Just "go hoop" -- Trail Blazers not concerned with Oklahoma City's crowd

Just "go hoop" -- Trail Blazers not concerned with Oklahoma City's crowd

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma City Thunder will be trying to even up their Western Conference First Round matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers Sunday. Portland won both games at home before the Thunder took Game 3 on their home floor.

There’s no doubt that home court can and has played a major factor in NBA playoff games.  

Game 3 Friday night, the Oklahoma City fans were on their feet and going crazy whether it was a made corner three from Terrance Ferguson or a Russell Westbrook block on Damian Lillard.

Portland was able to quiet the crowd by hitting timely threes of their own. CJ McCollum and Lillard both hushed fans with big threes or big time drives to the basket.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts compared hitting a big shot on the road vs. at home.

“Anytime you’re on the road when you can quiet the crowd, I mean, as a player that’s always a good moment, in some ways it’s as good of moment as getting your crowd at home fired up with a shot,” Stotts said.

“Quieting a crowd [when a team] is making a run, that’s a great part of our game,” Stotts added. 

Chesapeake Arena seats just over 18,000 fans and with their team being down 2-0 in the series on Friday night, the crowd was eager to support and help their team with their loud cheering and clapping of “Thunder sticks.”

After playing for the Thunder for two years, Trail Blazers starting center Enes Kanter knows how disruptive the OKC crowd can be, saying,  “that’s why they call it the Loud City.”

But, the Blazers are focused solely on themselves when they’re away from home.

“I just go hoop. I don’t really worry about the fans. I don’t worry about where we’re at… I just go play basketball,” McCollum said.

“It’s always been the same for me, home or away. I approach it the same way,” McColum continued.

For media people watching the game in media row, being surrounded by fans, it can sound a lot louder than what the players are hearing on the court.

“A lot of times, you know, you sit in the stands you can hear how loud it is,” McCollum said. “For us, it’s generally not noticeable until you try to talk, so just the communication has to be better because it’s louder.”

Oklahoma City is a 6-point favorite heading into Sunday’s Game 4 with home court advantage, but Lillard believes there is a way to limit the advantage of loud, rowdy fans.

“You just gotta focus on the game, Lillard said. “I think we did a pretty good job of just focusing on the game and we were down 10 at half [in Game 3], we came out, we just kept playing, we didn’t panic, you know, buy into the crowd, and what they were saying, how loud they were, we just kept playing and I think that gave us a chance.”

“If we do us, those types of things will happen – not allow the crowd to get into it so much, I guess you can limit what the home court advantage is,” Lillard said.

The Trail Blazers don't NEED to win a game in OKC to take this series, but it sure would be nice if they could quiet the crowd and steal Game 4. 

OKC would be a lot less "talkative" if the Blazers take Game 4

OKC would be a lot less "talkative" if the Blazers take Game 4

OKLAHOMA CITY – Let’s start today’s little off-day story by making it clear that the Trail Blazers can win their first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City without ever having to win a game on the road. Everybody knows that.

Portland has homecourt advantage. Just keep winning in Moda Center and when Game 7 is over, the Trail Blazers will be headed for the second round of the playoffs.

But that’s a dangerous game to play. Usually, one team wins a game on the other team’s court and you don’t want to be the team that loses at home – particularly late in the series when it’s hard to wrestle back that homecourt edge.

That’s why I think it’s extremely important for the Trail Blazers win Game 4 Sunday night. And on many levels.

Yes, if they win Sunday they can wrap up the series Tuesday night at home. Quick series means more rest prior to the start of the next one.

But more than that, the Trail Blazers are getting sick of the Thunder. I don’t know any other way to put that, but playing a team four times in the regular season and then facing it for a possible seven more games in the playoffs is a lot – particularly when that team brings all the antics the Thunder throw at the opposition.

Russell Westbrook rocks the baby, never stops talking and overall, makes himself as obnoxious with opponents as he is with the media. Dennis Schroder was mocking Damian Lillard’s wrist tap for “Lillard Time” at the end of Friday’s game. Paul George did a reverse dunk on the Blazers just after the final horn went off and that’s considered an unprofessional act in the NBA.

