Coach Stotts: We're not a finished product
OAKLAND, Calif. – The Portland Trail Blazers exit the 2013 NBA preseason having won their last five games and they did it with hard-nosed defense.
Tonight was no exception as the Trail Blazers (5-2) held the the Golden State Warriors (3-4) to 33 percent shooting to come away with the 90-74 victory Thursday night at Oracle Arena.
This team looks to be in mid-season form when it comes to not allowing opposing players to get to the basket uncontested.
“That was what we needed to improve, our defense,” Nicolas Batum said after a 10-point, 15 rebound and four assists performance. “Guys have stepped up and it shows. Just look at Joel.”
Speaking of Joel Freeland, as of now, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts says Freeland has earned the right to be the backup center, replacing Meyers Leonard who had it locked up until this point. Stotts tightened up his rotation tonight, only using Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and Freeland off the bench during meaningful minutes.
Going into this season, Freeland was an afterthought and many, including folks at this media outlet, ruled him out due to a numbers game. I guess that’s why you let it play out.
“Like I’ve said all along, I just go out there and do my best and whatever happens, happens,” Freeland said after playing 15 defensive-minded minutes.
Freeland’s presence on defense can’t be measured by the statsheet. He came away with only one block, but forced his opponent into taking tough shots with his hands outstretched that ended up being just as good or better than a block.
“I’m just jumping vertically, trying to challenge shots, he said. “Just being more active and trying to be at the right place at the right time.”
The new defense Stotts installed where bigs are encouraged to stay home instead of showing on the pick-and-rolls is paying huge dividends and the nine team-blocks are a testament to that. Will Barton started in place of Wesley Matthews (irregular heartbeat). However, Stotts started Dorell Wright in the second half after Barton went 1-for-6 in the first half and that proved to be an excellent move in a crucial moment of the game.
The Trail Blazers were down 11 with 10:49 left in the third, the Trail Blazers exploded for a 22-0 run to take 63-52. The Trail Blazers held the Warriors scoreless for over eight minutes of game clock during that run. A lineup of Damian Lillard, Batum, Wright, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez orchestrated that great run. Portland outscored Golden State 23-9 in that quarter and they never looked back from there.
“We were just ready to play in that second half,” Aldridge said. “We know how poorly we played in the first, we just stepped it up and it all came together.”
Portland outrebounded Golden State 58-47 led by Batum’s game-high of 15 rebounds who he credits Robin Lopez and Freeland for the padded stats.
“They do a good job of sealing their man and letting us go in and getting the rebound,” Batum said. “It’s a group effort on the boards but Robin and Joel set it up for us.”
Lillard went off in his hometown for 21 points on seven-of-16 shooting. Aldridge supplied a double-double of 16 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Batum, too, put in a double-double effort with his rebounding to go along with his 10 points and a block. Lopez scored 11 points and pulled down seven boards. Mo Williams came off the bench for 11 points and seven assists. Thomas Robinson contributed 10 points.
How much stock can one take in a five-game preseason winning streak?
“If we lost five in a row, would everyone be panicking?” Aldridge asked. “Then yeah, this winning streak is good and we can build on it for the season.”
Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 17 points and six assists. Klay Thompson provided 16 points. David Lee had dental work done before the game and was not able to compete.
Stotts says Matthews (irregular heartbeat) will have another consultation tomorrow and adds that his status is still unchanged, day-to-day.
Portland’s next game will be the season opener against the Phoenix Suns in Arizona on Oct. 30.