Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Detroit Pistons

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Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Detroit Pistons

The Trail Blazers entered Saturday’s game having won five of their last six games and two straight at Moda Center.

Saturday’s game marked the first of two meetings between Portland and Detroit this season.

It was a high scoring affair with both teams hot from three. The Trail Blazers pulled out a win in the final minutes, defeating the Pistons117-112.  

Portland now improves to 45-27 overall. These two will face each other next Saturday in Detroit.  

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 117, Pistons 112 

Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers fourth straight home victory:

1.Jackson got to the hoop, knocked down 3s

When facing this Pistons team much of the focus goes to their bigs Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. With the Blazers switching defense in the first quarter, Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless didn’t let Griffin or Drummond get much on offense. Drummond struggled on offense all night.

But to start the game, Reggie Jackson had an efficient first quarter going 3-of-4 from the field and a perfect 2-for-2 from three to finish with 10 points in the first 12 minutes of play.

Jackson was able to break free on the perimeter with the Pistons twin towers commanding so much attention.  He then had his way with Portland in the second half off the dribble, easily getting to the rim. He looked a step ahead of the Blazers for most of the night. Plus, Griffin got it going with his aggressive moves to the basket. Between the two of them and the Pistons three-pointers, Detroit made it close throughout.

2. That extra effort

You hear that a guy is a spark plug off the bench all the time. On Saturday, that is exactly what Zach Collins was for the Blazers. He fought down low to gobble up offensive rebounds and had a couple of nice putbacks that helped keep the Blazers in the game in the first half and kept the crowd involved.

3.  A different-looking Lillard Time?

As the Blazers continue to play without CJ McCollum (left knee), Damian Lillard carries the scoring load. Lillard was dialed in from deep. He made his first four three-pointers. Late in the fourth quarter, it was all about distributing for Lillard and that made the difference in the game. And of course, there was the Lillard Time three-pointer to give Porltand the lead with 1:37 to go, but hey, it was his passing that got them back in the game.

 

NEXT UP: Portland concludes its four-game homestand on Monday night when the Blazers host the Brooklyn Nets at 7:00pm on NBC Sports Northwest. Our pregame coverage tips off at 6:00pm. 

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.

The Xs and Os of Damian Lillard's defense of Russell Westbrook

The Xs and Os of Damian Lillard's defense of Russell Westbrook

Damian Lillard has been excellent on defense this postseason. Having seemingly flipped a switch, Lillard has posted a 95 defensive rating in the playoffs, in stark contrast to his regular season mark of 112. 

The Portland Trail Blazers haven't hid Lillard, either, with Rip City's favorite son often guarding former MVP Russell Westbrook much of the time.

Portland's overall strategy and energy on defense has fundamentally changed as a team. Seth Curry, Rodney Hood, and Evan Turner are all more active, and it appears Terry Stotts and his staff have given them a mandate: close out hard, stay grounded, and don't bite. In essence, it's OK if anyone outside of Paul George takes a less-than-contested 3-pointer, just as long as no one gets into the paint.

That's been the base for Lillard’s strong start. He's played strong, low, and has moved his feet backward even when that seems counterintuitive. The Blazers PG has looked more confident, and he’s been able to get under the shirt of several Thunder players outside of Westbrook.

The biggest thing Lillard has done, shockingly, is come up with steals, swipes, and blocks in volume we've never seen from him before. That's thanks to a nifty move with his left hand that's made it seem like a trick he's waited to break it out until the postseason.

Watch the video above to see how Lillard's used his new move, plus played "spy" on George as a means to supercharge Portland's defense.

CJ McCollum is rising to the occasion and so is the Trail Blazers defense

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CJ McCollum is rising to the occasion and so is the Trail Blazers defense

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.

