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.

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.

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2

The Trail Blazers and Thunder have shown time and time again that these two teams do not like each other. The playoffs have heightened that dislike.

Whether it was Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook getting into a friendly shoving match after Westerbrook fell to the floor late in the second quarter or big men Zach Collins and Markieff Morris being hit with offsetting technicals, there’s no doubt the physical play is here to stay.

Game 2 was as much of a battle as Game 1 and it was an exciting one at that. OKC led for a majority of the first half, but after Lillard scored 12 points in the second quarter and McCollum hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to end the first half, the Blazers and Thunder were all tied at 54.

Portland’s third quarter defense was the turning point in the game. The Blazers held the Thunder to just 21 points in the quarter and they never looked back. Portland takes Game 2, 114-94.

The Trail Blazers now go up a 2-0 as the best of seven-series shifts to Oklahoma City.

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 114, Thunder 94

Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers Game 2 victory:

1. A healthy dose of Adams to start

The Thunder started the game by getting Steven Adams involved. Adams got a lot of touches and went right at Enes Kanter. The Blazers starting center picked up two quick fouls midway through the first quarter.

In his first nine minutes of play, Adams went 3-of-4 from the field to score six points. Kanter's early foul trouble seemed to affect his offensive game. Kanter was not much of a factor in the Blazers scoring in Game 2.  

2. Schroder stuck on Lillard

Backup point guard Dennis Schroder’s assignment for Game 2 was simple:

Make it as tough as humanly possible for Lillard to even sniff the ball.

Schroder was stuck on Lillard like glue. He had a hand or arm on Lillard at all times. The Blazers starting point guard had a hard time getting shots up early on with the pesky Schorder guarding him. Lillard went 2-of-5 and 0-of-2 from three in his first 12 minutes of action.

However, when Lillard returned to the game in the second quarter, it was apparent he was determined to get off shots no matter how difficult they were. Lillard brought the house down with two very contested threes in the second quarter.

With so much focus on Lillard that made way for CJ McCollum.

McCollum was up for the challenge. He carried the scoring load for much of the game. At the end of the third, he had 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting.  

3. Fouls a plenty

Just like the media and fans, the referees also know the bad blood between these two teams.

In a span of about 15 seconds in the first quarter three fouls were called. Whether it was a charge call, a moving screen, or a blocking call, the whistles were being blown.

At the 2:54 mark of the second quarter, Al-Farouq Aminu picked up his third foul.  At halftime, the Blazers had committed 15 personal fouls. The Thunder had 14 fouls at the break.  Aminu and Kanter both had three fouls by halftime.

Despite foul trouble, the Blazers turned it up on the defensive end in the third quarter. Portland clamped down on defense to start the second half and that was what turned the game around for the Blazers.

Kanter picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, which gave an opportunity to Meyers Leonard. Leonard rose to the occasion, guarding Adams and even slowing doing guards when needed. Leonard finished the game with the best plus/minus of any bench player for the Blazers.  

NEXT UP: The Trail Blazers and Thunder will tip-off Game 3 on Friday night at 6:30pm pacific time. You can catch the game on NBC Sports Northwest and on the MyTeams App. Our pregame coverage starts at 5:30pm.

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.

With trash talk and shot making, CJ McCollum sets the tone for a hard fought series

With trash talk and shot making, CJ McCollum sets the tone for a hard fought series

The full arsenal was on display early.

The shifty crossover into a soft floater, the hesitation into a pull three-pointer, and the smack talk.

Before Enes Kanter saved the game on the offensive glass, and before Damian Lillard rained down crucial three-pointers in the closing minutes, the Trail Blazers kept the Oklahoma City Thunder at arm’s length thanks to CJ McCollum.

And while his steady shot making carried the Blazers early, he made sure to get in some verbal jabs, too.

Early in the second quarter, Terrance Ferguson got into McCollum’s face at the free throw line and the two exchanged mini-shoves and nearly face-to-face words. But even after double technicals were issued, McCollum had more to say.

Thunder guard Dennis Schroder absorbed the brunt of the verbal onslaught. First, when McCollum beat him into the lane for a floater and then on the next possession when McCollum aced a step-back three-pointer.

A minute later, when McCollum got inside for a layup he was still giving any Thunder player that would listen a running commentary as he ran down the floor.

“Whatever it takes to get our team going,” said McCollum, who scored 20 of his 24 points in the first three quarters.

“It’s the playoffs, four games away from elimination. So for me, like I said before, we’re wearing white jerseys. I’m with the white team. That’s just how I am. I’m with the white team. So I ain’t got nothing to do with the other team. If you look at me crazy. If you say something to me, I’m going to say something back. But it’s all basketball, it’s all fun. I think that was just competed. It was clean basketball, we competed, we had fun.”

