The toll of losing Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, the emotions it extracted and a fourth-quarter scoring binge by Damian Lillard were too much for the Clippers to handle on Wednesday.
CJ McCollum had 27 points, and Lillard scored 16 of his 22 points in the final period as the Portland Trail Blazers earned a 108-98 victory over the Clippers to take a 3-2 lead in a Western Conference quarterfinal matchup on Wednesday at Staples Centre.
“Like they turned their energy up in the beginning of the third (quarter), and we were exhausted,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I had to call two timeouts. You could just see it. That’s not conditioning, that was emotion.”
Maurice Harkless contributed 19 points and 10 rebounds, Allen Crabbe added 11 points, and Mason Plumlee and Gerald Henderson chipped in 10 apiece for Portland. Plumlee also grabbed 15 rebounds.
However, it was Lillard, sinking four of six 3-point attempts in the final period, who allowed the Trail Blazers to seize control and put themselves on the verge of securing a second-round matchup with the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
“That’s my entire career in the league,” said Lillard, who finished 7-for-20 from the floor and 5-for-10 on 3-pointers. “I’ve always been able to put the first three quarters behind me and come up big when my team has needed it.
“You know, all my teammates throughout the game, they just kept saying, ‘Keep shooting, stay with it, stay aggressive, keep your mind right,’ and I would have been doing that all along, but it was – it felt good to have that encouragement and that support, especially with them trapping so high out.”
J.J. Redick had 19 points, while Jamal Crawford scored 17 on 6-of-23 shooting for the Clippers, who played their first game of the series without Griffin and Paul.
Both were injured on Monday in the Clippers’ Game 4 loss at Portland. DeAndre Jordan collected 16 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks for Los Angeles.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by McCollum and Lillard, who scored 19 in the second half, put Portland up 102-86 with 4:13 remaining in the contest. The Clippers never recovered.
“I think we were doing a good job on Dame Lillard through the course of the game,” Crawford said.
“The fourth quarter, he just made some tough shots. Guys on him played great defense, but I think he hit one backboard shot. … When he gets going, it gives their whole team confidence.”
Rivers started Crawford, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, and Paul Pierce at forward, Jordan at centre, and Redick and Austin Rivers in the backcourt.
The Clippers started slowly and looked like a group that had played little together in the opening quarter. However, they shook off their sluggish beginning to build an eight-point lead in the second quarter. Lillard, though, took over in the fourth.
Game 6 is on Friday at Portland’s Moda Centre.
“We want to close the series out,” McCollum said. “We’ve got a unique opportunity here to play an elimination game at home, and we want to make sure we take full advantage of it.”
The Blazers trailed 50-45 at halftime but went on a 10-0 run to open the third period, taking a five-point advantage after a jumper by McCollum. Lillard, who managed just three points and missed all five of his field-goal attempts in the first half, hit his first shot from the floor – a 3-pointer – during the run to give Portland a 51-50 lead.
The Blazers grabbed their largest lead, 71-62, in the third after a dunk by Plumlee with 2:15 remaining. However, Los Angeles scored the quarter’s final nine points, capped by two Crawford free throws, to tie the score at 71 heading in the fourth.