Al-Farouq Aminu

Here's where to go if you're looking to place blame for Trail Blazers' rough start

Here's where to go if you're looking to place blame for Trail Blazers' rough start

PHOENIX – The Trail Blazers have struggled through the early season and a segment of the fan base is always looking to blame someone.

And rather than simply looking at the injury list and being done with it, they’re trying to blame just about everyone but Blaze the Trail Cat.

What I’m hearing a lot is the idea that the team should have held on to Meyers Leonard, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu. And should not have “let go” of Enes Kanter and Seth Curry.

I’ve dealt with this before, but this seems like a good time to go over it again.

First, let’s differentiate between trades and free agency. Kanter and Curry were free agents last summer and it wasn't a matter of the team "letting them go." The Trail Blazers knew they would be priced out of the market for Curry, who had a very good season with Portland. He eventually re-signed with Dallas, where he played before he became a Trail Blazer, for $32 million over four years. That was out of Portland’s reach, since all it could offer was the taxpayer mid-level exception of $5.7 million.

Kanter was given the first call by Neil Olshey last summer at the onset of free agency and he vacillated on his decision to take the TMLE. So, Portland went to its second choice, Rodney Hood, who had been off to a career year before suffering a season-ending injury. A good move, obviously … and Kanter ended up signing with Boston for about a million bucks less than he would have made in Portland.

Now, let’s get to the other three players. Harkless and Leonard went to Miami in a deal for Hassan Whiteside, who is in the final season of his contract. Whiteside was brought in to give the Trail Blazers a replacement at center for Jusuf Nurkic, who isn’t expected back until sometime in the new year. Bazemore, also on an expiring deal, came in a trade with Atlanta for Evan Turner.

Both those deals allowed Portland to preserve cap space for one more big trade – hopefully for a major star making a lot of money with multiple years left on his deal. Since the Blazers have had little luck luring free agents to town, the idea of making a deal for a big-time player who would be under their contractual control for a while, is the next best thing.

And it's also a big (and expensive) commitment to building a team that can compete for a championship.

OK, that said, those trades have turned out just fine for Portland and I’m tired of hearing how much the departed players have been missed. I’m not knocking them in any way, but the fact is, what came in return has been very good for this team.

Whiteside has averaged 16.2 points. 12.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 2.4 blocked shots per game this season. Leonard, Harkless and Aminu (who is now hurt) have COMBINED for 15.9 points, 12.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 blocks per game this season.

And oh yes, a player by the name of Carmelo Anthony was added to the mix a while back – amidst all sorts of pleas from fans begging them not to do it because of fears about the bad raps that have dogged Anthony,

But so far, Anthony has been a solid player who has blended seamlessly with his new teammates. And, of course, he’s given the team 16.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game.

So, this all leads back to the original point. If you have trouble figuring out what’s wrong with your Trail Blazers, look no further than that injury report – which features Zach Collins, Hood and Nurkic.

That’s this team’s entire starting front court. And they are most certainly missed more than the players who were traded away.

Scoop Journal: Dame 196M DOLLAs, a Chiefly farewell, and a Hood's embrace

USA Today Images

Scoop Journal: Dame 196M DOLLAs, a Chiefly farewell, and a Hood's embrace

Welcome to The Scoop Journal brought to you by Toyota of Portland, where every week I empty my notebook of wide ranging Trail Blazer thoughts, observations, and randomness. I hope you enjoy this light-hearted weekly blog...

June 30th, 2019


Dear Scoop Journal,

It’s the first day of NBA Free Agency 2019, and that means it’s been a crazy and busy day.  

Even before free agency tipped off, the reports swirled that the Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard have agreed on a 4-year, $196 million supermax contract extension.

With the supermax on the brain and all the happenings surrounding NBA free agency, I think it’s time to jot down my latest random thoughts on the Blazers and all around the league:

*A supermax deal should always go to a player who is loyal and deserving of the highest paid contract in the league. Damian Lillard encompasses loyalty and deserves every penny. With this new deal it will mean Lillard will be a Trail Blazer through at least the 2024-25 season.

