Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts met with the media today less than 24 hours after his team failed to close out their first-round series against Houston in Texas, and less than 24 hours before they will get another shot in Game 6 on Friday at the Moda Center.
Perhaps for inspiration, Stotts watched part of the most famous Game 6 in Blazers' history during the team’s flight home from Houston.
That game came in 1977 when Portland closed out Philadelphia to win its only NBA championship.
Friday’s Game 6 certainly pales in comparison but given that Portland has not won a playoff series since 2000, the game will certainly be one of the biggest the franchise has seen in 14 years.
But it won’t be do-or-die. The home team in this series is 2-3, which means that Portland is certainly not a given to win on Friday, and returning to Houston for a game seven would not be a death sentence.
"Whenever you can get a chance to close out a team, you want to,” Stotts said. “It would have been great if it had been last night. Tomorrow, it’s not a do-or-die game, but certainly I would absolutely love to close out the series tomorrow at home in front of the fans that have been great all year. I just watched a little bit of Game 6 of the 1977 and closing it out. Now we’ve got Game 6 here. In light of the passing of coach (Jack) Ramsay, I think it would be pretty nice to close it out tomorrow.”
Ramsey, who passed away on Monday, will be honored Friday night. That alone could provide enough emotion to propel the Blazers to victory. But, they could also use some improvement in a few key areas as well.
First and foremost, the Blazers must get LaMarcus Aldridge going again.
Houston held him to eight points on 3-of-12 shooting in Game 5, lost by Portland, 108-98.
Granted, the rest of the starters shot better than 50 percent and certainly put Portland in position to win. But the team has been at its best when Aldridge is in his flow. Still, Stotts said that it’s not imperative for Aldridge to carry the offense.
“They’re doubling L.A,” Stotts said. “They’re looking to double him more than they have before, so that opens up other things that we have to take advantage of. I’m much more concerned about where we are defensively, particularly in the first half. If we score over a 100, which we probably should have, I think we’re going to be in the game. If I could have everybody score 20 points, that would be great.”
Maybe even more problematic on Wednesday was the lack of bench production. The reserves made just 2-of-11 shots for five points.
“Well we need Mo (Williams) and Dorell (Wright) to contribute some points,” Stotts said. “We won Game 1 without a lot of scoring off the bench, and we’ve won some other games where we did get scoring off the bench. Again, I go back to the game, they’re going to make adjustments, they’re going to try to take certain things away, and we have to be able to take advantage of the things that are left open.”
What concerns Stotts most is the team’s defensive rebounding issues.
Houston won this area 34-25 and had 14 offensive rebounds. Big men Dwight Howard and Omer Asik combined for 29 rebounds. Adding to the problem, Stotts said, was the ability of Houston guard Jeremy Lin to penetrate on offense.
“The defensive rebounding was my No. 1 concern and I think Lin’s penetration is part of that,” Stotts said. “But the No. 1 thing is the rebounding has been, to me, the overriding factor in the series so far. They’ve done a very good job of getting offensive rebounds.”
The pressure on both teams will be immense Friday night, but nothing Stotts believes his team can’t handle.
“They don’t get too high or too low,” he said. “I think we’ve been pretty centered about our approach….After our wins, we had a good, level approach. After we lost Game 3, even though we were disappointed to lose a home game, we knew it was going to be difficult. They’re certainly upset after losses. But I think we’re keeping an even-keel about it.”