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

Thunder favored by 71/2 Friday -- and here's a possible reason why

Thunder favored by 71/2 Friday -- and here's a possible reason why

As we get ready for Game 3, a few observations about Portland’s 2-0 series lead over Oklahoma City:

  • The Trail Blazers have looked great so far. The Thunder have not. But please remember this – you look powerful, confident, well-coached and pretty great when the ball goes in frequently and when it doesn’t, you can look weak, ineffective, disorganized and just overall awful. That’s why they call it a “make-or-miss league.”
  • During the regular season the Thunder were not a very good three-point shooting team – but they were nowhere nearly as bad as they’ve been in this series so far. OKC shot 34.8 percent from three over the 82-game regular season. In the first two games of this series, the Thunder have shot a pathetic 16.4 percent – by far the worst of any playoff team.
  • Is that due to great Portland defense? Or is it just poor OKC shooting? As Terry Stotts might say, "It's probably a little bit of both."
  • The Trail Blazers, at 42.1 percent, are the No. 2 three-point shooting team in the playoffs so far, right behind Golden State. What did the Trail Blazers shoot in the regular season? Well, that would be 35.9 percent – just a point higher than Oklahoma City.
  • Two playoff games -- welcome to small-sample-size theater!
  • How long can the Trail Blazers continue to shoot more than 42 percent from three? How long will the Thunder shoot under 20 percent?
  • My guess on both sides would be, “Not much longer.” And do you now understand why OKC has continued to shoot threes in spite of its lack of success in the first two games? The Thunder know who they are.
  • The wise guys who make up the betting lines and point spreads for NBA games seem to think there will be a big turnaround Friday night in Oklahoma City. After losing to Portland by 20 Tuesday night, the Thunder have been installed as seven-and-a-half-point favorites Friday.
  • That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?

Game 3 of Portland Trail Blazers vs. OKC Thunder: How and Where to Watch

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Game 3 of Portland Trail Blazers vs. OKC Thunder: How and Where to Watch

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.

As the series shifts to Oklahoma City for Game 3 and 4, the Trail Blazers take a 2-0 series lead with them.  Portland has not led a playoff series 2-0 since the First Round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs. In the Blazers’ 114-94 victory over the Thunder on Tuesday night, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 62 points, while Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless continued to make it tough for Paul George to get clean looks. George scored 27 points on 11-of-20 shooting.  

Lillard knows there is still a lot of work to be done.

"I know how quickly things can change," said Lillard. "I know that a series doesn’t start until you win a game on the road. I also know how capable their team is. So we’ve just got to maintain our focus, stay sharp in the things we’ve been sharp in, and understand how well we played in the first game and the second game is not going to be good enough in the third game, especially on their home floor.”

History is on the Blazers side though. When the Blazers have a 2-0 series lead, the team is a perfect 14-0 in the playoffs.


GAME DETAILS

Where to Watch: NBC Sports Northwest

Where to Watch on the go: Stream the game live on the new MyTeams App

Tip-Off Time: 6:30 p.m. 

Point spread: Oklahoma City -7.5

NBCS NW Coverage: Blazers Outsiders Pregame Show (4:00 p.m.), Blazers Outsiders Postgame Show (immediately after the postgame show). 

Radio: 620AM Rip City Radio

 

INJURY UPDATES

For the Trail Blazers, Jusuf Nurkic (left leg) is out for Tuesday's Game 3 vs. OKC.

For the Thunder, Andre Roberson (left patellar) and Hamidou Diallo (right elbow) are out.
 


QUICK LINKS

Dwight Jaynes: OKC has the Thunder but Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are raining threes

Jamie Hudson: Trail Blazers head to OKC, where Damian Lillard's tap of the wrist all began

Mike Richman: Damian Lillard's defense at the center of the Blazers 2-0 series lead

VIDEO: Lillard Time: Dame, Blazers return to where it all began

VIDEO: Blazers know they face a long road despite 2-0 advantage



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

Trail Blazers head to OKC, where Damian Lillard's tap of the wrist all began

Trail Blazers head to OKC, where Damian Lillard's tap of the wrist all began

December 23rd, 2014 -- The Trail Blazers were wrapping up a four-game road trip with the final stop in Oklahoma City.

It was a showdown between Western Conference point guards in Portland's Damian Lillard and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, just like it is today.

Lillard came out on top.

He finished with 40 points and hit a game tying 3-pointer with three seconds left in regulation as the Trail Blazers rallied back to beat the Thunder 115-111 in overtime.

It was in that moment, after that three-pointer at the end of regulation to force overtime, when “Lillard Time” was officially born.

The Trail Blazers had just taken a full timeout with five seconds remaining in the game. Steve Blake was set to inbound the ball. Blake found Lillard without a Thunder player tailing him, curling off a screen at the top of the key. Lillard rose up, fell away, and drained the three.

And then, the now iconic celebration made its debut with a tapping of the wrist.

“That was just me pointing to the watch. That was "Lillard Time." That was the first time anybody seen that. I was just feeling myself a little bit at the moment,” Lillard said, grinning ear to ear, immediately after that victory in OKC.

The Trail Blazers starting point guard went 8-of-12 from 3-point range in the win. He added seven points in the extra period.

With that victory, Portland had won 11 of their past 14 road games.

Fast-forward five-plus years, and now the Blazers battle against the Thunder in their best of seven series in the First Round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs.

This week, Lillard recalled the inception of “Lillard Time.” He remembers it all very well. 

“On that road trip, coach was like if we win three out of those four, or something like that, then we could go home for Christmas break and I wanted to go home,” Lillard chuckled.

“Before that [game] I remember like [Trail Blazers TV broadcaster] Mike Rice and those guys, kept saying “Lillard Time,” and then the fans picked up on it, and then I don’t know, after I made that shot I just like pointed to my wrist,” Lillard said.

Lillard also said in that moment it all happened so quickly and the decision to tap the wrist, “was just on the spot.”

The use of hashtags -- #LillardTime and #DameTime, along with the use of emoji watches can been all over social media on any given game night.

The Blazers fan base always knows what time it is…

But what does “Lillard Time” mean to the one who has earned that phrase?

“I think it just says something about my ability to come up big,” Lillard said. “I’ve had many failures late in games where I’ve missed a game winning shot, I missed a shot that could tie the game and then they make free throws to separate them by four, I’ve missed a free throw late and the other team hit a three to force overtime. I’ve had those experiences, too.”

Lillard emphasized having a clutch shot go down is, of course, not always a guarantee.

“I think “Lillard Time” just says how I’ve been able to come up big a lot of times even though I’ve not been able to do it every time, but more times than not I’m able to come up big regardless of what type of game I’m having. Whether I’m hot for the whole game, or whether I’ve been cold. I’ve had it in both situations,” Lillard said.

“Lillard Time” has also evolved over the years.

Nobody would know more about the evolution of “Lillard Time” than Lillard’s teammate Meyers Leonard, who entered the league at the same time.

“He can hit deep threes, he can come downhill and find the weak side pass of the guy rolling to the rim. His game has really evolved… He’s obviously going to take over the game and score, but he’s also, I feel, continuing to develop and keep his teammates involved,” Leonard said.

Leonard says he remembers that game tying three-pointer in OKC very well.

He also knows Lillard has earned the right to that very memorable phrase.

“Dame has the ability to take over a game because of his level of confidence, aggressiveness, understanding of the flow of the game, and also the work he puts in,” Leonard said. 

To Lillard’s teammates, “Lillard Time” means much more than a clutch shot or big time assist.

“Lillard Time is the explosive scoring and the ‘Logo Three’ and all of these things, but the fact that he has the recognition to know what Moe [Harkless] and [Al-Farouq Aminu] and other guys do on a nightly basis that don’t always show up on the stat sheet, that’s huge, that’s leadership,” Leonard said.

“Lillard Time, to me… It’s his leadership, it’s his qualities that really stand out,” Leonard added.

So, whether you call it “Lillard Time” or “Dame Time,” or you just simply enjoy watching Damian Lillard come up with clutch shots time and time again, the memory of the very first wrist tap is on the brain, as Lillard and company head to OKC for Games 3 and 4, back to where it all began.