Few have had a closer look at McCollum the trash talker than his older brother, Errick, who says his younger brother has learned to pick his spots when to run his mouth and when to let his game do the talking.

“He doesn’t really talk a lot,” Errick says. “He’s more settled and reserved when he plays. But if you say one thing to him, challenge him or say anything slick to him he’s ready. Locked and loaded and won’t hold back. He feeds off that, it usually helps him take his game to another level.”

When he was younger, CJ didn’t always have the same tact, particularly as 5-foot-2 high school freshman playing on the varsity team. Back then, the younger McCollum ‘talked the most’ and wasn’t afraid to make big claims.

“Everyone always doubted him because he was so small and they would say the only reason he is on varsity or gets attention is because he was my younger brother,” Errick said. “And his response was always the same: ‘‘I’ll be a Division I player and I’ll play the the NBA. And one day you’re going to be begging the guy who you said ‘is not good enough and too small’ for a ticket to watch me play.”’

There were shades of the scrawny GlenOak High School freshman on the court Sunday afternoon. Not in stature, but certainly in demeanor. The ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’ attitude that McCollum trotted out to the podium was readily apparent during his talkative second quarter performance.

It was an early sample of the heated exchanges most expected from this first round series. McCollum was just the unlikely poster child for that attitude in Game 1. There likely will be more bad blood and more high-tension jawing as the series continues.

Sunday’s game wasn’t decided by trash talking, or a second quarter scoring burst. But McCollum’s demeanor is representative of the Blazers’ larger attitude. After getting ushered out of the playoffs quickly in the past two postseasons, Portland isn’t going to go lightly. And like McCollum, they’ll pick their moments to let their opponent know about it.

The Blazers snapped their 10-game playoff losing streak on Sunday. There was perhaps some reason to crow postgame about a cathartic victory, but by the time McCollum made his way to the podium he might have already used up his most vicious barbs.

“It’s good to get a win at home. Our goal isn’t to win one game but we want to take advantage of this home-court advantage,” he said. “I think we played well, a lot of things that we can improve upon. I think last year was a good experience for us, we learned a lot of things from it. Now we know what it takes to win here at home and we’re up for the challenge.”

3-point shooting -- for and against -- helps Trail Blazers snap playoff streak

3-point shooting -- for and against -- helps Trail Blazers snap playoff streak

The Portland Trail Blazers got that 10-game playoff losing streak off their back Sunday afternoon. Now perhaps the narrative might shift to oh, maybe the Oklahoma City Thunder not being able to win a playoff series since Kevin Durant blew town.

Just a thought, because this best-of-seven series has a long way to go.

The Trail Blazers busted out to a 19-point first-half lead and then held on through a tense fourth quarter on the way to a 104-99 Game 1 win over the Thunder.

The storyline throughout most of the afternoon was OKC’s inability to make three-point shots. It made only two of its first 22 three-point attempts and finished 5-33 from three-point range. Paul George had a very tough time behind the arc, hitting just four of his 15 attempts.

“Well, he didn’t shoot the ball well from three and that’s been a big difference in our regular-season games,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. “To be honest, I think we gave him too many open three looks and that’s going to be a concern going into Game 2. But he’s a great player and he’s going to get his shot attempts.

“I thought we did a nice job of changing different guys on him, whether it’s Chief, Rodney, Moe or Evan… My biggest concern with him is that he had too many threes.

“We can’t allow him to get away from us as much as we did.”

George seemed to agree.

“Yeah, I thought we got great looks,” he said. “Great looks all night. For me, it’s just rhythm. Four days ago I couldn’t even lift my shoulder … and today was the first day I shot the ball, so with me, it’s just rhythm. Tomorrow I’ll get some shots up and get back in tune and try to get the same looks that we got tonight.”

Meanwhile, Portland struggled with holding onto the ball and keeping Oklahoma City off the offensive boards. The Thunder stayed close due to 18 offensive rebounds and turned them into 21 second-chance points. And Portland had 18 turnovers, too.

But shooting 44 percent from three-point range (11-25) does wonders to erase mistakes. And that fast start that resulted in a big lead helped, too.

“We came into this series knowing that we’ve got to be the team that delivers the first blow,” Damian Lillard said. “We’ve got to come out aggressive and make a stand. Regardless if it’s a win or a loss, we made it a point to come out here and be aggressive and just have that attitude of, ‘We’re going to be here all night.’ We did that and we got the first one.”

Lillard made nine of his 21 shots overall and five of his 11 threes to lead his team with 30 points. And he had plenty of help.

