Seth Curry was just being himself in win over former team

Seth Curry was just being himself in win over former team

The Blazers followed up their win Monday night vs. the Indiana Pacers with a 126-118 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night to improve to 2-0 on their four-game homestand.

It was also their second game without CJ McCollum, who is sidelined with a popliteus strain in his left knee. In McCollum’s absence, Damian Lillard continued to lead the charge in a variety of ways. Lillard finished with 33 points and 12 assists.

But, he wasn't alone in the Blazers efforts. Backup guard Seth Curry stepped up to help carry some of the load, too.  

Curry scored 12 of his 20 points in the second half after going 8-of-16 from the field, and 4-of-7 from deep. Curry also pulled down five rebounds.

This was Curry’s third game of 20-plus points this season.

The best part about Curry's by committee performance?  

Lillard feels this performance from Curry is nothing out of the ordinary for Curry’s skillset, or for the Trail Blazers’ offense.

“The way he got it, I think that it translates even when CJ comes back and we are at full strength. The things that he was doing, he will still be able to do. It wasn’t like he just went out there and got out of what we typically do, the role we typically have him in, he was just being himself,” Lillard said.

“The way he did it, I think it will work for us going forward, regardless of who’s out there, who’s not,’ Lillard added.

Curry echoed those sentiments, saying that as a team they were playing “similar offense, moving the ball, trying to find the best shots” as they would when McCollum is in the lineup.

The 28-year-old knew he had to be on the attack more, while playing some extra minutes with McCollum out.

“A little more opportunity, obviously, there’s a lot of shots missing with CJ not in the lineup, so other guys gotta step up and try to help where we can,” Curry said.

Since McCollum was sidelined last Saturday in the Blazers loss to the Spurs, Portland’s head coach Terry Stotts has preached that they need the entire team to contribute and it may be a different guy on any given night. 

Coach Stotts was happy to see that Wednesday night was Curry’s night; at least until he got winded as the game drew on.

“I thought he was active,” Stott said. “I don’t know if he got a little tired in the fourth quarter, but I thought he got good looks. He was pretty close to having a really good night. I thought he had three or four really nice moves to the basket and wasn’t able to finish them, but again, with CJ out… It’s gonna be by committee... We need his shooting.”

So, was Curry getting a little gassed in the fourth?

“I was a little tired at the end, playing 16 minutes, or whatever, straight in the second half,” Curry said with a smile. 

Curry had been with the Mavericks from 2016-2018 before signing a two-year deal with Portland in free agency last summer. It’s always fun to see a player do so well against his former team.

During Wednesday night’s game, Curry made it a point to look over at the Mavs bench a few times after scoring a bucket.

Does Curry enjoy taking it to his former teammates?

“Just a lot of guys I like over there, a few friends that I played with, obviously. So, it’s just all fun,” Curry said.

So, he wouldn’t admit that he gets hyped up a little bit more when the Blazers play the Mavs, but he might have admitted there could be some potential trash-talking going on. 

“Nah, not much,” Curry laughed.

Okay, maybe not.

But one things for sure—

Curry was having fun.

“We’ve got a good team over here. Everybody’s doing their part, moving the ball, finding the open man tonight, so it’s fun to play when guys are moving the ball like that and everybody contributed tonight,” Curry told Trail Blazers sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam immediately after the game.

The ball movement is fun for the players and fun for the fans.

On to the next—Blazers host Detroit on Saturday.

Which role player will step up next?   

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.”

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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. 

 

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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:

 

Watch Live Trail Blazers Playoff Games on the NBC Sports MyTeams App. All you have to do is download the app, log-in, and you can watch LIVE playoff games plus receive comprehensive coverage at your fingertips. Download Now!

 

WOJ REPORT: Cavs have received permission to interview Blazers assistants Tibbetts and Vanterpool for vacant head coaching job

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USA Today Images

WOJ REPORT: Cavs have received permission to interview Blazers assistants Tibbetts and Vanterpool for vacant head coaching job

The Cleveland Cavaliers are searching for their new head coach and they are curious to see if their franchise coach could currently be in Portland.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Cavaliers have received permission to interview Portland Trail Blazers assistants Nate Tibbetts and David Vanterpool for the franchise's vacant head coaching job.

This is nothing new for Tibbetts and Vanterpool. Both assistant coaches have been looked at as potential head coach candidates in the past few years.  

