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Blazers Finish Strong, Beat Clippers 96-88 To Stay Alive

A renewed and energized Trail Blazers took care of business on its home court and held on to defeat the Los Angeles Clippers 96-88 at the Moda Center to cut into the series deficit 2-1.

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

It was clear that if the Blazers were to have a chance in this 2016 NBA Playoff series, Damian Lillard would need to take control and shoulder a larger burden of the offense - for the first quarter at least, that truth was realized.  While the Portland offense surrounding him fizzled for much of the period, Dame looked especially fired up - scoring 12 points and doing so in impressive fashion.  Spot-up three; transition three, baseline fadeaway and a ridiculous reverse finish in traffic which brought the Moda Center crowd to a crescendo.

At the defensive end, Terry Stotts' biggest adjustment might have been shifting Maurice Harkless on to Chris Paul from the get-go with so-so success.  Paul scored 7 points in the quarter didn't seem to have much trouble finding his teammates; they just didn't convert.

JJ Redick - who torched the Blazers in both first quarters of Games 1 and 2 - missed all three of his shots in the period and went scoreless, as Portland and LA traded misses for good deal of time early before Lillard and Paul started to heat up.  CJ McCollum buried a three in the closing seconds to hold on to an early lead.

End of First: Portland 22, Los Angeles 19

Where Lillard left off, McCollum picked right back up in the second quarter, scoring 12 points and looking all the crafty, confident CJ missing in the two games down in LA. A double-team splitting and-1 layup put the Blazers up by five early in the period, and his turnaround fader gave them a 10-point lead at 36-26.

Paul kept the Clippers chugging along with another six points of his own, but the first half would be primarily a defensive showing on both sides.  Aside from Paul, Portland manged to keep LA's other cogs relatively in check with nobody else scoring in double-digits and shooting a paltry 38% overall from the field.  The Blazers didn't fair much better at 40% - but the tenacity of Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis would be enough to at least neutralize DeAndre Jordan and LA's stout front line on the offensive boards 8-8 to keep the momentum trending towards the Blazers.

Oft-used Chris Kaman saw to more shifts in the half and buried a couple of jumpers - surely using Kaman as a pressure-release valve is a new point of emphasis and looked to be fairly effective, despite looking a step behind on defense.

Halftime: Portland 49, Los Angeles 40

Buckets from Al-Farouq Aminu and Lillard pushed Portland's lead again to double-digits at 53-42 but again the Clippers battled back - Redick and Paul both buried threes to cut the deficit to five, and then Jordan finished a strong alley-oop lob from Blake Griffin to pull within just one at 59-58.

Back-to-back dunks off of baseline cuts for Harkless restored a bit of order, but LA ended the quarter getting to the free throw line eight times - making all of them - as LA refused to go away and kept well within striking distance.

End of Third: Portland 70, Los Angeles 67

With Lillard resting on the bench to begin the fourth, the Blazers' second unit struggled to put up points, failing to score on its first five possessions before McCollum's driving layup.  Meanwhile, Jamal Crawford started to heat up for LA in an ominous sign Portland fans know all too well, scoring the Clippers' first four points of the period as the score remained in near-deadlock.

With the clock dwindling down, the Blazers started to get careless, turning the ball over on back-to-back possessions, both leading to LA baskets.  The second of which, a wide-open dunk in transition by Austin Rivers gave the Clippers the lead at 78-77.

A mid-range fader from LIllard reclaimed the lead for Portland and then Plumlee extended the advantage back to three on an alley-oop layup with just over five minutes remaining.

But back came Paul and Crawford, who scored the game's next seven points to all-of-a-sudden launch LA ahead 85-81.  McCollum answered right back with a three and then following two missed free throws from Jordan Lillard put in the go-ahead jumper with just over two minutes left.

Harkless added to the lead with a sweet baseline spin-move finish, and then following a wise hack-a-DeAndre call from Stotts (who went 1-2), Moe perhaps put the finishing touches on the night with a monster tip-jam that put the Blazers up by five at 91-86.  Portland would hold on to secure the victory and pull within 2-1 in the playoff series against LA.

The Blazers were led by Damian Lillard (32 points, 5 rebounds), CJ McCollum (27 points, 5 rebounds) and Mason Plumlee (6 points, 21(!) rebounds, 9 assists).

The Clippers were led by Chris Paul (26 points, 9 assists) and Jamal Crawford (19 points, 3 rebounds).

Box Score

What's Next

The series stays in Portland for Game 4 Monday 7:30 pm at the Moda Center - Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Dave Deckard.

-- Ryan Rosback | ripcity.rosback@gmail.com | Twitter