Portland, Ore. -- (Portland Tribune) Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts walked into the media room at Moda Center on Thursday afternoon and smiled.
“It seemed like we had more (people here) when we came back from two wins,” Stotts said.
Stotts, however, did not look like a coach who had just dropped a close-out game in the NBA playoffs. He did not even look like a man who had just gotten off a long plane on a flight from Houston to Portland.
Yes, the Blazers lost Game 5 to the Houston Rockets 108-98 on Wednesday night. Yes, Portland now leads the best-of-seven first round playoff series just three games to two.
But these are the playoffs, and Stotts is enjoying them.
“I love playoff basketball,” he said. “This is fun. This is what you go through 82 games for.”
The next time the Blazers get on a plane, they will be going back to Texas. The question is whether they will be going for Game 7 against Houston or traveling to play the San Antonio Spurs or the Dallas Mavericks in the second round.
On the flight back from Portland on Thursday, Stotts said there was a certain amount of fatigue from his team.
“They were tired on the plane,” he said. “We’re disappointed with not getting the win in Houston, but this team is always ready to compete, and we’re ready for Game 6.
"They (the Blazers) don’t get too high or too low. We’ve been pretty centered in our approach. After our wins, we had a good level approach. They’re certainly upset after losses, but they keep an even keel.”
Stotts spent much of the flight home watching video of Game 5. The biggest thing he saw was what was obvious to him on the floor on Wednesday — Game 5 was the worst the Blazers have played this series. But Portland still had a chance to win.
“We can play better, and it was still a two-point game (in the fourth quarter),” he said. “It’s a tough-fought series. I know Houston didn’t think they played well in their losses and we didn’t play particularly well last game, but we were still in position to win.”
The biggest storyline out of Game 5 was that Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge was held in check. After looking like an all-world player in the first four games, averaging 35.3 points, Aldridge was a nonfactor in Game 5, scoring just eight points.
Aldridge’s struggles scoring came first because he got into early foul trouble. Also, the Rockets double-teamed him with centers Dwight Howard and Omer Asik as soon as he got the ball.
Stotts said he was not overly concerned about Aldridge stepping up in Game 6 on Friday night. And Stotts said the Houston double-team will open other things for Portland.
“We had 98 points with 3 1/2 minutes to go,” he said. “They’re doubling 'LA'. They’re looking to double him more than before. That opens up other things to take advantage of.”
The biggest disparity in team stats in Game 5 was Houston out-rebounding Portland 48-34 and the Rockets stinging Portland with 14 offensive rebounds.
“The defensive rebounding is my No. 1 concern,” Stotts said. “The rebounding has been the over-riding factor in the series so far. They’ve done a very good job of getting offensive rebounds. We certainly have to do a better job of containing them.”
Stotts said the Blazers need to be better in every aspect of rebounding in Game 6.
“It’s going to be a little bit of everything,” Stotts said. “Going after the balls a little bit harder, keeping an eye on (Houston point guard Patrick) Beverley. Guards aren’t necessarily used to their man crashing the boards. They (the Rockets) are big, but if we can control penetration a little better, that keeps our defense out of help position, which helps.”
The thing the Blazers have done well throughout the series is keep Houston All-Star guard James Harden off balance. That did not change in Game 5, when Harden scored 17 points on 5-of-15 shooting. However, Harden did make a slashing reverse layup and hit a 3-pointer in the closing minutes on Wednesday. And Stotts knows Portland cannot forget how dangerous Harden can be.
“We haven’t forgotten about him,” Stotts said. “He’s on the top of the list. It’s a team effort. Wes (Matthews) has done a good job on him, Nic (Batum) has done a good job on him. We’re very well aware he can get going. We haven’t really had any letdown on him. I don’t anticipate one either.”
In Game 6, Portland would like to see more production out of its bench. In Game 5, Dorell Wright scored one point and Mo Williams had four.
“We need Mo and Dorell to contribute some points,” Stotts said. “Our bench is important. Sometimes it’s defined by scoring, sometimes it’s not.”
Stotts said that after Thursday's media session he was going to go to his office, “do some busy work” and then go home and watch some of the other playoff games on TV. On Friday, it will be Stotts and the Blazers who everyone else is watching.
Stott said he does not believe Game 6 is a must-win outing for Portland.
“Whenever you get a chance to close out a team, you want to,” Stotts said. “Tomorrow isn’t a do-or-die game, but I would love to close out the series at home in front of the fans.”
Stotts had an idea of how special a moment that would be for the city. When he was done watching video on the plane, he watched some of Game 6 of the 1977 NBA finals, when the Blazers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers to win their only NBA championship.
With this week's death of Jack Ramsay, coach of the 1977 team, Stotts would love nothing more than to win Game 6 on Friday and set off a similar celebration.
“I just watched a little bit of Game 6 in 1977 closing it out,” Stotts said. “In light of what’s happened (with Ramsay), it would be fun to close this Game 6 out.”
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