The story of “Lillard Time” continues…

Damian Lillard's defense at the center of the Blazers 2-0 series lead

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Damian Lillard's defense at the center of the Blazers 2-0 series lead

The image that sticks is Raymond Felton, hopelessly twisted, flailing as Damian Lillard steps back into cresting three-pointer that beats the third quarter buzzer as the Moda Center erupts.

If not that, it’s the 30-footer Lillard unleashed mid-way through the third period that led to an immediate timeout and prompted the Blazers point guard to flap his wrists high-above his head, a signal that he later explained meant “let it fly.”

But before the flapping, and before walking into a 30-foot, there was a subtler moment that truly explains this series and should define Game 2. It came on the defensive end and was accompanied by an uncommon show of emotion. 

Lillard and the Blazers seized a 2-0 lead in their first round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night. The three-pointers will dominate the highlight reels, but Portland earned this win with defense, and Lillard’s effort on that end of the floor was at the center of it.

“You know, I really don’t have a choice but to embrace it,” Lillard said. “That team is going to go as far as (Russell Westbrook) and Paul George. We could try to score points and do all that stuff, but if we don’t defend them and they come out there believing and they come after us, we don’t have much of a chance. So our minds are made up that we’re going to take that challenge. Our season is on the line so that’s probably why it looks different than it might look any other time.”

The Blazers have been solid on defense as a group. Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu have tracked George all over the floor and Rodney Hood and Evan Turner have had their own impressive moments on the defensive end. But Lillard’s individual defense has been key to Portland’s two wins to open the series even as the team has collectively swarmed and harassed the two Thunder stars. 

It’s clear Lillard is relishing the challenge of defending Westbrook, as part of a rivalry that has grown sharper teeth this season.

“I mean the proof is in the pudding,” Evan Turner said of Lillard. ”I think he doesn’t really get enough credit for the type of defender he is.”

Westbrook finished Game 2 with 14 points on 5-for-20 shooting, he dished 11 assists but also coughed up six turnovers. Lillard was up for the challenge all night, hounding him on the perimeter and funneling Westbrook towards waiting teammates when he attacked. 

It wasn’t long ago that Lillard would have spent most of a night like Game 2 shading Terrance Ferguson, a lesser offensive player that would have allowed the Blazers hide their star player on defense. But Lillard has slowly evolved on the defensive end, growing from liability to the player that emerged Tuesday evening when he grabbed three steals, blocked two shots and embraced the challenge of guarding an All-Star.

Lillard said that his defensive growth is a natural part of playing seven seasons in the league. But it was also fueled by the criticism Lillard often heard early in his career. So Lillard made a commitment to becoming a better defender, spending hours poring over film and working with Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool, a dedication that took particular root in the summer of 2017 and has only grown since.

“I’ve always had the effort. I’ve always cared about it and now I’m a few years deeper into the league and I recognize stuff faster,” Lillard said. “I know what’s coming. I know what guys like to do. I’m not watching film to see highlights of myself. I’m watching film to (see) how can I take advantage of the other team? How can I give myself a chance to play better against the other team? And a lot of that is defensively, going over stuff with Coach Vanterpool. And then going out there and taking the challenge, not backing down. I think the last few seasons I’ve been much better defensively. It hasn’t been just one game or nothing like that. I’ve been taking the challenge and I’ve been much smarter about it.”

The Blazers blew the game open in the third quarter, pushing a halftime tie to a 16 point advantage heading into the fourth. In that stretch you could see how much the defensive stops meant to Lillard. 

Midway through the third quarter when Westbrook attacked the paint, Lillard slapped the ball out of his hands cleanly as he tried to rise up near the foul line. The ball was only loose for an instant and Westbrook quickly gathered himself and rose up for a left wing three-pointer.

When he it clanged off the rim, Lillard flexed and emphatically clapped following the hard earned defensive stop. Then he calmly dribbled across mid-court and rose up from 30-feet, drilling the shot over Westbrook. 

