Damian Lillard answered questions in his normal composed, almost hushed, manner. Wesley Matthews cracked a smile once or twice, delivered a joke here or there, but mostly sported a steely focus, almost looking forward rather than backward. And Robin Lopez sat in his corner stall in the Trail Blazers’ locker room, glued to his smartphone, seemingly miles away from the moment. The Blazers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 100-94 Sunday night at the Moda Center, guaranteeing a trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2011, but the postgame atmosphere was more business-as-usual than celebratory. “What, you wanted some champagne in here or something?” quipped Dorell Wright, who was the last player to leave a subdued, almost emotionless, locker room. “We’re just acting like we’ve been here before, you know what I mean? Keeping humble and trying to stay focused on getting better every day.” The victory secured win No. 50 for the Blazers, who eclipsed the milestone for just the 12th time in franchise history, and put a tidy bow on a quick two-year rebuild orchestrated by general manager Neil Olshey, who picked through the rubble of the disastrous 201-12 lockout season and built it into one of the best teams in the Western Conference. There were sprinkles of all the positive traits that have made the Blazers hum along all season, with LaMarcus Aldridge (25 points, 18 rebounds, four blocks) turning in a dominant performance on both ends, Nicolas Batum (16 points, 12 rebounds, four assists) doing a little bit of everything, Matthews (21 points, five rebounds, three three-pointers) making shots and flexing defensive muscle and Lillard (20 points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals) running the show with grit and poise beyond his years. It wasn’t perfect, but it got the job done. Matthews and Lopez battled foul trouble in the first half and the Blazers struggled from three-point range all night — they made 5 of 22 shots — which helped the Pelicans build a surprising nine-point lead in the third quarter. But the Blazers overcame those annoyances with a dominant third quarter in which they outscored New Orleans 29-14, effectively sealing the win. After Greg Stiemsma converted a rebound dunk to give the Pelicans a 63-57 lead with 6:56 left in the third, the Blazers reeled off a game-changing 20-2 run. The stretch of dynamic play featured everything from Matthews circus layups to fast break alley-oop lobs from Lillard to Batum. And, perhaps more than anything, it featured some solid Blazers defense. They recorded three blocks, two steals, outrebounded the Pelicans 13-7, and held New Orleans to just 35 percent shooting in the third. No New Orleans (32-45) player scored more than four points.
Trail Blazers clinch playoff spot with win over New Orleans, but say they're not satisfied
Oregonian | Apr 7