go through stuff when you’ve got a group of good guys that work hard and do things the right way, in my mind, I was just like something down the road is going to work out for us if we just stay with it and keep our minds right. I think this is the beginning of that.”

NBA players react to Dame's insane game-winner

NBA players react to Dame's insane game-winner

The year was 2014. There were 0.9 seconds left on the clock. Damian Lillard caught the inbounds pass, lifted up, and drained the improbable game-winner over an outstretched Chandler Parsons to send Houston home.

A lot has changed since then, yet much remains the same...

The year was 2019. There were two seconds left on the clock. Damian Lillard dribbled to his right, stepped back, lifted up, and drained the improbable 37-foot game-winner over an outstretched Paul George to send Oklahoma City home. 

With all that has changed, one thing is still certain: Damian Lillard has ice running through his veins. 

As expected with a shot like that, social media blew up. But it wasn't just the Rip City faithful that were amazed. Lillard's NBA counterparts were just as blown away... 

It wasn't just players from around the NBA that chimed in. Lillard's teammates, both past and present were amazed as well...

And before we leave, let's not forget about ol' Chandler Parsons, the man that Lillard hit that 0.9 shot over...

 

Enes Kanter plays through shoulder pain in Game 5

Enes Kanter plays through shoulder pain in Game 5

Trail Blazers starting center Enes Kanter suffered a separated shoulder following a hard hit with Thunder big man Steven Adams, but Kanter played through the pain. The injury happened in the first quarter of the Trail Blazers 118-115 thrilling victory over the Thunder.

Kanter’s left arm was in a giant sling and wrapped when he spoke with the media after the game.

“At halftime we did an injection, so I just tried to play through it,” Kanter said postgame.

Kanter finished the game with 13 points and 13 rebounds while also playing through quad pain as well.

The good news for the Blazers big man is he will now get a few days to rest up while the Nuggets and Spurs finish up their series. Denver currently holds a 3-2 lead. Game 6 is set for Thursday night.

Lillard waves goodbye to the Thunder with 37-foot buzzer beater

Lillard waves goodbye to the Thunder with 37-foot buzzer beater

The fans were going one step beyond delirious. It felt as if the entire Moda Center was shaking. Damian Lillard’s mother was dancing wildly on the sidelines. Trail Blazer players were staring at each other in awe with that “Did you see what he just did?” look on their faces.

Kevin McHale, doing analysis Tuesday night on the TNT telecast, uncoiled his 6-11 frame from behind a desk on the side of the court and shook his head.

Did that look familiar to you, Kevin?

“Well,” he said with a broad smile, “it’s a lot more entertaining to watch him do it than to have him do it to you.”

McHale was the coach of the Houston Rockets on May 2, 2014, when Damian Lillard sent McHale’s team home with a buzzer-beating three-point jump shot after catching an in-bounds pass with .9 second to go in the game.

But what he saw Tuesday night was even more miraculous. Incredible. Unbelievable – you pick your own adjective.

Lillard dribbled most of the final 18.4 seconds of a tie game down to tenths before firing up what was officially called a 37-foot pullup jump shot over Oklahoma City’s Paul George, one of the best defenders in basketball.

And of course, as you know by now, with the game and series on the line, the ball went in – setting off an on-court pig pile of teammates, who happily buried their captain under a mountain of sheer joy.

Asked about the distance and nature of the shot, most of the Trail Blazers estimated around 40 feet.

And most of them also commented on the sheer intestinal fortitude it took even to attempt the shot with the game on the line.

The word “balls” was used in connection with that.

And by the way, those three points gave Lillard 50 for the night and capped a wild Portland comeback that saw the home team rally from a 105-90 deficit with 7:45 to go in the game and 113-105 with 3:55 left.

There were so many things that happened down the stretch. Seth Curry stole the ball from George, CJ McCollum hit a pullup jumper and a floating bank shot, Maurice Harkless made a couple of free throws, Al-Farouq Aminu had a big rebound off a Russell Westbrook miss, Lillard hit a reverse layup – but, of course, it all came down to Lillard at the end.

With a tie game, the Blazers didn’t exactly need a three-point shot. Any old point would close out the series.

But Lillard was in his comfort zone as he dribbled the clock down.

“I didn’t want to put it in the referee’s hands, where it was contact and maybe they get away with contact or I end up having to take a tougher shot because there’s contact and (the referees) don’t want to decide the game,” he said. “So I was standing there looking at the rim and I was like, this is a comfortable range.

“My trainer, Phil Beckner, we were working out the other night in OKC and he was like, ‘just take a few deep ones off the dribble. Let’s shoot a few deep ones.’ He was like, ‘I’m telling you, you’re going to hit one of these.’

“When I was standing there, I was like, ‘I’m going to, shoot it.'

“I just had to let it fly, shoot the ball high in the air to give it a chance and that’s what I did.”

And there was one last parting shot after that.

Not with the basketball, though. Lillard, who had to take trash talk from Westbrook and Dennis Schroder throughout the five-game series, waved at the Thunder bench.

“I mean, the series was over,” Lillard said. “That was it. I was just waving goodbye to them. I think after Game Three, Dennis Schroder was out there pointing to his wrist. They were out there doing all these celebrations and doing all this stuff and we kept our composure. After one win, that was what they decided to do and we were like, OK, what we want to do is win four games.

“When we win those four games, there’s not going to be nothing to talk about.

“So that’s what it was.”

Lillard’s 50 were a franchise playoff record and he is the first player in NBA history to score 50-plus points and make a game-winning buzzer beater in the same playoff game. His 10 three-pointers mark the second-most threes in a playoff game in league history, just one behind Klay Thompson’s 11 in 2016.

The Blazers, who closed the game on a 26-8 run, move on to a second-round series against the winner of the Denver-San Antonio series, which the Nuggets lead 3-2.

Enes Kanter, who played much of the game with what he believes may be a separated shoulder, marveled at Lillard’s performance.

“Not just that shot, but the whole series,” he said. “He did an amazing job. He kept his coolness and stayed calm.

“That’s what a great leader does. He made himself better and he made everyone better around him. When the shot left his hand, I was like, ‘You know what, that’s going in,’ because we all believe in him.”

It was a special night nobody there will ever forget, especially the Thunder, I would guess.

“I mean, it was a bad shot,” George grumbled. “I don’t care what anybody says, that’s a bad shot.”

Maybe for you. Maybe for anyone else on the planet. But on this night, it was a great shot for Damian Lillard.

And as his coach, Terry Stotts, said, “The legend grows.”

Stay ahead of your Trail Blazers and get all you need to know this postseason. Get LIVE Trail Blazers coverage, in-depth articles, podcast, videos and more. All you have to do is download the app,  log-in and the Blazers are at your fingertips. Download Now!

Jusuf Nurkic couldn’t watch Game 5 from his house any longer and he showed up just in time

Jusuf Nurkic couldn’t watch Game 5 from his house any longer and he showed up just in time

The Trail Blazers 2018-19 season has been emotional, to say the least.

Perhaps the most gut-wrenching moment was when Portland lost Jusuf Nurkic to a season-ending leg injury on March 26th.

The Blazers big man was averaging career-highs of 15.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and one steal to go along with 1.4 blocks.

A career-season ended too quickly.

But Nurkic was determined to not let his team’s season end prematurely too. 

No, it was not do-or-die for the Blazers on Tuesday night as Portland held a 3-1 lead in the series over the Thunder, but for Nurk he was eager for his teammates to take care of business at home.

That’s why the big fella drove himself to Moda Center during the third quarter to show up for his team when they needed him the most.

