Lillard, Watson organized team dinner that pulled team closer

Lillard, Watson organized team dinner that pulled team closer
May 6, 2014, 11:00 pm
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SAN ANTONIO – With heads slumped over, sweat dripping on their knees, the Portland Trail Blazers learned something extremely important Tuesday night at the AT&T Center: The San Antonio Spurs are not the Houston Rockets.

Following an embarrassing 111-92 loss on national television, dropping Game 1 of this semifinal round, the Trail Blazers quickly regrouped, got their thoughts together and alerted the basketball world that they’re not out of this.

“Panic?” Damian Lillard responded to when asked if this team is shaken. “After Game 1? Damn.”

Reserve guard Earl Watson also chimed in.

“If this was the NCAA Tournament, then we would have a problem,” he said. “But it’s not. We’ll be all right. It’s all about adjustments.”

Those are not comments intended to mislead the public. This group actually believes they’ll eventually figure things out and come together. They’re so tight and believe so much in one another, that they can’t see themselves falling.

Which brings us to a well-attended dinner at a Houston Steakhouse during the first round in between Games 1 and 3. After the Trail Blazers stole Game 1, Lillard suggested they have a team meal the following day in order to build off of what they had just accomplished.

Players agreed. Watson then proposed that they make it an organization dinner that included the coaching staff and training staff. It was the first time in a long time that the players and the entire traveling staff sat down together for dinner.

“It was just good to get away from basketball,” Watson said. “Watch other playoff games, have food, laugh, relax. Develop relationships beyond the basketball court. It’s interesting, I think we grew more as a team, as a unit, a bond, love, whatever you want to call it, during the playoffs than in the regular season. We have become tighter than ever. That’s why we’re not panicking.”

Game 2 of the Rockets series ended up being the Trail Blazers largest win of the series. Did that team dinner have something to do with that? Wesley Matthews says it was a good experience and he praised Lillard for recommending the gathering.

“I just felt like it was a good time for us all to get together so that we could become closer as a team,” Lillard said. “It was something I think needed to happen and I’m glad it did. Our team is a great group of guys.”

To top it off, that very large, hefty, expensive bill was taken care of by no one other than the owner of the team – Paul Allen, who did not attend the dinner.

“We’re in a position where our owner is a very caring man and he took care of us,” rookie CJ McCollum said. “I want to tell him thank you for that. It was much appreciated. We all appreciated it.”

So this team is built for this. If there’s any team still left in the playoffs that can come back to make this series interesting, it’s the Trail Blazers. The truth of the matter is there’s a bit of an adjustment necessary.

Houston relied heavily on one-on-one play to manufacture most of its points. Portland got in a habit of watching one or two guys. San Antonio moves that ball around and often finds the open man, forcing the defense to stay in its toes.

“We did develop some bad habits in the Houston series but we’ll clean it up,” Mo Williams said. “We have to keep in mind that this isn’t Houston. We’ll adjust. It’s only one game.”

It was just one game. Lillard says he’ll look at film tomorrow and then forget about tonight. That’s what everyone should do. A 25-point loss hurts, but it’s the same as a one-point loss. They’ll get it together because they’re together.

“We just have to bring that energy in the first quarter,” Nicolas Batum said. “They’re a good team but we are too. We’ll be fine. It was a learning experience. We’ll come back stronger.”