“It would be huge if we were able to take the game tomorrow night and go home with some momentum and try to close it out at home,” said Maurice Harkless. “I think that would be big time.

“You know, it would put a lot of pressure on that team to win a game on the road. And I know, going back home, our fans would be super excited to be closing out a series at home.”

And is it extra motivation to win, just so you don’t have to deal with their garbage?

“Yeah, it is,” he said with a laugh. “You know, they come with a lot of extra stuff when they win. WHEN THEY WIN. They are a lot less talkative when they don’t. We just have to go in there tomorrow and handle our business and focus on that and see what happens.”

Enes Kanter is in a unique position of having played for the Thunder and is now playing against them in this series.

“I used to get nervous going against them,” Kanter said. “They are just going to do everything to get under people’s skin. So we need to just keep our calm and go out there and do our job.”

And how are his new teammates doing with that?

“I’m very impressed with Dame and CJ, especially, and they are doing a very good job… just keeping their coolness,” he said. “Russ is trying to do everything to get under their skin but especially Dame, doing an amazing job of just keep coming, focusing on what they need to focus on.”

Kanter understands the need to grab that third win Sunday night.

“This is very, very important,” he said. “I remember, I was with Oklahoma City Thunder three years ago and we were up 3-1 against Golden State and they came back and beat us 4-3.

“Every game matters. Every possession matters in the playoffs.”

Lillard said it would be “really important” to win Sunday night.

“Last game I thought we played a solid game,” he said. “We just came up a little bit short. Tomorrow we’ve got to come with that same energy and that same focus. We want to get that one tomorrow.

“You don’t want to just count on winning home games. You want to get at least one on the road and put more pressure on them.”

Coach Terry Stotts falls back on the “every game is important” stance, as he should. As a coach, you can’t really go all in on any one game. And as far as giving the Thunder momentum if they tie the series at 2?

“Momentum changes game by game in the playoffs,” he said. “If we win, they win, there’s a pendulum that goes over a little stronger one way or the other. Momentum is a fickle thing in the playoffs.”

Stotts did admit that he intended to get that technical foul he was called for in Game 3.

“I wanted to get one, yes,” he said. “There were three plays in a row – I thought Enes got fouled on a shot, I thought Enes got pushed underneath and that last one was an obvious hold. So I think it was the culmination of those three consecutive plays.”

Glad that was accomplished. It was cool to have a rare Angry Stotts sighting.

Lillard's trust in his teammates is the difference-maker for Blazers

Lillard's trust in his teammates is the difference-maker for Blazers

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Trail Blazers, heading into tonight’s Game 3 vs. Oklahoma City, have been playing as well together as they have over the past several seasons. Different players are stepping up to help Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum like never before. This team is connected – at both ends of the floor.

And it all started at one of the low points of the season. The foundation for the team’s current play was built during adversity. Dark days.

McCollum went down with a knee injury during a game at San Antonio March 16. And nobody was quite sure how quickly he would return. Jusuf Nurkic would be lost for the season with a broken leg March 27. What appeared to be a season when the Trail Blazers could make a run at the conference finals, people suddenly questioned their ability even to make the playoffs.

Just how many points per game would Damian Lillard need to score per game to get this team on the winning track and into a decent playoff seed? Forty points? Fifty?

Turns out that approach wasn’t the right direction. Lillard had a better idea.

“I go back to those first three games when CJ was out,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “Before Nurk got hurt, but CJ was out. Those three games where he averaged 30 points and double-digit assists – being very efficient scoring the ball and setting up his teammates.

“I think that really set the tone for the rest of the season.

“Damian is very astute. Now he’s been in the league -- this is his seventh year -- I think he’s learned a lot. So I think he understood the dynamics.

“It’s not to say he wasn’t trying to score – we need him to score. But his understanding of the game and its dynamics had a lot to do with it.”

Lillard knows he’s progressed over time and those who have watched his career develop are aware of it. But the world may not understand how deep his intellectual approach to the game has become.

Maybe a few years ago, well...

“I would have taken it upon myself to try to have more big games,” Lillard said. “But I think it’s part of experience, learning and watching film and having a coaching staff that challenges you.

“Like now, when Nate Tibbetts mentions something to me like ‘Hey, I want to show you these clips. I want to talk about this.’ And we talk about it and so OK, I understand that.

“Dave Vanterpool says, ‘Dame, I need you to look at this.’ And Jim Moran says, ‘Dame, look at this.’ Dale Osbourne …they’ve all come to me and that has helped me advance my game as a point guard – mentally, and to know how to manage things better.

“Playing for a good staff, I went into that situation thinking, ‘I need to try to help my guys, where I can put them in a position to do what they do best, instead of me taking it upon myself.’

“And that will make us a better team in the bigger picture. And it will work out better for us. With Nurk and CJ out, it will work out better for us. And it was a perfect situation.

“That’s just what it had to be. If it came to where we weren’t going to win the game, my mentality was, if we get to the fourth quarter and we’re not scoring, then take it upon yourself.”

It’s all about trust – such an underrated ingredient in a team’s success. And Lillard gets it.

“Guys are capable,” he said. “Allow them to do what they do. Because they know the opportunity is going to be there.”

And they know their leader, Damian Lillard, trusts them.

“Exactly,” he said. ”That’s all the difference in the world.”

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.

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

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

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

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

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.

Game 2: Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Oklahoma City Thunder

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Game 2: Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Oklahoma City Thunder

Tonight, the Trail Blazers are looking to go up 2-0 on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the best of seven series. Portland snapped a 10-game playoff-losing streak following a 104-99 victory over OKC on Sunday in Game 1.

Before Game 2, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and Thunder head coach Billy Donovan addressed the media.

Coach Stotts said everyone is healthy and ready to go.

He also discussed the Thunder taking so many three-pointers on Sunday.

“They had 33 threes, by our count they had 10 uncontested. So, as long as we are contesting their threes, that’s what we want to do. Our biggest concern is taking away the uncontested threes.  Stotts said.

Hear from Coach Stotts right here:

Coach Donovan was also asked about their three-point shooting. The Thunder went 5-of-33 from behind the arc in Game 1.

“As teams get more familiar with one another, getting open shots and getting good shots can be really hard to come by… As long as they’re good shots, we’ve got to shoot the ball with confidence and take the ones we are capable of making,” Donovan said.

Paul George went 4-of-15 from long distance, but Coach Donovan still wants him to keeping shooting from deep.

“I want him to get as many threes as he can get,” Donovan added.  

Hear from Coach Donovan right here:

Blazers may have won Game 1, but they say there’s plenty to clean up for Game 2

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Blazers may have won Game 1, but they say there’s plenty to clean up for Game 2

The Trail Blazers ended a 10-game playoff-losing streak following a 104-99 victory over the Thunder on Sunday in Game 1.

Portland led by as many as 19 points, while Oklahoma City’s largest lead all game was one.

Yet, despite CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard’s hot start and the dominance of Enes Kanter, especially down the stretch, the feeling after Blazer practice on Monday was there is plenty that needs to change in Game 2.

But the Blazers’ mentality won’t change.

“We can’t get caught up in, ‘oh we won a game’… Series change quick. We can’t forget that. I think that bad taste of, I guess, failure in the postseason, doesn’t go away with one win… We’re going to come out with that business attitude and our focus is going to remain the same,” Lillard said after practice.

Portland came out hot in the first quarter, scoring 39 points and shooting 60 percent from the field. Moe Harkless’ first-quarter defense on Paul George did not go unnoticed. Lillard and Blazers head coach Terry Stotts knew Harklees’ two quick blocks and aggressiveness on defense really helped set the tone for the night.

Portland is ready to execute better in a few areas on Tuesday night for Game 2 though.