“It meant a lot. I had seen him earlier today; he was at the practice facility. He was getting a lift in and some rehab. I was like, 'when you gonna come to a game?’  He was like, ‘I’m not ready yet,’ so, when I looked and saw him I was like, man it must’ve looked bad on TV for him to leave his house in the middle of third quarter and drive all the way out here,” CJ McCollum joked postgame.

With 3:28 remaining in the game, Nurkic made an appearance on the Trail Blazers bench.

Damian Lillard had been having a phenomenal game, with a franchise record 32 points in the first half, yet the Blazers trailed 113-105 when the Bosnian Beast showed up.

The jumbotron was quick to show Nurk’s presence on the bench.

Moda Center erupted.

“I was in pain watching the game,” Nurkic joked with Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd on the NBC Sports broadcast after the game. “By the end of the third quarter, I was like f*** it, excuse my French, I’m gonna go out there and show up and I knew if I showed up, we were going to win this game. I had zero doubt.”

Nurkic was right.

“Obviously I love this crowd and this city… I knew if I showed up, I was gonna make a difference,” Nurkic continued.     

But the question on the Blazers’ minds was -- how did Nurk’s stats finish up?

“I would love to see what his plus/minus was tonight,” Lillard said with a smile.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts also wanted to figure out what Nurkic’s plus/minus was for the final three minutes of play.

“We were down eight… So, plus 11… So, his plus/minus was really good. Honestly, you guys know it, you felt it in the building when they showed him on the big screen and the fact that he showed up, no one knew he was going to show up, honestly I think we fed off of that. I think there was a little good karma when he did show up,” Stotts said.

Enes Kanter, who played through a separated shoulder, summed up Nurk being on the bench by simply saying, “he’s our inspiration.”  

Nurkic had said during the regular season after the Blazers were swept by OKC, that he wished he would get to see the Thunder in the playoffs.

Tuesday night he got his wish in person and the Blazers knew they had to win this game for him, and for themselves, to not extend the series.

“When I seen him, I was like we really got to come together and get this done so we don’t have to go back to Oklahoma,” McCollum said.  

“I think they put a camera on him and the crowd went crazy. I heard it. So, he gave us a nice punch,” Lillard said.

The Bosnian Beast brought just enough “punch” to help his team get over the hump.

Lillard brought the knockout with his game winning three-pointer.

The Blazers now advance to the Western Conference semifinals for the 12th time in franchise history and the first time since 2016.

Nurkic, who often refers to Lillard as ‘Babo,’ which means ‘fatherly figure’ in Bosnian, was like a proud son watching his dad rise up on Paul George and knock down the ‘Logo’ three.

Babo had himself a game.

Nurkic saved the day, just in time. 

 

Stay ahead of your Trail Blazers and get all you need to know this postseason. Get LIVE Trail Blazers coverage, in-depth articles, podcast, videos and more. All you have to do is download the app,  log-in and the Blazers are at your fingertips. Download Now!

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5

What a finish in Portland.

The Portland Trail Blazers held a 3-1 series lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder coming into Game 5 on Tuesday night.  

Thunder forward Paul George told reporters at Tuesday morning’s shootaround that he believes his team can come back from a 3-1 deficit.

Oklahoma City was not messing around to start the game Tuesday. The Thunder came out aggressive and shooting well. Every time the Blazers would come back and go on a run, the Thunder would answer in the first half.

Really it was Damian Lillard who kept the Blazers in the game. Lillard set a franchise record in scoring in the first half. He continued his scoring in bunches in the second half. Lillard was determined to finish this series Tuesday. Despite the Thunder holding a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, Portland had the last word. Well, Lillard had the last word with a DEEP game winning three-pointer. The Blazers defeated Oklahoma City 118-115. It’s onto Round Two for the Blazers.  

