For both the Portland Trail Blazers and the Boston Celtics, playoff positioning was a critical factor tonight in a game drenched in playoff atmosphere.
For the three quarters, Boston's defense suffocated the Blazers and held Portland in check. But, then Al-Farouq Aminu happened and the Blazers exploded in the fourth, taking a double-digit lead and putting the Celtics on the brink. But Boston didn't go away. After losing a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, the Blazers rose to the moment, making key defensive plays and buckets to grab a momentous 116-109 win.
The Blazers were led by Al-Farouq Aminu who scored a career high 28 points, along with CJ McCollum (17 points) Gerald Henderson (15 points) and Damian Lillard (a quiet 14 points). The Celtics were led by Isaiah Thomas, with 22 points and Avery Bradley with 20.
Portland handed Boston its first five points of the game; the Boston defense was as advertised, getting it's hands on almost every pass and creating the very turnovers the Blazers hoped to avoid to which Boston thrives on. However, the Blazers settled down and started giving Boston a taste of their own medicine. Maurice Harkless quickly filled up the stat sheet as his ascension as a starter continued and Ed Davis had a beautiful block and steal to help facilitate a Blazers run to take the lead from an early eight point deficit. But, Portland had seven turnovers from seven Boston steals while Boston committed five turnovers on three Portland steals, the difference in the game so far, as the Celtics ended the quarter on their own run to take back the lead. Harkless and Damian Lillard had six points each for the Blazers, Isiah Thomas had eight for the Celtics.
End of First: Portland 30, Boston 31
Blazer turnovers and Boston second-chance points (and a couple of questionable calls by the refs) marred the opening of the second quarter as the Celtics pushed their lead back to eight at just under the 10-minute mark. But, this was a game of runs thus far and Portland countered with one of their own to cut the lead to 40-39, forcing a Boston timeout. Not to be outdone, the Celtics went on an 11-0 run that fueled their first double digit lead with four minutes remaining. Points off turnovers continued to haunt the Blazers, the Celtics taking a nine point advantage in that category for the half. The Blazers managed 54 points, but no Blazer was in double digits for scoring; the opinion of that stat resting solely on what team you are rooting for. Noah Vonleh had a nice stint off the bench for the Blazers, finishing with seven points and three rebounds to go along with a steal and a block. Harkless had nine points and eight rebounds. Evan Turner had 12 off the bench for Boston.
Halftime: Portland 54, Boston 58
As if the first half was just a warm up, Boston's defense clamped down harder in the third. Damian Lillard seemed so surprised anytime he got a wide open jumper, most of them were off the mark. Ditto for most of the team except for Al-Farouq Aminu who had all 10 Blazers points through the first 5+ minutes. Boston was forcing anyone wearing a Blazers uniform not wearing 0 or 3 to score, the Celtics hounding the Blazers guards all quarter. The Celtics upped their lead to 11 late and kept a double-digit through most of the back end of the quarter. Just when things seemed dire, the Blazers snapped to and rallied to a 12-2 run to tie the game at 81. Aminu, Davis and Allen Crabbe provided the spark and the first real cheers from the Moda Center were heard. The Blazers headed into the fourth with momentum swinging to their side.
End of Third: Portland, 81 Boston 83
Aminu scored his career high to begin the quarter (a three) to give the Blazers the lead and decided to follow it up with another three to give Portland an 87-83 lead. Gerald Henderson decided to RSVP to Aminu's scoring party, heating up himself to up Portland's lead to 93-87. Ed Davis, my new personal hero, stepped in on a Boston in-bounds play and did something very Ed Davis-y to help push the Blazer lead to 11. After three grinding quarters, the Blazers were free wheeling again on offense and stymieing the Celtics on defense. The Celtics answered by putting Avery Bradley back into the game and the Celtics defense went back to hyper-drive, going on an 8-0 run.
After the the Blazers inexplicably gave up a 4-point play, the Celtics cut the lead to just two with a little over three minutes to go. Finally, the Blazers made a major defensive play: Aminu's block sent the ball to the corner... but into the hands of Jae Crowder, who sank a three-pointer to take the lead.
After a tough scoring stretch, the Blazers needed something out of the timeout. And McCollum answered, with a tough step-back jumper to restore a lead. Before the teams could catch their breath, Crabbe tipped the dribble away from Bradley, sending the ball to McCollum, then to Aminu for a fast-break dunk. The luck of the Celtics dried up, as they missed consecutive three-pointers, while Lillard calmly sank four free-throws to seal the deal. The Blazers finished the night only one win away from guaranteeing a .500 or better record in a "rebuilding season".
The Blazers open the month of April at home Saturday night to take on the Miami Heat. Tip off is 7 p.m. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Dan Marang.