'The Closers' Close Out The Regular Season With A Loss To New Orleans

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- When the result of a contest is no longer in doubt, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts (and every other coach in the NBA for that matter) looks to the players at the end of his bench to finish out the remaining minutes.

That approach also works for late-season games in which the outcome is largely inconsequential.

With their playoff seeding already locked in, Stotts opted to sit Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Al-Farouq Aminu, which resulted in the group of bench players known lovingly as “The Closers” closing out the regular season with a 103-100 loss to the Pelicans in front of a sellout crowd of 19.521 at the Moda center.

“The game was the game, I thought the young guys played well," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "It was an end of the season game. But I thought they competed and it was good to see Jake (Layman) make some shots and it looked like Pat (Connaughton) had a good rhythm, Shabazz (Napier) had another good game. Certainly it’s disappointing not to win but didn’t make the plays that you needed to."

Portland ends the regular season with a 41-41 record overall and a 25-16 record at home this season. The win ends a five-game losing streak for the Pelicans and is their first in Portland since the start of the 2010-11 season.

After leading for the majority of the game, the Trail Blazers couldn’t match the play of Jordan Crawford and Cheick Diallo in the fourth quarter. Portland was ultimately outscored 25-15 in the final 12 minutes of the regular season, resulting in the three-point loss.

"Our goal is to win games so that was disappointing that we weren't able to do it," said Connaughton. "But it was fun to be out there wtih a different set of guys and to be out there, period, and showcase what you can do on a national scale."

Portland was led by Shabazz Napier, who scored 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting before sitting out most of the second half.

Connaughton came off the bench and put up a career-high of 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field and 5-of-10 shooting from three to go with seven rebounds and seven assists in 36 minutes.

"To be honest with you, I think I should have made a free more (three-pointers)," said Connaughton. "My teammates did a great job of finding me for open shots and it's my job to knock them down and hopefully at a little better clip than I did tonight."

Noah Vonleh, the only regular starter who assumed that role Wednesday night for the Trail Blazers, put up a double-double of 12 points and a career-high 19 rebounds in 38 minutes. Rookie Jake Layman got the first start of his career and responded with 10 points, four rebounds and three assists in 37 minutes.

Maurice Harkless, who did not play in Portland’s penultimate game of the season versus the Spurs, added 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting and seven rebounds in 22 minutes. Tim Quarterman added 10 points, four assists and two rebounds in 22 minutes as Portland’s primary ballhandler in the second half.

With the regular season now completed, the Trail Blazers can now turn their full attention to their first round playoff matchup versus the Golden State Warriors.

"It’s going to be a challenge," said Stotts. "It’s a good test obviously. I think after last season and we played them well last game, we’re going to compete. We’re going to have to play very well to beat them in a series. That’s part of playoff basketball. Being the eight seed, you’re going to have a tough matchup.”

Game One is scheduled for Sunday at 12:30 pm on ABC and Rip City Radio 620 AM.