*Former and current Trail Blazer players have been congratulating Dame on social media all day:

*As CJ McCollum gave congrats to his running mate on his supermax on his IG story, he also had o say good-bye to another teammate.  

*With free agent forward Al-Farqou Aminu reportedly agreeing to a three-year deal worth $29 million with the Orlando Magic, it reminds everyone that the NBA is a business.

*All around Rip City, fans were quick to thank Aminu for the memories and wish him luck in all his future endeavors, and this is why I believe Blazers fans are the best: 

*Sitting down with Chief for The Scoop Podcast was one of my favorite podcasts this season, talking about being a prince and a new father.

*And, last but not least -- the Moda Center will still be pumping out ‘Where the Hood at’ for all Blazer fans to continue to sing with Portland reportedly re-signing Rodney Hood to a two year-deal.

*And the late night deal with the Blazers reportedly agreeing to a deal with Mario Hezonja, who could just be looking for the right fit.

*Since it’s a wrap on day one of free agency, I’m gonna continue singing… ‘where the Hood, where the Hood, where the Hood at!?’  

REPORT: Al-Farouq Aminu agrees to deal with Magic

REPORT: Al-Farouq Aminu agrees to deal with Magic

According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, free agent forward Al-Farouq Aminu has agreed on a three-year deal worth $29 million with the Orlando Magic.

The deal with the Magic reportedly includes a player option in the final year.

Aminu had several teams reportedly interested in him as free agency loomed, including the Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, and Orlando Magic.

The 28-year-old’s four-year, $30 million contract with Portland came to an end this summer, and Aminu hit the market as an unrestricted free agent. He started in all 81 games that he played in this past season.

Aminu averaged 28.3 minutes a game, along with 9.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists on 43.3 percent field goal shooting and 34.3 percent from deep.

The loss of Aminu could mean the Blazers will turn to young big man Zach Collins at power forward. He has long been thought of as the future of the Blazers, but his future could be now.


Check back at NBC Sports Northwest for more on free agency and the Trail Blazers as more news becomes available.

Most-likely Trail Blazer free-agent target: Enes Kanter

Most-likely Trail Blazer free-agent target: Enes Kanter

Free agency opens in the NBA Sunday afternoon and the Portland Trail Blazers, already into the luxury tax and with just the $5.7 million taxpayer mid-level to spend, are taking a knife into a gunfight.

There are hundreds of millions of dollars in cap space and exceptions out there, including 17 max-contract slots and really only about 10 top-tier free agents to fill them. Just like the summer of 2016, there are likely to be a lot of players overpaid this time around.

That doesn’t bode well for the Trail Blazers.

But keep in mind, just a couple of weeks ago, Portland had the 25th pick in the draft and Evan Turner. Since then, the Blazers have drafted Nassir Little, a consensus lottery pick, and traded Turner for Kent Bazemore, a defender with three-point shooting skill. So the summer is already off to a successful start.

It makes sense that while the Lakers, Clippers, Warriors, Knicks, Celtics and Raptors are fighting over the big names Sunday, the Trail Blazers will be going about their business trying to tie up one of their own free agents for that $5.7 million slot. Enes Kanter and Rodney Hood are much more likely to sign with the Blazers than most other free agents because they had a taste of Portland last season. They were comfortable with the system, their teammates, the culture of the franchise and the winning that they experienced last year.

Of those two, the most likely Portland target would be Kanter, who was originally acquired to be a backup center to Jusuf Nurkic, but became a solid starting center through the team’s run to the Western Conference finals. Kanter spoke highly of his time with the Blazers and he is shaping up as the team’s No. 1 target in free agency, to continue to fill Nurkic's spot. Hood would have been a top target until Bazemore was obtained, but there is a duplication of skills there with Bazemore.

That would leave the team’s expiring contracts free to be used later in a deal for a more high-profile player.

The Blazers will also need a minimum salary player to fill out the roster and Neil Olshey usually has that player identified early. Last year, you remember, he signed Nik Stauskas July 5 and added Seth Curry July 6.

Here’s a look at free-agent scenarios for the Trail Blazers:

BEST CASE: Enes Kanter doesn’t get some extravagant offer out of the gate from another team. If it’s close, I think there’s a good chance he’d choose Portland. But asking him to turn down big money over multiple seasons would not be fair. Best case – the popular center from Turkey will be back. With the team already in the luxury tax, I would expect Al-Farouq Aminu to be gone, with his market value somewhere around $10 million a year. Second-year guard Anfernee Simons is scheduled to move up into Seth Curry’s spot in the rotation and with Curry’s price going up, he will not be back, either. That leaves restricted free agent Jake Layman and the best-case scenario is that he doesn’t get an offer above $3-$4 million a year, and the team would probably match and bring him back.

WORST CASE: Kanter gets an offer of $40 million over four years from somebody and accepts it, leaving Portland to search for another center to hold down the fort for Nurkic. Then Aminu doesn’t find an offer at his asking price and the team re-signs him – which would probably end up with him starting again this season, effectively blocking Zach Collins from a starting role. I don’t expect that to happen, but it is the worst-case scenario long-term, for this team. Then Portland ends up having to fight teams with a lot more money for a free agent to fill that taxpayer mid-level slot. The end result of that would probably be having to pay a $3 million player $5.7 million to sign here.

Olshey: "Everyone who comes through here has gotten better"

Olshey: "Everyone who comes through here has gotten better"

It was exit-interview day for the Portland Trail Blazers, the final chance for the media to interview the key players, coach and management of one of the most surprising teams in the franchise’s 49-year history.

There weren’t a lot of shocking happenings – other than President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey announcing that the team has extended the contract of head coach Terry Stotts. But that wasn’t much of a surprise, either, since Stotts had just engineered a run to the Western Conference finals for a team predicted before the season to win 42 games and miss the playoffs.

The pertinent video is on this website and I invite you to peruse it, but in the interest of time, let me hit a few of the highlights for you, in order of the players’ appearance:

CJ McCollum: “It was an incredible season based on what we went through. Expectations weren’t that high. It was a pretty incredible year.”

Meyers Leonard: “The last two games were what I know in my heart I can do. Heading into this offseason I feel very confident in what I’ve done. I’m happy to know I feel I gave the staff and the organization confidence in me. I’m going to come back next year ready for a more definite role.”

Evan Turner: “It was dope. We did a lot of great things this season. We went from being a playoff-caliber team to a potential championship-caliber team. We’re legit.”

Al-Farouq Aminu: “I’ve been here four years now. It’s the longest I’ve ever been at one organization. I don’t think you heard me complain too much.”

Damian Lillard: “People who might not have believed before, people who thought I was crazy for thinking we could push that far, now I’m sure a lot of people believe it more than they did before. We were coming off a sweep in the first round (last season). It’s a great feeling just to know, OK, we had a 15-plus lead in three of the four games. We know that we were capable of winning those games. And if those things go our way, we’re looking at going to the Finals.”

Maurice Harkless: “Overall, we have a lot to be proud of this season. We would have liked a better outcome. But that’s a huge accomplishment by us as a team.”

Enes Kanter: “It’s been an amazing experience. This team made me a better person and a better player. It was the best thing that ever happened in my career.”

Rodney Hood: “I’m not sure (about his free-agency). Obviously, we know it’s a business. We’ll see how everything works out this summer. I’m on the record with how much I love it here and I want to be back. I want to be embraced. That’s a big word that means a lot to me. Whether that equals to a dollar amount,  that’s what I’m looking for.”

Zach Collins: “(On whether he’d like to be a starter next season) Yeah, absolutely. I think this playoff run, not only for myself but for the team, it was a great experience. And now we’ve been there and we know what to expect. For me personally, going through that and being able to play a big role and help our team win a lot of games the playoffs, I’ve already learned so much, just in the last month in the playoffs.”

Anfernee Simons: “(The last game of the regular season) obviously gave me a lot of confidence. It was a good kick-start for the summer. (And in the summer league) I want to prove myself. I am young but I’m still able to play with the best of them. I can’t wait.”

