Dallas Mavericks v Portland Trail Blazers - Game Three

NBA Playoffs: Aggressive Trail Blazers make a series out of it

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Portland just came out aggressive. Finally.

Sometimes it’s not about the Xs and Os, it’s about energy and execution. Portland had that in the Rose Garden. Credit the home crowd (always one of the best in the league). Credit desperation. Credit Everclear. (The band, not the drink.)

Whatever it was Portland came out far more intense and aggressive — we saw it defensively on the pick-and-roll (hedging out rather than laying back). We saw it when Portland came out trying to run. We saw it in just a seemingly more confident shooting stroke from three for their shooters. All that together meant Portland came away with a 97-92 win that makes the series 2-1 — a series that is still completely up in the air.

Nobody symbolized the new, more aggressive Blazers better than Wes Mathews, who came out of the locker room gunning and had 16 first quarter points including hitting 4-of-5 three pointers. He fed off the crowd.

The other big key for Portland was the return of Brandon Roy — he still comes off the bench, but he was a role player with some moves who could score tonight. (We’ll ignore that late fourth quarter rushed three against the clock and pretend it didn’t happen.) Roy had 16 off the bench — the Blazers bench had been a sore point all series, but tonight there was some production.

Not as much as Dallas got, with 29 from not quite Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry. Terry was the most aggressive player in the game — he gets to the line because of how he attacks the rim.

There will be no easy games for anyone in this series and so it was that Dallas was back in this by the end of the first quarter and led for much of the third. But that was until Roy had seven points late in the third that sparked an 11-4 run and put Portland back on top. Gerald Wallace had seven in the fourth and Portland made plays down the stretch.

That included a jumper from LaMarcus Aldridge, who had a good game and 20 points. He wasn’t hitting like he is capable of, but respect for what he does opened things up for Mathews early. When Aldridge faced some foul trouble, the former D-League Defensive Player of the Year Chris Johnson stepped in and played fantastically.

Portland got a real, balanced team effort. They got a win. They made it a series.

But if they want to make it a series they can win then Game 4 is also a must.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: