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Blazers Defeat Clippers Narrowly, Advance to Second Round

Portland was supposed to have an easy time with a decimated Los Angeles club. It didn't quite work out that way, but it still worked.

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Tonight the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 106-103, winning their first-round series 4-2 and advancing to face the Golden State Warriors in the conference semi-finals.

If you'd like to see the game/television schedule for the Blazers-Warriors series, it's here.

If you want to read up on the Portland-Golden State matchup before hearing about Portland's victory against the Clippers, we've got you covered.

With that out of the way, here's how tonight's victory went down.

Game Flow

The first half of this game showed two things clearly:

1. The Clippers were not going to go away quietly.

2. The Blazers were not going to make them.

Portland started out a little shaky, missing early shots. Damian Lillard steadied them with a couple makes but the offense remained on the same oh-so-perilous ground it's inhabited since the start of this series. Mason Plumlee made that not matter much. Given his role in this series, Portland's center may want to consider changing his nickname to "Roomba". Tonight the Blazers pressed the "Go" button and he zipped around the court vacuuming up every offensive rebound in sight. Though plenty of initial attempts went astray for Portland; the second and third chances fell easier. Portland's made it through the first half with guard scoring and offensive rebounding. They were rewarded with an even 50 points by halftime.

The evening started much differently for the Clippers, but just as productively. Even as Portland was ripping them apart on the boards, L.A. scored easily and repeatedly in the lane. Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford discovered friendly territory in the paint. J.J. Redick found himself open for jumpers as a result. The Clippers endured a scary moment early when Rivers took the pointy end of an Al-Farouq Aminu elbow square on the orbital socket. (Video here, but it's somewhat graphic.) He retreated to the locker room for 11 stitches above and below his eye. When he returned it was all but swollen shut and he played with it that way for the remainder of the game. With the only other shot-creator in the Clippers lineup gone, Crawford ended up playing Kobe Retirement Game, Part 2. He took plenty of shots and ended up with 20 points at the half. Behind Crawford the Clippers amassed 48 points, leaving them only 2 behind the Blazers at intermission.

This was not the way the game was supposed to go from Portland's point of view. A tight contest against a decimated Clippers lineup was not on the agenda for the evening. Fortunately the halftime crowd was distracted, mollified, and then enchanted by Red Panda, who became such a thing that she almost broke Twitter with her act.

During the break I, personally, was thinking three things:

First: On that unicycle she just might be the shot-blocker the Blazers needed to keep L.A. out of the lane.

Also...

And...

That's right, Dave has become so self-referential that Dave is quoting Dave in Dave's recap of the game. Deal with it.

The Clippers started to score seriously as the third period commenced. They kept dancing the "lane-drive, open-jumper" cha-cha that had brought them success in the first half. In addition they began to...guess what? That's right, take over control of the glass from the Blazers. DeAndre Jordan turned into a beast and his forwards followed suit. Three Clippers chased every missed shot while the Blazers seemed to consider caroms their birthright, waiting for Jeeves to serve them on a silver tray. Meanwhile Austin Rivers brought his A-game to the party, scoring 13 in the period. It was an incredible showing for a team down their two best players, facing elimination in a road game they had few expectations of winning.

The Blazers probably would have sunk under the weight of L.A.'s crushing third-quarter attack except for a heavy dose of...

In this case the "Moe" had an "e" on it, but the "Money" part was purely authentic. Maurice Harkless took full advantage as the Clippers defense paid attention to everybody but him. He drained a trio of three-pointers plus a layup, countering Rivers' 13 with 11 points of his own. Lillard and Aminu added a pair of triples each. The combined onslaught from the arc saved Portland's bacon after the Clippers thrust it in the fire. Even so, L.A. won the period 34-30 and took an 82-80 lead into the fourth.

Sadly, my halftime Twitter prediction about Jamal Crawford's fourth-quarter performance did not come true. I speculated that he'd miss 90% of his shots in the period. In reality he went 1-9, missing 89% of his attempts. I am shamed and will never engage in such prognostication again. The Clippers survived the Crawford disaster with even more offensive rebounding plus a few nifty mid-range shots by Redick. The Blazers helped them along by turning over the ball, a habit that made the veins bulge on the collective foreheads of everyone in the building.

The Blazers overcame their charitable habits by running the floor against the rapidly-fatiguing Clippers. Time and again Lillard darted down the lane in quick offensive sets, leaving aging defenders in his wake. When the Clippers collapsed on him, he passed. When he passed, his teammates hit. The offense was as simple as that. Lillard would not connect on a single field goal in the fourth period, yet he was responsible for most of Portland's points therein.

