Aminu And Injuries Surface As Portland Ties Series With Game Four Win

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- Though Al-Farouq Aminu had struggled mightily from behind the three-point line in the first three games of Portland's first round playoff series versus the Clippers, his coaches and teammates were adamant that they wanted the starting forward to keep shooting. Sooner or later, the percentages would come back around and the shots were start falling.

Luckily for Aminu and the Trail Blazers, it was sooner.

The 6-9 forward in his sixth season out of Wake Forest and his first in Portland went 6-of-10 from three and 11-of-20 from the field to finish with a playoff career-high 30 points as the Trail Blazers defeated the Clippers 98-94 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,607 at the Moda Center Monday night. The series is now tied at 2-2 with Game Five scheduled for Wednesday at Staples Center.

"It was just a matter of time," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of Aminu's performance Monday night. "Obviously he struggled shooting the ball the first three games, but that didn't take away from what he was giving us defensively. It was good to see him break out. Everybody has been encouraging him and he's put in the time and, like I said, it was just a matter of time before he had a game like that."

Aminu, who had score just 28 points in the first three games combined, hit his first two shots, both three-pointers, and would go on to score Portland's first eight points. He would go on to score 10 points in the first quarter, which was especially timely with the rest of the team combining to go 3-of-15 from the field in the first 12 minutes.

"Some of the greatest shooters have gone through slumps," said Aminu. "Like Ray Allen, I remember he went through a slump when he was in the Finals. I remember just watching what he was saying and he said he got up the same shots that he always got up. He did exactly what he always (did). Sometimes that just happens. I know if it can happen to Ray Allen of course it could happen to me."

And on Monday, it was happening to all of the Clippers not named Chris Paul in the first quarter. Over 10 minutes had elapsed in the first quarter before a non-Paul Clipper scored from the field, though Paul would put up 12 points in 11 minutes to keep L.A. within four going into the second quarter.

The next three quarters, while not as offensively challenged, would continue along the same general path, with both teams turning the ball over and neither having much luck stringing together consecutive quality possessions. It wasn't until the Trail Blazers were able to go on an 18-6 run to start the fourth that they able to put enough separation between themselves and the Clippers to get their deep bench a few minutes before finishing off the 14-point, wire-to-wire victory.

"I think we came out and it was obvious that we weren’t going to go away," said Damian Lillard. "What we did last game, we didn’t want it to seem like, 'Oh they can do it for one game, fight for one game.' We came out and did the things that we did last game at an even higher level. Multiple guys stepped up. We had just a great group effort. I think everybody was locked in to what we needed to do as a team and we turned it up tonight from last game."

After Lillard and CJ McCollum carried the load in Portland's Game Three victory, it was their lesser-regarded teammates who made the difference Monday night. Allen Crabbe, who had struggled as much as Aminu in the first three games, went a perfect 5-of-5 from the field and 2-of-2 from three to finish with 12 points in 27 minutes.

"It felt good," said Crabbe. "I just need to see the first one go in, felt like myself tonight. They denied me the ball, they don't help off of me when we're in pick and rolls, so I just had to find other ways to get the ball. Handoffs, get into my one-dribble pullup -- I like those. Just finding ways to score."

Maurice Harkless built on a strong Game Three performance, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes. Mason Plumlee, who, along with Lillard and McCollum, was integral in the Game Three victory, might have trumped that performance in Game Four, finishing with a double-double of 14 rebounds and 10 assists to go with three blocks and two points in 29 minutes.

"Almost all of the players were here in September and in pickup games, (Plumlee) was doing the same thing," said Stotts of his starting center. "He was getting rebounds, taking it full court, you could really tell he could handle the ball, he had great sense as a passer and we felt even going back then, that we were going to try to put him in positions that he could make those plays."

The Clippers lost far more than Game Four Monday night, as starting point guard Chris Paul left the game in the third quarter with a broken bone in his right hand. He did not return, and one would expect he'll miss the rest of the series with the injury.

"My job as a coach is to figure out a way of getting us up and ready for Game Five," said Doc Rivers. "There’s nobody, probably in the league, that’s going to replace Chris Paul so there’s nobody clearly on our team that’s going to do it. As a group everybody pitches in."

Clippers starting power forward Blake Griffin also sat out the fourth quarter with what the team called a sore left quad. Rivers speculated that there was a "50/50" chance the All-Star forward would be available to play in Game Five Wednesday night at Staples Center.

Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm on KGW, NBA TV and 620 AM.

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