CJ McCollum scored 24 and Enes Kanter scored 20 to go with 18 rebounds, seven on the offensive end – including two big ones inside the final minute.

“We needed every rebound, we needed every point and I think that he knew that, regardless of playing against his former team,” McCollum said of Kanter.

The Blazers had trouble with the Thunder in transition – but every team does. Russell Westbrook had his usual triple-double, with 24-10-10 but didn’t annihilate the Trail Blazers. He missed all four of his three-point attempts and was 8-17 from the field with four turnovers.

And he’s as pesky in the interview room as he is on the court – muttering “Next question” twice after queries from a veteran Oklahoma City columnist he doesn’t seem to like.

But the real “next question” comes Tuesday night in Moda Center. Will Paul George continue to struggle from three-point range? Will the Trail Blazers be able to continue their solid three-point shooting? Can OKC defend the Trail Blazers as well as it did over the final three quarters Sunday?

And, of course, can Portland go up 2-0 in the series?

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1

The Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder squared off in the first round of the 2019 NBA playoffs in Game 1 on Sunday.

The NW division foes are both looking to advance to the second round for the first time since 2016.

Thunder All-Star Paul George has been dealing with soreness in his right shoulder since February 26th, and was listed as questionable, but since it’s the playoffs George played his normal minutes in Game 1 but did not have a good shooting night. 

As most people expected, the game got a bit chippy at times with hard screens and some “friendly” shoving. Portland jumped out to 39-25 lead at the end of the first quarter behind the Moda Center crowd.

Portland tightened up its defense in the second half. It was a block party for Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu. Evan Turner turned it up too, coming up with crucial steals.

In the finals minutes, the Trail Blazers closed out the game by hitting clutch free throws, getting stops, and Enes Kanter gobbling up offensive boards, as Portland beats OKC 104-99.

The Blazers now take the 1-0 advantage in the best of seven-series.

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 104, Thunder 99

Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers Game 1 victory:

1. Ball movement opening up the perimeter for Lillard and McCollum

The Blazers started the game playing a little inside, outside game. Plus, Portland made sure to zip the ball around the three-point line to find the open man. CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard both got clean looks early. The Blazers backcourt duo took advantage of it too, both starting the game off going 2-for-2 from three.

Portland as a team went 7-of-10 from three-point range in the first quarter. Shooting well from deep was an emphasis for the Blazers heading into the series after having so much trouble from long distance against the Thunder in the regular season.

Lillard and McCollum were not messing around. When they got open looks, they took them. It is apparent these two learned a lot from their last first round series against the Pelicans.

Seth Curry carried the three-point load early in the second quarter. For the first half, three-point shooting was the difference in the game. Portland led 54-48 at the break after hitting 9-of-17 from three to the Thunder’s 2-of-18 from deep.

2. Playoff intensity crowd – plenty of cheers and boos

The Trail Blazers came out of the gate with the intensity you expect in the postseason. Blazers fans did the same.

Here’s a short list that got the Moda Center crowd really going on Sunday:

-The Blazers hitting from deep

-Hard screens set by Meyers Leonard

-CJ McCollum and Terrance Ferguson getting into at the free throw line, which resulted in offsetting technicals

-Lillard at the free throw line (MVP chants a plenty)

-Whenever Raymond Felton checked into the game or caught the ball (So. Many. Boos.)

-Thunder calling a timeout after Blazers extending the led back up 10 with 2:41 remaining in the third

-OKC getting called for the offensive fouls

-When Westbrook air balled it from the corner… Or really when he did anything you could expect boos

-#LillardTime three-pointer with less than three minutes left in the game

3. OKC shot selection

In the first half, it looked as though OKC was settling for tough shots or just not hitting wide-open ones. The second half didn’t go much better for the Thunder.

OKC could not buy a basket, especially from three. After three quarters, the Thunder were 3-for-24 from three. The bad news for the Blazers – Oklahoma City was awful from three and yet the Thunder were still able to keep the game close. A big reason for the Thunder sticking around was the fact that OKC was able to snag offensive rebounds. 

You have to imagine OKC and Paul George particularly will not shoot this bad in any other game the rest of this series.

NEXT UP: The Trail Blazers and Thunder will tip-off Game 2 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.

The key: Will Thunder continue to outshoot the Blazers from three?

The key: Will Thunder continue to outshoot the Blazers from three?

When Oklahoma City takes the floor Sunday afternoon against the Trail Blazers in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, the Thunder will undoubtedly take some confidence with them for having swept Portland 4-0 during their season series.

But I’m never certain that what happens in the regular season carries over into the playoffs. And this season series was marked by something uncharacteristic that may not be repeated in a playoff series.

The biggest reason the Thunder held a 4-0 edge on the Blazers was three-point shooting, OKC did it well and Portland did not.

And by a wide margin. Which I’m not sure will continue to happen.

Oklahoma City made 39.3 percent of its threes against the Trail Blazers. For the season on the whole, the Thunder made just 34.8 percent from three-point range.

In the four games vs. OKC, the Trail Blazers managed an anemic 28.5 percent from three – and this was a team that shot .359 for the season from that distance.

Looking at it another way, the Thunder took 27 fewer three-point shots over the four games between the teams but made four more.

And if you want to talk individually, the first thing you need to know is that vs. the Thunder, Damian Lillard made only 25 percent of his threes and OKC’s Russell Westbrook hit 35 percent of his. For the record, Westbrook managed to make just 29 percent of his three-point attempts against the league this season. And he’s a career 30.4 percent shooter from distance, while Lillard was a 36.9 percent shooter from three this season.

There were mitigating circumstances in those four games, of course. There always is during a long season.

“They’ve shot the ball very well against us from three and we haven’t,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said Saturday. “That’s been the deciding factor in most of the games.”

Is that something OKC did on defense or was Portland  just missing good shots?

“In general, it’s a little bit of both,” Stotts said. “You’ve got to credit their defense but I think we had a lot of makeable shots… that’s part of basketball.

“As I mentioned yesterday, I don’t know if fatigue was a factor but two of the games were second of a back-to-back and that could have been a factor, and another was after a seven-game road trip.

“That could have been a factor. I’m not blaming that. But it could have been a factor.”

Seth Curry, the Blazers’ most accurate long-range shooter (45 percent in the regular season), went only 2-11 in the four games vs Oklahoma City.

“A couple of games were tough schedule-wise,” Curry said. “I think we’ve created good shots against them every time we’ve played them, pretty much. We’ll be able to knock them down.

“They’re a good defensive team but with Dame and CJ and myself coming off ball screens, we’ll be able to create good shots. As long as we create good shots, we’ll live with the results.

“You’re not going to shoot a good percentage if you’re taking bad shots. If you’re taking good shots, you might miss a few in a row but eventually it will even out. You’ll be back to your average.”

Curry also made a good point. These games were not played in a series – they were spread from January through March.

“It was four games throughout the year,” he said. “It’s not in a vacuum. You play a lot of games in between. It wasn’t four games in a row against one team.

“Create good shots, have strong legs and a strong base to shoot the ball.  Regular season numbers don’t tell the story.

“We’re a different team than when we played them. Our rotation is different. This is a much different team they’re playing.”

For sure, including Curry’s minutes, which have increased as the season has moved along.

Lillard, as is his habit, has taken a close look at the games -- and came away shaking his head.

“I was looking at it on film,” he said. “I forgot, we got some great looks – we just didn’t make shots. That’s been our focus,  shooting the ball with confidence.

“This is it. I don’t know what else to say. This is it. Looking at our four games against them, we got great looks. Our offense on the weak side was there, we were finding shooters but we didn’t make shots. Hopefully that turns in our favor.”

And when you look back at what happened during the season, you’d have to conclude that the Thunder will win this playoff series if it continues to dominate Portland from the three-point line.

But percentages do take over as the sample size increases. And that’s why I expect the Trail Blazers to win the series.

Playoff Mode Harkless: Athletic, Healthy and Confident

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Playoff Mode Harkless: Athletic, Healthy and Confident

LOS ANGELES – The Trail Blazers bench unloaded in an uproar of cheers and excitement after Blazers starting small forward Maurice Harkless swished home a game-winning three-pointer to beat the Lakers, 104-101 on Tuesday night.

Harkless finished with a season-high 26 points and the Blazers finished with the feeling of securing homecourt in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts has said the goal this week was to make sure his team locked down the fourth seed and the last possession at Staples Center on Tuesday did just that (and there's still a chance at the three seed).

“Moe Harkless had a tremendous game, made big plays at the offensive end, arguably one of his best games of the season, really active, worked the baseline well… Seth Curry’s steal at the end put ourselves in a position to win the game,” Stotts said.

It was all smiles in the Blazers locker room postgame.

“Obviously it’s a great feeling in the locker room right now after that and to get homecourt, to confirm it,” Harkless said.

Harkless scored the Blazers final 12 points of the game including not only knocking down the game winning three, but also hitting clutch free throws down the stretch.

“He put himself in good positions. I think his teammates did a good job of finding him,” Stotts said.   

The Blazers were tied at 101 with 18.2 seconds remaining when Seth Curry stole the ball from Alex Caruso.