Neil Olshey: “(On Stotts’ contract extension) We win every year. It’s year No. 7 – six straight playoff appearances. Two division titles. A trip to the conference finals. And we still have one of the youngest rosters in the league. But it goes beyond wins and losses. It’s alignment, partnership, Our young players develop. It’s a commitment to a longer-term view. One of the things I’m most proud of is everyone who comes through here has gotten better.”

Terry Stotts: “(On where he ranks on the list of Trail Blazer coaches) Doctor Jack (Ramsay)  is a Hall of Famer and Rick Adelman will be. I’m not going to touch those guys. They are idols of mine. I don’t even presume to be in that category. There have been a lot of great coaches here.”

Despite adversity, Trail Blazers "stayed together" and steal Game 2

Despite adversity, Trail Blazers "stayed together" and steal Game 2

DENVER – Role players stepped up and it was a complete collective effort on Wednesday night as the Trail Blazers stole Game 2 on the road and defeated the Nuggets 97-90.

Neither teams superstars had great offensive nights. Damian Lillard was held to 14 points on 5-of-17 shooting, while Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic scored just 16 points after scoring half of his total points in the final quarter.

The Blazers held Jokic to 7-of-17 shooting, but he did have 14 rebounds and seven assists. It was clear Portland’s effort on slowing Jokic down was a focus on all five guys working together, which Al-Farouq Aminu mentioned after the win.

“To guard these guys you have to be locked in – one through five and it takes a lot out of you… We made them grind for all their points,” Aminu said.

Portland was able to come together as a unit on both ends of the court on Wednesday, especially after Maurice Harkless left the game with a right ankle injury that he suffered at the 5:42 mark of the second quarter and did not return to the game.

CJ McCollum lead the Blazers in scoring with 20 points after dropping eight points in the final period.

After the Blazers’ victory, Harkless said his team “gutted” out the win.

He also gave an update on his ankle, saying, “It’s alright, it swelled up a little bit. It’s kind of a bad roll, I think. I tried to walk it off, but the pain just wouldn’t stop. So, I went to the back, took a look at it, was little swollen, and we tried to give it some time and see if it felt better, but it was a little too painful to go back out there.”

Harkless’ status for Game 3 is unknown at this time.

“I’ve got to just take it day by day, just see how I respond tomorrow and then just go from there.”

Harkless also said he will most likely get x-rays on his ankle back in Portland on Thursday.

With Harkless out, and Lillard not producing as much scoring as the Blazers have become accustomed to, Rodney Hood stepped up once again to give some instant offense off the bench.

“We definitely had to gut this one out tonight, the guys did a great job. Rodney stepped up big. He was huge,” Harkless said.

Hood finished with 15 points in the win after pouring in 17 points in Game 1. Hood also commended his team for continuing to play together even when things weren’t going the Blazers way.

“Everybody stepped up. When they went on a run, we stayed together, when we couldn’t get an offensive rebound, we stayed together… It was a team effort, we’re going to continue to have to lean on each other,” Hood said.  

The Nuggets finished the game with 23 offensive boards.

The Blazers’ captain might have said it best when he said it was “a tough group effort.” Lillard praised his team, especially for sticking with it down the stretch when the Nuggets were coming up with offensive rebounds after offensive rebound.

“I thought we wore them down in the first half even though we weren’t shooting the ball particularly well, and then in the second half it was just a grind it out kind of game. In those games you just have to have to be the tougher team. You have to want it more and then you have to have a few plays go your way… In this type of game, I think that’s what you need – a tough group effort. I thought CJ, Chief, and Enes [Kanter] did that at the end of the game,” Lillard said.

Luckily for the Blazers, Denver was not able to convert on the second chance opportunities.

Lillard also gave credit to Zach Collins for his defense on Jokic and his 5-for-6 shooting for 10 points off the bench, saying Zach “had a huge game tonight. Had a huge impact on the game.”

Even Jokic knew that Game 2’s win for the Blazers was a collaborative effort.

“I think it’s not just how they play me,” Jokic said. “They were aggressive as a team, as a group. They were coming on my post-ups.”

Now it’s time for the Blazers to head back to Portland and keep that team effort mindset on both ends in order to protect homecourt.

“We did what we came here to do -- we wanted to get one, we got one,” Harkless said. “Now, we’ve just got to take care of homecourt. Like I said, take it day by day, game by game, and just stay focused.”

Trail Blazers need to play better defense... Or maybe better offense

Trail Blazers need to play better defense... Or maybe better offense

DENVER – The Trail Blazers are pretty clear on what they must do better Tuesday night to give themselves a good chance of defeating the Denver Nuggets and squaring their first-round series at a game apiece.


“Defensively, there are a lot of areas we can clean up,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said Tuesday.

And would he consider changing matchup assignments for Game 2?
“That’s always a consideration,” he said.

Stotts was asked about his fourth-quarter change in Monday’s game, putting Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless, who are interchangeable and able to switch freely in Portland’s defensive sets, on Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray – as a remedy for problems those two gave the Blazers on the pick and roll.

“We changed the matchups in the fourth quarter and it’s a difficult matchup when we switch Moe onto Jokic and try to guard him at the free-throw line,” Stotts said. “We tried different things. I’m glad we had a chance to look at it. If we want to go to it we know what we have to look forward to.”

There are problems with those assignments. Aminu used to be able to defend Jokic during the latter’s early years in the league but now the Denver big man is probably too smart and too strong not to make the smaller Aminu pay at the post.

Harkless fouled out trying to guard Jokic Monday and may not be quick enough to defend Murray.

And it would also mean that Enes Kanter would probably need to defend 6-8 Paul Millsap, which would be tough for the Portland center.

The point is, the Trail Blazers have their hands full guarding Denver, which is solid on the perimeter and, with Jokic, terrific inside.

“It’s a long series and both teams think they can play better.” Stotts said. “That’s part of NBA series.”

The Blazers are feeling good about their offense, after shooting 51.9 percent overall and 37.9 percent from three. Their concern is the 18 turnovers (for 23 points), which they think they can cut down.

“I said after the game, we had a good offensive game outside of the turnovers,” Stotts said. “So my concern, as a unit, is that we have a good offensive game – however it comes about.

“I don’t think we struggled much last night outside of the turnovers.”

That’s all well and good if Portland can defend well enough to bring the Nuggets’ three-point percentage down a little more from the 41.4 percent it was Monday.

About 90 percent of the NBA playoff games this season are being decided by three-point shooting and in most games you usually need to hit more threes than your opponent or shoot them at a better percentage.

And that’s likely where the challenge of this series really sits – which team can do the best from the three-point line?

And the eternal question about that is how much of that will have to do with your offense and their defense, or their offense and your defense?

And the best answer is the one Stotts always gives to those sorts of queries: “It’s usually a little bit of both.”

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

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

OKALHOMA CITY – “Ohhh Chief, I love the way you played tonight, boy!!”

That comment was heard from across the Trail Blazers locker room as Maurice Harkless was singing, or rather yelling, Al-Farouq Aminu’s praises following the Blazers 111-98 victory over the Thunder in Game 4 of the best-of-seven-series.

Harkless was the first Blazer player to talk in the locker room and thus he was the first to give Aminu a shout-out. 

“Chief was great. He was knocking shots down; he was rebounding, getting some blocks… Those things are huge, they add up and they led us to making runs, that’s how you get out to a big lead,” Harkless said.

One of the big Trail Blazers’ adjustments in Game 4 was to find the open player who was spotting up on the opposite side of the pick-and-roll action with Damian Lillard and Enes Kanter.

Aminu was that player.

And, he was ready for it.

“I don’t know how many threes [Aminu] made, but, it felt like he made every time he shot it. I mean, he was great and Dame and CJ [McCollum] did a really good job of finding Enes and Enes did a really good job making good decisions,” Harkless said.

There’s no doubt Aminu was in zone. He hit his first three three-pointers and ended the game going 4-for-9 from deep. The Blazers starting power forward finished with 19 points and nine rebounds.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was not surprised one bit by Aminu’s stellar performance.