Tibbets has been an assistant for the Trail Blazers since the 2013-2014 season, while Vanterpool joined Portland’s staff in August of 2012.

Tibbets had previously been an assistant for the Cavs from 2011-2013.

Last year, Tibbets was in the final running for the Atlanta Hawks head coach position.

This week, Vanterpool was also linked to be in the running for the Phoenix Sun’s job.

More to come on the coach situation as they progress. 

 

Watch Live Trail Blazers Playoff Games on the NBC Sports MyTeams App. All you have to do is download the app, log-in, and you can watch LIVE playoff games plus receive comprehensive coverage at your fingertips. Download Now!

Game 5 of Portland Trail Blazers vs. OKC Thunder: How and Where to Watch

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USA Today Images

Game 5 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.

The Portland Trail Blazers can close out their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night in Portland. The Blazers beat the Thunder on the road 111-98 Sunday to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined 51 points.

The Blazers also got a big lift from their starting forwards. Al-Farouq Aminu hit clutch three-pointers and finished the game with 19 points and nine rebounds, while Maurice Harkless added 15 point and 10 rebounds.  

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


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: 7:30 p.m. 

Point spread: Portland -4

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 5 vs. OKC.

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


QUICK LINKS

Dwight Jaynes: Blazers mind their own business en route to Game 4 win at OKC

Jamie Hudson: Al-Farouq Aminu's key performance puts OKC on the ropes

VIDEO: CJ was embarrassed last playoffs and he's using it as fuel

VIDEO: Locker Room Report: Aminu helps put Thunder on the ropes

VIDEO: Damian Lillard: Trail Blazers playing with confidence

Watch Live Trail Blazers Playoff Games on the NBC Sports MyTeams App. All you have to do is download the app, log-in, and you can watch LIVE playoff games plus receive comprehensive coverage at your fingertips. Download Now!

What They’re Saying about the Portland Trail Blazers heading into Game 5

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NBC Sports Northwest

What They’re Saying about the Portland Trail Blazers heading into Game 5

The Portland Trail Blazers took on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday in Game 4. While the Thunder and Blazers were coming off a chippy Game 3, where OKC prevailed in front of its home crowd, it was Portland who came away victorious at Chesapeake Energy Arena in the fourth matchup of the postseason.

The Blazers now have a 3-1 series lead and have the opportunity to finish the Thunder on homecourt. But before Portland and OKC meet on Tuesday, let's take a look at What They’re Saying about the Blazers heading into Game 5.

Damian Lillard’s dominance throughout the series has left everyone talking about the Blazers star guard, especially after last year's sweep against the Pelicans.

Rohan Nadkarni of Sports Illustrated says the Blazers are seeing big dividends from their main man. 

"A year later, Lillard has improved across the board. His field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio, and points per game are all significantly higher than they were in the sweep, Lillard didn’t magically turn into a bad player against the Pelicans, and he hasn’t become a perfect one against the Thunder, but after back-to-back postseason sweeps, at the very least Lillard’s focus and commitment to his craft has led to tangible success."

Lillard isn't the only player that has impressed. CJ McCollum has also been stellar. In Game 4, McCollum had a team-high 27 points and kept the Thunder from mounting a true comeback.

Jordan Zirm of UPROXX noted the backcourt duo’s impressive performance.

“They’ve thoroughly outplayed the headline-grabbing duo of Russell Westbrook and Paul George, and McCollum has been unconscious from deep. He’s shooting 51.6 percent from beyond against the Thunder while taking nearly 40 percent of his shots from behind the arc, per Cleaning the Glass. If the Blazers are to continue their unlikely charge to the Western Conference Finals, McCollum and Lillard will have to elevate their two-man game to another level.”

Sekou Smith of NBA.com shared his thoughts on Lillard and McCollum’s ability to handle adversity.

“That shared mindset and leadership style from Lillard and McCollum is what drives these Blazers. It’s what will allow them to advance in this postseason and what will guide them in the future.”

During Game 4, NBA on TNT’s Charles Barkley said he felt the battle between Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard was a one-sided battle.

“He is not trying to compete with Russell. Russell is trying to compete with him…I’m telling you, this team here, they’re going to the Finals.”

Kevin Pelton and Kirk Goldsberry of ESPN called the Blazers one of the biggest surprises of the NBA Playoffs. 