“We knew we had to get a stop right there. Caruso had it going a little bit, so I just had to sit down and guard him. I knew he was going right a lot throughout the night, just playing a game within the game,” Curry said.

The Blazers then called for a full timeout.

Lillard explained how he surveyed what the defense was giving him when they came back out on the court after the timeout.

“Pretty much this whole season, end of quarters, end of games, whenever it’s a chance for us to go hit a last shot, teams don’t let me go no more, they just run two guys at the ball… My first look, I was looking at CJ… I hit CJ and Moe just popped out to the corner,” Lillard said.

“We thought Dame was gonna get the shot, they sent the double, he was able to find CJ, my guy rotated, CJ dropped it off to me in the corner, I knew I had to shoot it. I just shot the ball with confidence,” Harkless added.

Rising up with confidence was what it took to beat the scrappy young Lakers squad.

McCollum, who said his knee felt good after his second game back, thought that Harkless was the key to a victory on Tuesday.

“He hit a big shot for us, he sealed the game for us. He made a lot of great plays that made the difference,” McCollum said.

“He’s getting in playoff mode and it just shows the work he’s put in over the course of his career, being able to hit jumpers, score in the paint, make free throws, defend, block some shots, he did a little bit of everything tonight and that was all the difference,” McCollum added. 

Lillard feels that coming up big this season is nothing new for Harkless.

“He’s had a lot of moments were he came up big for us and usually it was in the form of a block or a big rebound, or a big offensive rebound and then he dunks -- it’s always like that,” Lillard said.

What’s the difference in Harkless’ play on Tuesday?

“I was just taking my time, locking in for every possession, every shot, it’s winning time, man,” Harkless said.

But the real biggest difference might just be that he is now completely healthy.

“I’m feeling really good. I’m able to move well and not really feel restricted or anything,” Harkles said.

“I’m feeling athletic again,” Harkless said with a big smile.

A healthy Moe heading into the postseason is just what the Blazers need and it’s just what is making Harkless happy right now.

“It’s been a long process, so I’m happy to be playing, and that I’m feeling well at this point in the season,” Harkless said.

So now the big question is -- do the Blazers rest their key players or chase a higher seed on Wednesday night vs. the Kings?

So do the Trail Blazers now rest their key players or chase a higher seed?

So do the Trail Blazers now rest their key players or chase a higher seed?

So now what?

With the homecourt advantage and the No. 4 seed in the West wrapped up Tuesday night in Los Angeles, do the Trail Blazers rest their regulars Wednesday night in Moda Center vs. the Sacramento Kings, or do they chase the No. 3 seed?

The best chance of getting the higher seed would probably require playing the starters, rather than giving them an obligatory game off at the end of the season. For a few of the Trail Blazers, I’d advocate a night off.

But the No. 3 seed could possibly mean a first-round matchup vs. San Antonio, depending on results of other games Wednesday night. Certainly the Spurs would appear to be a more advantageous opponent for Portland than Utah, which would be the opposition if the Blazers settle for the fourth seed. But there are no guarantees which team would be there.

And of course it’s always possible Coach Terry Stotts could put together a lineup Wednesday night without some of his key players that would still beat the Kings.

Stotts would not tip his hand Tuesday night about his plans.

“I’m not talking about that tonight,” he said.

It’s almost become customary in the NBA these days to sit premier players in these sorts of situations. In fact, some players see it as something of a status symbol. But most of them would never publicly ask for the rest game.

Who would I rest?

I’d start with Damian Lillard, who has looked tired since the recent four-game trip that concluded with the game at Minnesota, and CJ McCollum, who probably shouldn’t be playing back-to-back games coming off his knee injury. Seth Curry has become an important scorer and has had some aches and pains lately – I think I’d rest him, too.

And honestly, any other player who wants a day off, I’d be easy to convince. You can talk about homecourt and seeding all you want, but the health of your players always has to come first. And taking a tired team into the playoffs is a recipe for disaster, homecourt or not.

I’d want them rested and ready. As you might expect, the players had no interest in taking a side Tuesday.

“Our focus has been to get homecourt,” Lillard said. “And tonight we did that. We’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.”

The Blazer win over the Lakers was accomplished thanks to Maurice Harkless’s three-point shot at the buzzer. It was the only three-pointer Portland’s starting forwards hit in seven attempts.

Harkless was asked about the possible courses of action Wednesday night.

“We’ve all thought about it. But we’re not fixated on it. We’ll see what happens tomorrow,” Harkless said. “Coach has a couple of decisions to make and so we’ll just do whatever he feels comfortable doing.”