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 118, Thunder 115

Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers Game 5 victory:

1. OKC starts hot

Unlike in Game 1 and 2 in Portland, OKC started out hot from the field and from three. Midway through the first quarter, the Thunder were shooting over 80%. OKC made its first two three-pointers and ended the first quarter going 2-for-4 from long distance, while shooting 69.6% for the quarter.

Paul George was due for a game like he had on Tuesday. George was 9-of-11 midway through the third quarter with 24 points. He has been playing through shoulder pain the entire series and it was apparent he was not ready for his season to end. 

2. McCollum picks up quick fouls, Lillard picks up scoring

A big blow to the Blazers in the first quarter was CJ McCollum picking up three fouls with just over three minutes remaining in the first quarter.

With the Blazers starting shooting guard on the bench with three fouls…

Damian Lillard took over.

With 32 points in the half-- Damian Lillard now owns the Blazers record for most points in a half in a playoff game. Lillard finished the first half with 34 points on 12-of-18 shooting including 6-of-9 from three-point range.

Lillard played all 24 minutes in the first half. This showed Blazers head coach Terry Stotts is willing to keep the hot hand in the game and the Blazers wanted to close out the series REAL bad in five.

McCollum only played those first nine minutes. He did not play the entire second quarter. Besides Lillard, no other Blazer player had more than six points.

NBA fans know Lillard can easily take over games, but the Blazers were in need of more scoring in the second half. Lillard got some scoring help from Enes Kanter and Al-Farouq Aminu in the third quarter, but the Blazers weren’t getting enough scoring in the fourth and Russell Westbrook turned it up in the final quarter.

3. You’ve got to make your free throws

It was a back-and-forth game throughout. It wouldn’t have been as close if the Blazers were able to hit more from the charity stripe. Portland was 11-of-19 from the free throw line entering the final period. Maurice Harkless was just 1-for-6 from the line after three quarters. 

As Rip City Bill Schonely always says, you’ve got to make your free throws.

Harkless did make up for it in the final period though, hitting two clutch free throws to put the Blazers down two with 1:22 to go in the game.

NEXT UP: The Trail Blazers will now wait and see who comes out on top between the Nuggets and Spurs before meeting the winner of that series in the second round of the playoffs. The Nuggets currently lead the series 3-2. Game 6 between Denver and San Antonio is set for Thursday.  Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your Blazers and stream the games easily on your device.

Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for OKC Thunder in Game 5

Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for OKC Thunder in Game 5

The Portland Trail Blazers hold a 3-1 lead and now looking to close out their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night in Portland.

 

Portland is now looking to advance to the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2015-16 season.

 

Before tonight’s game both Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and Thunder head coach Billy Donovan addressed the media. 

 

Coach Stotts feels tonight’s game will be “very competitive," adding, “We are going to get Oklahoma City’s best shot.”

 

Stotts also discussed how much of an impact Blazers big man Enes Kanter has been since Jusuf Nurkic went down with a season-ending injury.

 

“Obviously when we got him we had Nurk and the role was backup center… What he has done since Nurk went down I don’t think anybody foresaw [what he’s been able to do]. He’s had a really good career to this point and he’s had his reputation as a really good rebounder, a really good scorer, but I think what he has done for us with his improved defense, with his passing out of the post, what a great teammate he is – I think in those areas he has probably exceeded what we were thinking,” Stotts said.

 

Hear from coach Stotts right here:

 

Coach Donovan feels that just because his team is down 3-1 on the road, they aren’t looking at it as though it’s going to be too difficult of a feat to come back and win the series.

 

“It’s not like it’s too overwhelming for them, I don’t feel that way at all,” Donovan said.

 

Donovan was asked how the Thunder could attack the basket and attack Kanter more in Game 5. OKC feels like they’ve done a good job getting Steven Adams involved on the offensive end.  

 

“Steven, I think at times, had opportunities around the basket, some post up situations or some dump offs. I think we’ve done a relatively good job. You’re not going to always score, but it may lead to something,” Donovan said.

 

Hear from coach Donovan right here:

 

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