Aminu leads Trail Blazers to 116-109 win over Celtics
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) There was no stopping Al-Farouq Aminu on Thursday night.
Aminu slammed down a fast-break running dunk to set a career high for points and tie the game at 81. He yelled and flexed on the baseline, baring his teeth, clenching his fists and ran back down the court, slapping the hands of his teammates who jumped off the bench to celebrate.
Aminu scored a career-best 28 points, including a career-high six 3-pointers, and the Portland Trail Blazers extended their winning streak at home to a season-high six games with a 116-109 victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.
''He turned the game around for us,'' teammate Damian Lillard said. ''For a guy that hadn't been shooting the ball great on a lot of those 3-point shots, tonight when we needed him, he rose up and knocked them down pretty much every time.''
In some ways, Aminu said this performance was a long time coming. He has played in the NBA for six years and has worn four different jerseys, but has never had a game like this. In other ways, he said, this game was just his turn to pick up the slack.
''I always trust the process,'' Aminu said. ''I keep doing what I am supposed to do every day and when you're out there on the court, the work has already been done.''
With only six regular-season games remaining, Portland (40-31) holds the sixth seed in the West. Boston (39-37) entered as the East's fourth seed, but fell to sixth with the loss.
CJ McCollum added 17 points and Lillard had 14 for Portland, helping to avenge a 116-93 blowout loss to the Celtics two weeks ago in Boston.
Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 22 points. Jae Crowder returned to the court after missing the last eight games with a sprained ankle. He didn't miss a beat, sinking a big 3-pointer with 1:08 left to give the Celtics a one-point lead.
McCollum answered with a tough fadeaway jumper to reclaim a 110-109 lead with 1:04 remaining. Allan Crabbe's steal on the next possession led to a dunk by Aminu with 49.2 seconds left. Boston couldn't catch up.
Portland trailed by as many as 12 in the third quarter, only to rally for a 13-point lead in the fourth. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said that their early third quarter lead gave them a ''false sense of security.''
''It kept us feeling better than we were actually playing and they exposed us eventually,'' Stevens said.
Aminu was the Blazers' lifeline in the third, scoring 12 points and matching his career high of 20 points on a dunk, sparking Portland. Crabbe's 3-pointer and a rebound basket by Ed Davis capped the Blazers' 10-0 run, tying the game at 81 and bringing the crowd to its feet.
With Lillard on the bench to start the fourth, the Blazers took over.
Lillard re-entered the game with 6:35 remaining and Portland's lead began to dwindle after Davis fouled out with four points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists. The Celtics were able to close the gap to two with just over 3:25 to go.
With the crowd chanting ''MVP,'' Lillard made two free throws to ice the win.
''A lot of the time, you see guys say, `This was a great team win' and this was really what that was,'' Lillard said. ''They came out early and made it hard on me and CJ, coming off ball screens and handoffs. They basically said they were going to force everyone else to beat us and everybody showed up tonight.''
The Blazers were lifeless early, going scoreless for the first three minutes. Lillard struggled in the first, scoring only six points, and going 0 for 3 from deep range. Portland was able to take the lead briefly off a 3-pointer from Maurice Harkless with just over three minutes remaining in the first.
The Celtics' stellar defense, highlighted by a 7-0 run to start the second quarter, allowed them to build a 58-54 lead at the half. Thomas led all scorers with 13 points at the break.
Lillard was well off his average of 25.4 points a game, and credited Bradley with stellar defense. Against Bradley, Lillard has shot only 33 percent in the last seven games against the Celtics.
''I told him he's the best perimeter defender in the league,'' Lillard said about his brief chat with Bradley after the game. ''Because he is.''
Celtics: Have a two-game streak against the Blazers and were looking for their first sweep of Portland since the 2010-11 season.
Trail Blazers: Lillard had scored at least 20 points in the Blazers' last two meetings with the Celtics. ... The Blazers are still adjusting to the loss of Meyers Leonard, who will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Trail Blazers: host Miami on Saturday.
Celtics: visit Golden State on Friday.