“How Portland has controlled the series against Oklahoma City. The Blazers have had answers for everything that ailed them in last season's sweep by the New Orleans Pelicans. When the Thunder have forced the ball out of the hands of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, fellow starters Al-Farouq Aminu, Enes Kanter and Maurice Harkless have made big plays. And Lillard and McCollum have been forces without forcing the issue.’ - Pelton

“Lillard has been brilliant. McCollum has been strong. But they've managed to survive the Jusuf Nurkic injury in part because Kanter has been solid, even on defense. I did not see that coming.” - Goldsberry

Blazers mind their own business en route to Game 4 win at OKC

Blazers mind their own business en route to Game 4 win at OKC

OKLAHOMA CITY – It was a business trip for the Portland Trail Blazers. And business is good.

Portland’s approach to Sunday night’s pivotal Game 4 against the Oklahoma City Thunder was a textbook approach for a team that was harassed and defeated by the home team just two days previously,

“We were very businesslike,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said after his team's 111-98 victory put it one win away from winning the series. “We took care of our business. I think, as I told the team, we have to be concerned about us, and I thought we played the way we needed to play. And there really wasn’t a lot — as we talked about yesterday – any of the peripheral stuff. I liked the way we approached the game throughout.”

But all of that started at the end of the regular season, when Jusuf Nurkic was lost to a broken leg and C J McCollum went down with a knee injury.

At that point, Lillard took command of the situation and went about the job of building confidence and trust in his teammates.

Instead of taking on more of a burden, he got more teammates involved and allowed them to help him carry the load.

The results have been spectacular and it’s the reason that, for all of Lillard’s on-court talents, his leadership may be his most valuable asset.

“We were put in a position where we had to lean on each other and trust each other,”Lillard said. “And it was great for our team. We had to lean on each other and develop trust and the confidence we needed to have with each other. Our team was together and really believing in each other. So coming into this series, this isn’t anything new for us.

“We’ve just been getting the job done. Like Coach said, we had a businesslike mentality.

“It was the first time, that after Game 3, we were in the locker room saying ‘They lived at the free-throw line,’ and all this stuff.

“But in Game 4 we’re not talking to anybody but ourselves. Referees can call it how they want to call it, We’re just going to worry about ourselves. We’re going to play hard and stay together. And when their crowd gets into it, we’re just going to keep on doing what we do and come out on top.

“I was proud that we were able to stick to that and actually get it done. And a lot of that was because of what we’d been through in the regular season and how we came together.”

The Thunder got off to a solid start but the Blazers led by two after the first quarter. Portland trailed by seven points with two and a half minutes left in the first half but finished with an 11-0 run.

That was significant because Lillard was just 2-8 from the field and had only seven points at half.

“I loved it,” Lillard said. “Anytime we can be on the road, playing against a really good team, and not playing well and not having been scoring the ball and we have a lead that deep into a game, that’s a great situation.

“All I need to do is see it go in one time. And that can turn into three or four or five.”

Of course he saw plenty of them go in during the second half, as he finished with 24 points and 4-8 from three-point range.

CJ McCollum was solid all night alongside Lillard,. He was 5-9 on threes and scored 27 and hit a couple of big triples early in the fourth quarter when Lillard was getting a rest.

The second half belong to the Blazers at both ends of the court. Russell Westbrook was held to one point and three assists after halftime and the Thunder ended up being outscored in the paint 36-22. OKC made only 11 of its 30 shots in that area.

McCollum was asked about the development of his team this season.

“I think we’re a lot more mature,” McCollum said. “We understood what we wanted to accomplish tonight. We had multiple discussions about it. If they don’t have a black and gray jersey on, don’t talk to them. Talk to our team only. Don’t talk to the refs.

“Execute our game plan and let’s get out of here with a win.”

McCollum doesn’t mince words when he talks about his team’s motivation.

“We got swept last year,” he said. “Everybody talked about it. We were on TV every day. They talked about the sweep, they talked about me getting traded, they talked about how we (Lillard and McCollum) can’t win together.”

McCollum was asked about the challenge they might face in Tuesday’s Game 5 in Moda Center vs. the Thunder.

“We’re not worried about the Thunder,” he said. “We’re worried about the Blazers. We have to execute our game plan. We have to stick to what we’ve been doing, turn it up a notch. We’re going to be at home, we’re going to be facing a desperate team that is facing elimination.

“We really just need to focus on ourselves, focus on how we can execute and how we can knock down shots, how we can empower each other. And then defensively, stay locked in.”

In other words, just stick to business.