Lillard scored 41 points, and carried the Trail Blazers with a record breaking shooting night, hitting seven of his 10 three-pointers during a dominant third quarter.
But before Lillard’s second half eruption, Stotts delivered a heated halftime speech, challenging his team to play with focus and intensity on the defensive end.
“At halftime coach wasn’t happy with us at all,” Nik Stauskas said. “He just basically told us that we haven’t been competing for the last couple weeks on the defensive end and he was calling us out and making sure we brought that energy. Luckily we brought it in the second half.”
Coming into the game against the Magic, the Blazers had dropped three straight and five of their last seven games, as their defensive hemorrhaged points, allowing 119 points a game. It was more of the same in the first half on Wednesday, as the Magic scored 63 points and shot 56 percent from the floor.
So Stotts lit into his team at halftime, showing them a few video clips of an ‘unacceptable’ defensive effort and smacking the whiteboard where he writes down the team’s quarter by quarter defensive rating to emphasize his frustration. He was livid that the message he had been trying to instill in his team for nearly two weeks still hadn’t stuck.
“It was just defense and he’s been harping on us this whole time,” Zach Collins said. “I think at halftime we finally listened a little bit and we got back to getting in their face, being intense, making them feel us. That was his biggest thing was that they gotta feel us on the defensive end.”
This wasn’t Stotts at his angriest, according to a couple players that have been with him for a few years, but he was frustrated and made sure to let his players know it.
“Of course, he was very mad,” Evan Turner said. “It was a tough first half and we knew we had to bounce back. He challenged us and we accepted the challenge. What he was upset about was he said we weren’t playing desperate enough for coming off a three-game (losing streak).”
The Blazers held Orlando to 21 points in the third quarter, forcing five turnovers while limiting the Magic to 42 percent shooting. On the other end, Lillard erupted for 23 points in the period, knocking down a franchise-record seven three-pointers. His outburst stole the show, but it was the defensive turnaround that had to be most pleasing to the Blazers head coach.
Lillard will have more of these types of nights, but counting on his molten lava shooting isn’t a sustainable plan. The Blazers’ success will largely depend on the consistency of their defense and that’s why Stotts went off on his halftime tirade.
“It’s an energy thing and I felt it toward the end of the third quarter,” Stauskas said. “We could see everyone was engaged. It felt like everyone wanted to be out there playing defense, talking and communicating. That’s what we have to do every game for 48 minutes. It’s easier said than done, but that’s what the best teams in this league do and if we want to be there then we have to commit to that.”