Blazers must 'stay focused' after delivering first blow

Portland's Damian Lillard is tripped by Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook at Moda Centre in Oregon on Sunday. The Blazers won 104-99 - their first play-off victory since the 2015-16 season.
Portland's Damian Lillard is tripped by Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook at Moda Centre in Oregon on Sunday. The Blazers won 104-99 - their first play-off victory since the 2015-16 season.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PORTLAND • Despite finally snapping their 10-game losing streak in the play-offs, the Portland Trail Blazers are not carried away as "it is only one game".

The third seeds have endured a miserable post-season in recent years, suffering back-to-back first-round sweeps in 2017 and last year against the Golden State Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans.

Losing to the latter has been a particularly bitter pill to swallow for the home team, who have had to endure plenty of trolling on social media since last summer.

So when they defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-99 in Game 1 on Sunday for their first National Basketball Association play-off victory in three years, the Blazers were quick to tweet a riposte at one of their harshest critics, a Warriors fan named Jennifer Williams.

She had an ongoing online feud with Portland guard C.J. McCollum, who had 24 points on the night, last August after his more fancied team choked in the match-up with New Orleans.

In a social media post that went viral, the franchise dedicated the win to her, claiming "this one's for you", with Williams responding "you're welcome".

But, while the Trail Blazers admitted it was a "great feeling" after quashing the mocking, albeit for the moment, All-Star guard Damian Lillard, who led all scorers with 30 points, called on his teammates to "stay focused on this series".

He said: "Last year, we didn't win a game and, this year, we did. We came into this series knowing we have to be the team that delivers the first blow, we had to come out and be aggressive, and have that attitude that we're going to be here all night."

 
 
 

Blazers coach Terry Stotts also agreed, telling local daily The Oregonian that "every game is important, winning home court is important".

In Texas, James Harden (29 points) and Clint Capela (16) posted double-doubles as the Houston Rockets rolled to a 122-90 victory in Game 1 of their first-round play-off series over the visiting Utah Jazz.

Elsewhere, the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks overwhelmed the Detroit Pistons 121-86 in their Eastern Conference play-offs opener at home, with the Most Valuable Player front runner Giannis Antetokounmpo racking up 24 points.

Earlier, the hosts Boston Celtics used strong second-half defence to down the Indiana Pacers 84-74, rallying from a half-time deficit in their series opening game.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2019, with the headline 'Blazers must 'stay focused' after delivering first blow'. Print Edition | Subscribe