PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Even as they huddled after the victory that sent them through to the next round, the Portland Trail Blazers were drawing inspiration from the doubters.
The confetti fell on them from the ceiling and Damian Lillard told his gathered teammates he was proud of them for shutting out the “outside noise,” like those who never thought the Blazers would make it to the playoffs — let alone the second round.
Now they’ll have to shut out those who think they have no chance against the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
“We’re just going to go out there and we’re going to compete and we’re going to put our best foot forward,” Lillard said.
Lillard scored 28 points and the Blazers advanced to the Western Conference semifinals by beating the resilient Los Angeles Clippers 106-103 on Friday night to claim the first-round playoff series 4-2.
CJ McCollum added 20 points for the Blazers, who became the first team to overcome a 2-0 deficit since Memphis came back against the Clippers in the first round in 2013. It is the second time in three seasons that Portland has advanced out of the first round.
Jamal Crawford had 32 points and Austin Rivers added 21 points and eight assists despite having 11 stitches above his left eye from a collision in the first quarter. But the Clippers could not recover from injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in Game 4 of the series.
Still, Los Angeles didn’t surrender easily in the final game, never allowing Portland a double-digit lead.
“We didn’t panic when they put up a fight,” Lillard said. “We did the things necessary to win the game.”
The Blazers appeared to pull away when McCollum’s 3-pointer made it 98-91 with 4:49 left, but the Clippers persisted. Already plagued by injuries, the Clippers lost DeAndre Jordan to what looked like a sprained right ankle before Los Angeles closed to 98-95 on J.J. Redick’s jumper.
McCollum’s 3-pointer put Portland up 101-95 with 2:16 left. Again the Clippers clawed back, pulling within 103-101 on Redick’s layup with just under a minute left. Crawford tied it with free throws but Mason Plumlee was fouled by Jeff Green under the basket for free throws to make it 105-103.
Crawford missed a 6-foot jumper and Plumlee made the second of two free throws with 1.5 seconds left for the final margin. Rivers’ 42-foot hurl at the buzzer fell short.
“It’s mixed emotions right now,” Rivers said, his left eye swollen shut. “I’m very sad, I’m very disappointed, but I’m also very proud.”
Portland will face a Golden State team that is dealing with its own injury issue: Reigning MVP Stephen Curry continues to rehab his sprained right knee. There is no official word on when he might return.
The Clippers were ultimately doomed by untimely injuries to their top two scorers. Paul broke a bone in his right hand in the third quarter of the Clippers’ Game 4 loss at Portland. The Clippers’ nine-time All-Star was averaging 23.8 points and 7.3 assists in the series before he was hurt. He had surgery the next day and the Clippers declared him out indefinitely.
In the same game, Griffin aggravated the left quad injury that sidelined him for 41 games this season.
After dropping the first two on the road and evening it with home wins, the Blazers took a 3-2 lead with a 108-98 victory at the Staples Center on Wednesday night. Clippers coach Doc Rivers tinkered with his starting lineup in the absence of Paul and Griffin, inserting Crawford, Rivers and Paul Pierce.
On Friday, he started Luc Mbah a Moute and Jeff Green, while Crawford and Pierce went to the bench.
“This team had more heart than any other team I’ve coached,” the elder Rivers said.
The Clippers got another scare midway through the first quarter when Austin Rivers sustained a cut above his left eye in a collision with Portland’s Al-Farouq Aminu midway through the first quarter. Rivers returned before the end of the half after getting 11 stitches.
Crawford picked up the slack in his absence and had 22 points in the half. But Lillard and McCollum countered with a combined 25 and the Blazers led 50-48 at the break.
Clippers: Redick started all six games despite a heel injury that has reportedly bothered him throughout the series.
Trail Blazers: Pro golfer Peter Jacobsen, a Portland native, made three straight free throws for a contest during a first-half timeout. … Toronto FC and U.S. national team forward Jozy Altidore was among the fans at the game.
Crawford’s 32 points were a playoff high for the 15-year NBA veteran. Now he heads into the offseason as a free agent.
He said he’d like to stay in Los Angeles.
“This feels like home. This feels like my brothers in the locker room: I would like to continue my career with the Clippers,” he said.