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Blazers break L.A.’s series grip

Paul, Griffin leave with injuries as Portland evens series with victory over L.A. Clippers

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers Writer
Published: April 25, 2016, 10:53pm
2 Photos
Portland&#039;s Al-Farouq Aminu (8) and Blazers fans celebrate after Aminu&#039;s three point basket over Clippers forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (12).
Portland's Al-Farouq Aminu (8) and Blazers fans celebrate after Aminu's three point basket over Clippers forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (12). (Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press) Photo Gallery

PORTLAND — As an entire Moda Center crowd rocked to house music with a 12-point lead and 5:49 left in the game, it was clear that we were in a different place than we were 48 hours before.

Heck, 48 minutes before.

Earlier Monday, the entire NBA landscape changed with an injury to Golden State’s soon-to-be back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry and then later on that day, the Clippers-Trail Blazers best-of-seven series changed to a similar degree.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said answering questions about a potential second round matchup would be “foolish,” and now we can all see why.

Clippers All-Star point guard Chris Paul, the best player in the entire series through three games, left in the third quarter of Monday’s game with a broken right hand and did not return.

The Blazers have evened the best-of-seven series 2-2 after a 98-84 win over the Clippers and now they have hopes of doing much more than that, with Paul’s return unlikely to an injury on his shooting hand.

“Certainly when he hurt his hand and he didn’t come back, they’re a different team,” Stotts said. “He’s a great guard, he’s been having an outstanding series.”

Lillard noticed Paul was out of the game earlier than normal, but was unaware Paul had broken his hand until a teammate notified him. How this changes the series is quite clear.

“Their best player goes down, a guy that makes your team go, it’s unfortunate for one of the better players in the league to go through injury like that,” Lillard said of the Paul injury. “You don’t wish that on anybody. They still have a really good team. It’s not like they have guys that can’t play. For us our mindset, nothing changes.”

Adding insult to injury, star forward Blake Griffin was unable to finish the game as a left quad injury that held him out for much of the season reared its ugly head again.

“I didn’t see the play. He will get evaluated tomorrow but obviously it doesn’t look great for him,” Rivers said of Paul. Rivers said that it doesn’t “look great” for Griffin either, adding that Griffin is probably “50-50” to play in Game 5.

Al-Farouq Aminu, who had struggled through the first three games had a breakout performance, finishing with a team-high 30 points, a new career-high, to go along with 10 rebounds.

“It was just a matter of time,” Stotts said of Aminu. “Obviously he struggled in the first three games shooting the ball but that didn’t take away what he did defensively. It’s been good to see him break out. Everybody was encouraging him.”

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The Blazers fed off their crowd, which was rocking before tip-off after a Game 3 win and nobody fed off it quite like Blazers forward Aminu, who has been a controversial figure so far in the series.

A crucial part to their regular season success, Aminu has been a controversial figure in the series due to his inability to make shots, missing 16 of his first 20 3-point attempts.

But Aminu hit two 3-pointers for Portland’s first two baskets and you could feel the anxiety collectively lift from the crowd.

Aminu went on to score 10 of Portland’s first 14 points and the Blazers were playing stingy defense as Chris Paul was literally, single-handedly helping the Clippers keep pace with Portland.

Paul scored the Clippers’ first 12 points and nobody else scored for them until a Jeff Green free-throw with 2:07 left in the first quarter, a great start to Portland’s best defensive game of the series.

“He’s the guy who makes them go,” Lillard said. “He’s getting Blake that pick and pop jumper. He’s getting JJ Redick those shots. When we have him having 12 points and 0 assists, that’s better for us. Especially when they were contested shots, tough shots, you live with that.”

The Clippers still managed to only be down four at halftime as they bottled up Portand’s stars, Lillard and McCollum, after a dominant Game 3 performance.

Reserves Jeff Green and Jamal Crawford provided some relief but it was the Paul show for most of the first half.

At shoot around earlier in the morning, Crabbe was noticeably sick of being asked questions about his shooting and frustrated with his lack of production.

Brimming with confidence and excitement before a series in his hometown, this series left Crabbe with a completely different expression than the one he had when they left for Game’s 1 and 2.

Then finally, with 5:53 left in the second quarter his breakthrough came, making his first 3-pointer of the series and forcing the Clippers to call timeout down by 8.

Crabbe, after going 2-for-12 in the first three games, was a perfect five-for-five from the field.

“I got great coaches, great teammates, everybody is picking me up: ‘Shoot the ball, it’s what you do, it’s going to drop eventually,'” Crabbe said. “I’m just glad I could join the party in the playoffs, man.”

And although the game was colored by the injuries to the Clippers’ star players, back-to-back buckets from Aminu and Crabbe set the Blazers on their way with under three minutes left, with a fitting end to the Clippers run.

The Blazers will spend one more day in the Northwest, where they will practice before heading down to Los Angeles for pivotal Game 5.

The Blazers out rebounded the Clippers for the second straight game, 58-42.

“I think after Game 1 the Clippers were so forceful inside,” Stotts said. “Particularly Mason and Ed took that to heart and remember how important rebounding is for us on each end.”

Mason Plumlee led the Blazers with 14 rebounds to go along with a team-high 10 assists. Ed Davis had 12 rebounds off the bench.

Columbian Trail Blazers Writer