“He does it every night,” Stotts said. “Sometimes he scores, sometimes he doesn’t, but he gives a great effort every night. We ask him to do a lot of things on the defensive end, to rebound. He’s probably a better shooter than people give him credit for, and he’s been an important part of our team since he’s been here.”  

For Chief, it’s about putting personal stuff on hold and only focusing on his team.

“This part of the year everybody is so locked in on winning. Not to say that you’re not locked in during the season, but the stakes are higher. You kind of put yourself to the side a little more and you put it into the team,” Aminu said.  

“I think we trust each other. We’ve got to continue to trust each other,” Harkless added.

Throughout his career in Portland, Aminu has been the go-to defensive stopper for the Blazers and that has continued in this series with the Thunder.

Aminu made Paul George’s life difficult once again, along with the other Thunder forwards, in Game 4, but he was quick to give his teammates credit for how well they’ve been playing on that end of the floor.

“I thought we did a great job [on defense]. We helped each other. I thought Enes at the rim was big. He had a lot of verticals, as well as Zach. Zach was just flying around out there. He was giving us energy… The guards were getting into guys… I think we’ve been great defensively throughout the series,” Aminu said.

Aminu finished with the second best plus/minus on the team with a +19 behind CJ McCollum’s +25. Aminu was happy to help his team put up points. 

“I’m just glad I was able to alleviate some of the pressure… Those are the shots that we are going to have to hit,” Aminu said.

“It’s important,” for Aminu to make sure he is involved in some kind of shooting competition whether it’s during his pregame routine or after Trail Blazers practice.

“I don’t really like to just come in and just shoot jumpers, just to be shooting and I feel like it doesn’t add that element that you feel when you’re in the game whereas, you know, you’re nervous a little bit, you don’t want to lose to the other guys. It adds that competitiveness and I think it helps me,” Aminu said with a smile.    

The Trail Blazer now take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series against the Thunder. Portland also snapped its eight consecutive postseason road lossing streak with Sunday’s win.

With all the Thunder antics and trash talking, it was clear the Blazers were happy to not only get Game 4 on the road, but to not listen to OKC chirping in the second half on Sunday night.

“Tonight was just a good day for us to shut them up,” Harkless said. “We’re focused… We’re heading home, can’t wait to get home to our crowd and we’re excited about Tuesday. We’re going to play hard and play even better than we did tonight.”

You heard Harkless, Moda Center crowd, the Blazers are coming for you and they are eager to closeout the first round series at home.

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Trail Blazer entered Sunday night looking to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series against the Thunder.

Portland was also trying to snap its eight consecutive postseason road game losses dating back to 2016.

Game 3’s 228-point cumulative score marked the highest of the series. Early on it looked as though both teams were ready to break that highest scoring mark in Game 4.

At the end of the first quarter Sunday, The Blazers and Thunder were both shooting over 40% as a team. Portland jumped out to a 26-24 lead.

Despite a rough shooting in the first half for Damian Lillard, and only scoring seven in the first half, he shot lights out in the second half. Lillard scored 15 points in the third and finished with 24 points to help the Blazers hold off the Thunder for a 111-98 win.

The Blazers and Thunder are both looking to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 111, Thunder 98

Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers Game 4 victory:

1. The offensive fouls continued…

Whether it was a charge call, a moving screen, a player extending out his elbow or pretty much any other offensive foul you can think of, it happened in the first half of Game 4. 

Plenty of offensive fouls were being charged to the Thunder and that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

At the 9:31 mark in the first quarter, Billy Donovan got hit with a technical foul for arguing with the referees.

The biggest offensive foul call came fairly early in the second quarter after Paul George picked up his third in nearly 14 minutes in transition while running into Seth Curry.

A big storyline of this series had already been offensive fouls and thus that continues.

The foul trouble for PG13 did not continue in the second half, but George did have a sloppy game with more turnovers than normal.

2. Blazers picking up the pace

Throughout the game, the Blazers looked to get out up the court a little quicker in order to not let the Thunder’s defense get completely set.

Entering Sunday’s slate of games, the Blazers-Thunder series ranked fifth out of the eight first-round matchups with an average pace of 101.9 possessions per game for either team.