Zach Collins, who got into foul trouble on Sunday, was frustrated with his own play with unnecessary fouls, but he also knows as a team they can crack down on certain miscues.

“I definitely think we can play a lot better… We made a lot of, I don’t want to say like careless mistakes, but definitely correctable mistakes and I think if anything we are just more confident going in because we won and we’re up 1-0 in the series and we know how much better we can play,” Collins said.

Cutting down the turnovers

In the Blazers’ 104-99 win Sunday, Portland finished the game committing 18 turnovers to the Thunder’s 16.

Lillard believes heading into Game 2 turnovers are the biggest focus.

“I think number one is taking care of the ball,” he said. “We had, I think, 19 turnovers. That’s a lot more than what we had over the second half of the season. We’ve been taking really good care of the ball. It’s even more important against a team that loves to be out in transition.”

“They love deflecting passes, getting transition threes, and attacking the rim, drawing fouls, and stuff like that and the more we turn the ball over, the more we’re making it a fun game for them, allowing them to play their style,” Lillard said.

Lillard also took onus following a night where he committed six turnovers in Game 1.

“I turned the ball over a lot… As much as I had the ball in my hands, I gotta try to be much better about playing into their hands and not allowing them to dictate the game in that way and kind of force me into doing things that they want me to do,” Lillard said.

Coach Stotts differentiates turnovers. He doesn’t believe all turnovers are created equal.

“The turnovers are, to me, it’s either decision making or execution. If you don’t catch the ball or if you throw a bad pass, we just have to do that better. To me, the decision making of turnovers those are the ones that are concerning – whether it was a right decision to make that pass or split a double team or whatever it is, those are the ones that we have to clean up,” Stotts said.

This season Portland averaged 13.9 turnovers per game, the 13th most in the league.

Limiting the Thunder’s 3-point shots

OKC helped the Blazers out by not hitting open shots in Game 1. Paul George, who scored 26 points, made just 8-of-24, including 4-of-15 from three. He was a main topic of conversation after Blazers’ practice Monday.  

“A lot of stuff that we could’ve done better. Things that they could’ve taken advantage of, they tried to, but didn’t, like allowing Paul George to get some open looks from three that he didn’t make, Lillard said.

“We still gave up too much in transition, gave up too many second chance points, gave up too many threes. So, I think we can be better defensively given that they still only scored 99 points, I think we can still be better,” Stotts said.

Coach Stotts also discussed the many ways his team can defend the three better for the rest of the series.

“Closing their space, having good close outs. Some of it was on offensive rebounds they kicked out for some threes, transition threes,” Stotts said.

While, Harkless’ focus is determining who can sag off their man to help make sure George can’t get a good look.

“With George, we just got to make sure that we know where he is at all times and then do the same with the other shooters. You know, not help as much off of Paul and find guys who we can help off of,” Harkless said.

The Trail Blazers made 11-of-25 threes, the Thunder made just 5-of-33 on Sunday night.

PG13 is and will be the focus on defense.

“If we’re gonna lose somebody it can't be him,” Lillard said.

Exposing smaller wings down low

Whether it was Rodney Hood or Evan Turner there were many times the Blazers were able to take advantage of a smaller defenders and Portland knows this must continue. 

“I think it’s important for us to look for mismatch opportunities when a smaller wing gets crossed up on Enes or a small guard ends up switched on Rodney or Evan or Moe or something like that. We’ve gotta make sure we are looking for those opportunities because they’re big wings and all three of those guys are good post players when they have a mismatch, so that’s definitely something that we should be looking to take advantage of when it presents itself,” Lillard said.

Of course the Blazers aren’t the only ones looking to make adjustments heading in to Game 2. The Blazers are trying to stay ahead of what they think OKC might change.

“You try and anticipate what they might do. I had one of our assistants view the film as if they were Oklahoma City and what they might possible do,” Stotts said.

“Generally it’s the team that loses that tends to make more adjustments than the team that wins,” Stotts added.

Let the adjustments begin.

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?