So Portland pulled ahead because of their speed and Lillard's amazing point-guard play, right? The Clippers were done, right? They gave up, right? Right???

As you read the next paragraph, you should hear the narration coming from one of Martin Scorsese's main characters: Henry Hill from Goodfellas or Ace Rothstein from Casino or anybody Joe Pesci played.

After all that, they still came back to tie the score. Can you believe it? I mean, what do we got to do? We whacked their main guy. We whacked his high scoring buddy. We even gave the elbow to the kid! And still they don't give up. The cannolis on these guys.

Cannolis indeed.

A pair of Crawford free throws made the score 103-all with 32 seconds remaining. Then CJ McCollum missed a short shot in the lane, eliciting a gasp of fear from the crowd. Just then Mason Plumlee, Steward of the Boards, came up with his biggest rebound all night and was fouled by Jeff Green. A wave of relief swept over the Moda Center until it sunk in:

14 seconds to go. Score tied. Mason Plumlee is going to the line.

This is like saying, "Fire raging, skyscraper about to collapse any second, you called Aquaman."

I mean, Aquaman is a cool hero and all, but this is not his thing.

So Plumlee steps to the line and calmly sinks...both...shots. You heard that right. And what have you got against dolphins anyway?

With the Clippers down 2, Crawford missed a layup, his final shot of the night. Plumlee again stepped up, rebounding and covering the ball. He was fouled with 1.5 seconds remaining. This time he made 1 of 2, leaving his team up 3. The Clippers had no timeouts. They heaved the ball to Rivers at halfcourt who in turn heaved the ball towards the rim. It missed. The game was over. After all the three-point shooting, all the Lillard-versus-Paul talk, all the hand-wringing about Blake Griffin and hopes pinned on CJ McCollum, Mason Plumlee's free throws brought the Blazers the win and the series.

Go figure.

Indvidual Notes

Since team-wide analysis doesn't matter after the series opponent departs, we'll skip to the individual highlights.

Damian Lillard finished with 28 points on 9-21 shooting, 4-9 from the arc. His most important contribution may have been 7 assists. He kept the critical fourth quarter offense flowing with his passes off the dribble.

CJ McCollum scored 20 on 7-16 shooting. He did his part.

Mason Plumlee won not just this game, but this series for the Blazers. His final tally tonight: 9 points, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks.

Moe Harkless finished with 14 total points. Thank goodness for his presence in the third period. The Blazers would have gotten buried if not for his threes.

Al-Farouq Aminu was sporadic tonight, scoring 10 on 3-9 shooting and committing 4 turnovers.

Allen Crabbe had a really solid game off the bench with 13 points on 5-9 shooting with 3 offensive rebounds. But Crabbe also collected 5 fouls and his defense sometimes needs remedial-level help.

Gerald Henderson helped the cause with 8 points and 3 offensive rebounds. It wasn't a great series for him but he did enough.

Ed Davis had 6 rebounds in 16 minutes.

Series Summary

The Blazers just won a first-round series for only the 11th time in their 45-year history. That is quite the accomplishment, doubly so considering where they started the season.

Would they have won this series had Chris Paul and Blake Griffin not gone down? No. Tonight's game affirmed that if nothing else did. It deserves saying for our readers from L.A. if nothing else.

Does that matter? Also no. The Blazers did exactly what they needed to do. They banded together, believed in each other and the system, and executed well enough to win 4 games out of 7. The only thing you can ask of a professional sports team is to prevail in the contests put in front of them. Many teams fail to do so, either through lack of talent or by letting other things get in the way. The Blazers had the talent, kept their focus, and won this series fair and square. Nobody else will face the Golden State Warriors on Sunday; nobody else will be tasked with repeating the performance and making it through another round.

Neither prior causation nor potential impact matter tonight. The Blazers won when they needed to. That's all that will matter until this playoff run is over.

May that day come longer from now than we imagine.

Links and Such

Boxscore

Instant Recap

Please be gracious as you bid farewell to Clips Nation. Their readers were gracious and their team fought hard against increasingly long odds. Darned if they didn't almost pull out Game 6.

You may also want to say hello to Golden State of Mind. They cover the World Champions and they have a perspective on excellence that Blazers fans will need to dig 2-3 decades in their memories to find. May we all learn from each other over the next couple weeks.

--Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge

Read about my now-available first book here and order it here.

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