In the first two games of the 2016 NBA Playoffs between the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers, LA looked relatively unchallenged. Portland kept things close for a while, but when the Clippers needed another notch, they found it at both ends. When the series moved to Portland, Game 3 was a different story. The Clippers kept the game close, but Portland pulled away late to keep themselves alive 2-1 in the series.
But everything changed in the second half of Game 4. Chris Paul suffered a broken hand in the third quarter, then Blake Griffin limped through soreness in his quad in the fourth. The Clippers fell behind by double digits against the resurgent Blazers squad, who ran away with a victory to tie the series, 2-2.
The Blazers were led by a career night by Al-Farouq Aminu (30 points, 10 rebounds), as well as Damian Lillard (12 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists), CJ McCollum (19 points), Moe Harkless (12 points, 7 rebounds) and Allen Crabbe (12 points on 5-5 shooting).
The first quarter was the "Chris Paul Show" for the Clippers. Literally. Paul scored their first 12 points of the game, a string broken when Jamal Crawford hit a free throw with 2:07 left in the quarter. Despite this advantage, the Blazers had their own struggles, as Lillard and McCollum struggled to score. Mason Plumlee continued his strong play, featuring a nice block. The bulk of the points came from Aminu, including two consecutive three pointers (seen here and here), and the Blazers found themselves only leading by 8 points at the peak, and it shrank quickly after. Just as the lead fell to two, Lillard found a little magic to close the quarter strong.
First Quarter: Blazers 24, Clippers 20
Both teams continued to struggle from the field to open the second quarter. McCollum's close jumpers rimmed out, and rebounds fell into the wrong hands. The Clippers hit just enough shots to close the gap, outscoring Portland 7-6 to pull within 3 six minutes into the quarter. But the Blazers found a dunk off a broken play, then after a Clippers miss, Allen Crabbe said "hello", swishing his first three-pointer of the series to force a Doc Rivers timeout. He subbed Crawford back into the game, sparking a Clipper run that cut Portland's lead to one, and forced a Stotts timeout. The Blazers intentionally fouled DeAndre Jordan, who airballed both free throws. Meanwhile, Aminu nailed another three, and Lillard followed it up with a dunk to respond to the Clips' run, and force Rivers into a timeout again. After another broken play led to another Lillard three, the DeAndre-less Clippers settled down, hit their free throws and kept things close at the half.
Halftime: Blazers 47, Clippers 43
McCollum opened up hot to start the second half, but as always, the Clippers hung close. But during the run, Chris Paul stripped Gerald Henderson on a fast break and came up hurting. As soon as the medical staff looked at his wrist, they took him to the locker room. You'd think the Clippers would struggle afterward, but instead it was Portland who didn't respond well. Los Angeles quickly went on a run, and a Paul Pierce three-pointer at the buzzer cut Portland's lead to 2.
Third Quarter: Blazers 66, Clippers 64
The fourth quarter saw more blows for the Clippers, as Blake Griffin's quad started acting up and he headed to the bench. Ed David accidentally landed on top of Austin Rivers, and Rivers struggled to get up as well. As Los Angeles stood shell-shocked, the Blazers took control, as a Davis rebound and layup gave them a 9 point lead with over seven minutes to play. The Clippers kept it at 9 until the six minute mark, but then they left Lillard open for three. Timeout Clippers. The also-hurting JJ Redick hit a three-pointer out of the timeout, and Jeff Green scored on the drive to cut the Blazer lead to 7 with four minutes left. But the Blazers deftly broke down the defense, leading to a Plumlee pass for an Aminu dunk. On the next possession, the Clippers left Aminu open for three. Swish. On the next one, Allen Crabbe at the rim. Suddenly Portland led by 12 with 2:30 left in the game. The Clippers hit a free throw, then Aminu simply drove to the rim for another layup. Holding a 13 point lead with less than 2 minutes left, and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin out of the game, the Blazers closed out the game and prepared for a very different Game 5.
The series shifts back to Los Angeles, as the teams hook up Wednesday for Game 5 with a lot of questions to answer. But stay tuned, Blazer's Edge will have plenty of coverage from tonight's game, including Dave Deckard's analysis.
[Thank you to Nathaniel Wilson and Eric Griffith for the video support]