3. Role players stepping up for Portland

Throughout his career in Portland, Al-Farouq Aminu has been the go-to defensive stopper for the Blazers. On Sunday night, he became the go-to three-point shooter on the weak side.

Aminu still made Paul George’s life hard along with the other Thunder forwards, but he was also a major key in the Blazers adjusting to how OKC was defending the pick-and-roll.

The Blazers starting power forward was wide-open on the weak side when the Blazers’ guards ran the pick-and-roll. Portland was able to swing the ball to him quickly or drive and kick out to him, and Aminu was in zone. He hit his first three three-pointers and ended the game going 4-for-9 from deep.

Maurice Harkless’ active hands and energy on the defensive end could not go unnoticed. The Blazers two starting forwards came up big in the Blazers big Game 4.

NEXT UP: The Trail Blazers and Thunder will tip-off Game 5 in Portland on Tuesday night at 7:30pm. You can catch the game on NBC Sports Northwest. Our pregame coverage starts at 6:30pm.

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.

Homecourt matters as Oklahoma City Thunder bounces back to beat Trail Blazers

Homecourt matters as Oklahoma City Thunder bounces back to beat Trail Blazers

OKLAHOMA CITY – You change the venue and often, you get a different result.

The Oklahoma City Thunder shot a miserable 16.4 percent from three-point range during the first two games in Moda Center, as the Trail Blazers took a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

But Friday night in OKC, the tide turned in a big way as the home team posted a 120-108 win. The Thunder knocked down 15 of its 29 shots from long range (51.7 percent).

And oh, by the way, in the two games at Portland, Oklahoma City managed to get to the foul line just three more times than the Trail Blazers. But in Friday’s game, OKC trooped to the free-throw line 15 more times than Portland.

And if you’ve been in the NBA very long, you certainly have grown to expect such things. Home teams get more of those 50-50 calls. Stuff happens.

“I’m not commenting on that,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said when asked a question about how his players handled the officiating – which isn’t exactly like asking him what he thought of the officiating.

But, you know. Fines and stuff. And it did seem the Blazers got very frustrated with the officiating during the fourth quarter.

“We knew it was going to be a physical game because so far this entire series has been really physical,” Damian Lillard said. “But you don’t get the benefit of the doubt on the road. I think on both sides, both teams played really physical and they lived at the free-throw line and we didn’t.”

There were plenty of other factors you could point to as reasons the Trail Blazers lost:

  • They led by a point after the first quarter but suffered through a horrible second quarter. In the second period, Portland made only 6 of 16 shots and had a whopping 10 turnovers.
  • They fell behind by 16 in the third quarter and had to burn a lot of energy to crawl back into the game, which they did when they tied it with 10:41 left in the game.
  • They had 18 turnovers for the night, which the Thunder turned into 18 points.
  • After blocking 15 shots in the first two games, they had only one Friday night.
  • While Lillard played Superman with 25 points in the third quarter and 32 in the game, he couldn’t find much help. Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu – Portland’s starting forwards – each made only three of their nine shots from the field and totaled three of their nine from three-point distance – on a night when they were left open once in a while by a defense that was all over Lillard and CJ McCollum.
  • Portland had the misfortune of catching Russell Westbrook on a night when he made four of his six three-pointers. He made just 29 percent of his three-point shots during the regular season.

It was once again a chippy game, with words being exchanged between players many times. Lillard and Westbrook continued to go at it and that got heated in the fourth quarter when both were barking at each other while Westbrook was handling the ball.

And Paul George, who should know better, dunked a ball as time expired (after the final horn, as it turned out) and some Portland players took exception to that. It's considered bad form when a team has a safe lead.

And this was once again a game that turned on three-point shooting. The team that has shot the best from three – and made the most three-pointers – has won each game.

“You can play really, really poorly but if you really make a lot of threes, regardless of this series or any series, I think you can always keep yourself in a game,” OKC Coach Billy Donovan said.

And for Portland, eight of its 12 threes came from two players, Lillard and McCollum. Aminu added three more and the Blazers got just one, by Rodney Hood, from their bench.

The series continues at the same site Sunday night.