With about eight minutes left in the game, it looked like only one team was going to be making the flight back to Memphis. The Grizzlies were up 10 and seemingly in control of Game 4, locking down the Blazers with their defense. This was about to be a sweep.
But Portland raged, raged against the dying of the light.
Portland closed the game on a 29-12 run thanks to a dozen fourth quarter points from Damian Lillard, and the Blazers stayed alive with a 99-92 win at home. Memphis now leads the series 3-1, with Game 5 back in Memphis on Wednesday.
Lillard, freed from the shackles of Mike Conley (who was out following surgery to his fractured face Monday morning, he is not expected to play Wednesday either), was in attack mode. Lillard averaged 18 points a game in the first three but shot just 35.2 percent, not impacting the game the way the Blazers needed. With Conley out that changed — he put up 32 points. Lillard was attacking, shooting 5-of-8 inside eight feet of the rim, but his midrange jumper was falling as well with a little more space (11 of his 23 shots were uncontested).
Portland also got a boost from their bench. C.J. McCollum had 18 points, and Meyers Leonard was tremendous as a stretch five, scoring 13 points and hitting 3-of-3 from three. Leonard’s play pulled Memphis bigs out of the paint and opened things up for Lillard to drive.
The bench contributions were especially huge on a night LaMarcus Aldrige was just 6-of-22 from the floor, and Nicolas Batum was 3-of-13.
With Conley out, Beno Udrih had 13 points, while Nick Calathes added 12 and hit 4-of-5 from three to give the Grizzlies some production from the one spot. But the problems was on the other end — they could not begin to contain Lillard and that sparked the Blazers’ runs.
Memphis once again got off to a fast start, starting out 12-4 to open the game. But this time Portland responded with a 13-2 run of their own to take a small lead. Portland had its best first quarter of the series and was up 27-22 after one. With Leonard spacing the floor and Lillard attacking Portland stretched out the lead to 55-48 at the half.
Then in the third quarter the Grizzlies took charge again, their defense returned, and they won the quarter 27-13. The Trail Blazers started out 5-25 from the field in the second half. Memphis was battling through screens, blowing up Portland’s pick-and-roll game. The result was a lot of Grizz just fighting through screens and forcing Blazers to go 1-on-1. It worked.
For a while.
Credit Portland for this: They could have just started thinking about tee times for the summer. They didn’t. They fought back.
Can Portland replicate it on the road in Game 5?
Maybe, because it’s tough to imagine Conley is going to play. That said, Memphis was in position to win Game 4 and get the sweep, and at home they are not going to take their foot off Portland’s throat — don’t expect the same defensive slips. It’s going to be much harder for Portland to earn a second win.
But they earned the chance to try.