The image that sticks is the wrist flapping that followed. But rewind a few frames and you see the defining moment of the game, an improving defender embracing the toughest challenge on the biggest stage. 

Like Lillard said, with the season on the line everything looks different. 

OKC has the Thunder but Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are raining threes

OKC has the Thunder but Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are raining threes

When Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are on their games and making shots on the same night, if you happen to be unlucky enough to be on the other side, you might as well pack up your gear, warm the bus up and head back to the hotel.

Game over.

It happened to the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday night in Moda Center. The Thunder were jolted by the Trail Blazer Twosome and found themselves on the wrong end of a 114-94 licking, as Portland took a 2-0 lead in the teams’ best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

McCollum went 12-21 from the field, 3-7 from the three-point line for 33 points and Lillard was 10-21 and 4-8 for 29 points.

And the two Blazer starting guards lit the fuse on an explosive third quarter that saw the Trail Blazers blitz OKC 37-21.

“When you have two guys who can create their shots, who can create problems for the defense, it makes teammates around them better,” said Portland Coach Terry Stotts. “We kind of milked both of them there in the fourth quarter as far as pick and rolls. They complement each other. They have different styles of game even though they both can score. They’re both unique in what they can do.”

The Trail Blazers were fortunate to be tied at halftime after struggling through much of the first half, but the third quarter was a terrific defensive period for them, while McCollum and Lillard combined for 20 points, four assists, three steals and a blocked shot in the quarter.

The Blazers forced eight Thunder turnovers in the 12 minutes and turned them into 16 points.

Lillard was everywhere on the defensive end all night long, getting four defensive rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots while collecting just one foul and two turnovers.

Portland is not a team that forces a lot of turnovers but it got 16 from the Thunder and turned them into 23 points.

“It’s the preparation,:” Lillard said. “We talk about if a guy comes off a screen and we trap him, the weak side needs to be pulled over. If they throw it to the weak side, we need to be stunting for each other and playing physical.

“All those small things, when you’re in the right place and you’re doing the right things that you prepared for, a lot of times the ball ends up in your hands. … You’ve got your hands active like we’ve been talking about and they make a pass and just because your hand is where it needs to be, you deflect it. Just stuff like that.

“We’ve been really sharp in our preparation and going out there and executing. It’s not like we said, 'All right we’re going to come out here and try to get steals.' I just think we’ve been sharp. A lot of things have come for us in a positive way because of that.”

But Lillard, veteran that he is of these playoff series, knows not to get too carried away after just two home wins.

“I’m like happy about it but I really don’t care. So we’ve just got to maintain our focus, stay sharp in the things we’ve been sharp in and understand how well we played in the first game and the second game is not going to be good enough in the third game, especially on their home floor.

“We’ve got to keep our heads down and keep working.”

Portland once again had a huge edge in shooting from deep. The Trail Blazers made 40.6 percent of their threes and OKC managed just 17.9 percent. Russell Westbrook had 14 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds but made only five of his 20 shots, had six turnovers and was 1-6 from three.

And he took the loss personally.

“We’ll be all right,” Westbrook said. “Starting with myself. I’ve got to play better. Tonight we lost and I’m going to take full responsibility of that because of the way I played was unacceptable and I’m going to be better. I’m not worried one bit.”

McCollum was asked about the compatibility between he and Lillard in the Blazer backcourt.

“I think it’s the combination of a lot of things,” he said. “It’s stemming from our upbringing, how we were raised by our parents, what we’ve done to get to this point, both coming from small schools. I think we both had the same question marks. We’re both competitive, hungry and we both want to do whatever it takes to win.”

And Tuesday night, mission accomplished. Together.

Meyers Leonard: Meaningful minutes and "earning a standing ovation"

Meyers Leonard: Meaningful minutes and "earning a standing ovation"

CJ McCollum was heading to the free throw line with 3:31 remaining on the game clock.

At that moment, Meyers Leonard turned to the home crowd and yelled, “come on” with his hands in the air, urging the fans to get on their feet.

The Trail Blazers led 110-91 as the Moda Center crowd rose to their feet and the Blazers along with Leonard rose to the occasion.  

Portland defeated Oklahoma City in Game 2 on Tuesday night, 114-94 in what turned out to be a blowout for Portland, thus Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was able to unload his bench in garbage time.

But it wasn’t garbage time minutes for Leonard.   

Just like the media, the players, and the fans, the referees also know the bad blood between these two teams and in order to keep the peace, the officials were making sure to call any and all fouls.

Whether it was a charge call, a moving screen, or a blocking call, the whistles were being blown. In turn, that meant Blazers starting center Enes Kanter got into early foul trouble. Al-Farouq Aminu and Kanter both had three fouls by halftime.

When Kanter picked up his fourth foul early in the third that made way for Leonard.

“Because Enes picked up his fourth early, we got a few more minutes out of [Meyers] and I thought it was just a good time to have him in there… Good things were happening when he was on the court, so we kept him in,” Coach Stotts said postgame.

“I was happy for him. He brought some great energy,” McCollum said.

But, Leonard rose to the occasion in unexpected way:

On the defensive end.

He challenged Steven Adams down low and was also able to slow down the Thunder guards when he switched onto the smaller players.

“He got a couple of switches, moved his feet well, you know, challenged, got a block that didn’t go, that they called a goaltend, knocked down some jumpers, gave us good spacing, and energy,” McCollum said.

Yes, the Trail Blazers backup center didn’t get that block, even though it looked good, but he did finish the game with the best plus/minus of any bench player for the game with a +17.

In his 14 minutes played, he scored five points and pulled down four rebounds.  

“I just played as hard as I could and tried to set screens, go after rebounds and be prepared to shoot, which is the thing I didn’t actually do that well,” Leonard said with a perplexed look.

“I was 2-for-4, but I feel like I should make everyone of them,” Leonard added.

Immediately after the final buzzer sounded, Kanter jumped on Leonard’s back to celebrate the win and Leonard’s performance.

That’s the thing about this team; they care about each other and are happy for their teammates success.

“He’s a guy who is always, you know, jacked up, and a guy who can get the crowd really involved,” McCollum said.

As always for any bench player with inconsistent minutes, staying ready is key.

“My focus and mindset has been to just be ready,” Leonard said. “I’m not sure if I’m going to go in, I’m not sure when I’m gonna go in, but I can tell you one thing -- I’m gonna go in there and I’m gonna play friggin’ hard and it felt good to be out there contributing and now we’re up 2-0.”

When Leonard checked back into the game at the 9:36 mark of the fourth quarter for Zach Collins, the Moda Center crowd gave Leonard a loud ovation.

As Rip City fans well know, the fan base has been up and down when it comes to Meyers.

“I’ll be honest I did see a tweet about that, just talking about, I guess, that I had a quote-unquote earned a standing ovation,” Leonard said.

“Whatever that means, it felt good. I’m always gonna give it my all, I can guarantee you guys that... Like I said, it felt good to be out there, playing meaningful minutes, helping us win a playoff game,” Leonard added.

The Trail Blazers now go up 2-0 in the best of seven series. This is the first time Portland has taken a 2-0 advantage since the First Round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs. The Blazers beat Houston in that series, 4-2.

This series now shifts to OKC and as everyone knows every possession counts in the postseason or as Meyers put it:

“The playoffs is possession basketball.”

Leonard also says he will be ready for extra possessions if they come his way.

An update on Enes Kanter's hand injury

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USATI

An update on Enes Kanter's hand injury

During the first half of Game 2 of the Trail Blazers game vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder, starting center Enes Kanter hurt his right hand on the defensive end of the floor. The call resulted in a foul and Kanter could be seen shaking his hand out, in obvious discomfort as he prepared to shoot the free throws. Kanter battled foul trouble thoughout the game as well, but continued to play through the pain. 

After the game, Kanter gave a brief update on the injury:

More to come from Insider Dwight Jaynes and Reporter Jamie Hudson on Kanter and the rest of the team as the series moves to OKC for a Friday night game.