Blazers have proven the doubters wrong into the 2nd round
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Trail Blazers continue to surprise this season, even if they benefited by untimely injuries for the Los Angeles Clippers.
Now they could be helped by another key injury.
After facing a Clippers' team unable to recover from the loss of stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Blazers advanced to the face the Golden State Warriors without Stephen Curry in the Western Conference semifinals.
The defending champion Warriors will be without the league's reigning MVP for at least the first two games - the series opens Sunday at Oracle Arena. While some have suggested that Curry could return as early as Game 3 back in Portland, no official timeline has emerged.
Curry, who has averaged 30.1 points per game, was injured when he slipped on a wet spot on the court last weekend when the Warriors were in Houston for their first-round series. Golden State, which won an NBA record 73 games during the regular season, eliminated the Rockets 114-81 on Wednesday night to claim the series 4-1 and advance.
''With Steph or without Steph, it doesn't matter,'' Blazers guard Allen Crabbe said, ''We've got to take care of our business.''
The Blazers eliminated the Clippers 4-2, capping the series with a 106-103 win on Friday night. While the Blazers were the surprise of the NBA this season, they were unquestionably helped by key injuries that hit Los Angeles.
The Clippers lost both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in the second half of Portland's Game 4 victory. Paul, a nine-time All-Star and the team's top scorer and guiding force, broke a bone in his right hand. Griffin aggravated a left quad injury that had sidelined him for 41 games this season in the same game and was unable to return.
Without their two top scorers, the Clippers lost the two games without them - sending the Blazers on to the next round. Portland became the first team to overcome a 2-0 deficit since Memphis came back against the Clippers in the first round in 2013.
''We thought this team was tough without CP and Blake, but that's a championship team,'' Portland's Damian Lillard said about the Warriors. ''Even without Steph, they're still a championship team. We've got to keep our mind right, compete and play together. We can't be worried about who's not out there because we just watched them beat Houston by 25 twice without Steph.''
Portland was never expected to make the playoffs let alone advance to the conference semis. The Blazers lost all but one - Lillard - of their starters from the previous season, a group that included LaMarcus Aldridge. With one of the youngest rosters in the league, one pundit suggested Portland would barely win 26 games.
The Blazers went on to finish 44-38 with the fifth seed in the Western Conference.
''It feels great,'' Crabbe said. ''Our season was supposed to be over two weeks ago according to everyone else but we're moving on to the second round and it feels really good.''
Playing on the underdog theme, the Blazers gave away T-shirts Friday night that said ''Never Doubt Rip City.''
But Portland will face a daunting challenge in the Warriors.
''They pose a lot of problems. Historically speaking, they had a really good year breaking the record for wins, losing one game at home I believe this year, so you know it's going to be a tough environment,'' Lillard's backcourt teammate CJ McCollum said.
Lillard and McCollum combined for 48 points in Friday night's victory against the surprisingly resilient Clippers, who kept fighting till the very end, despite additional injuries during the game. Austin Rivers had 11 stitches to close a gash on his forehead and played with a swollen-closed eye for much of the game. DeAndre Jordan appeared to sprain his right ankle in the crucial final minutes.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he felt the Blazers have a chance against the Warriors.
''They're playing great basketball,'' Rivers said. ''Their other guys have to make shots, obviously. I think where they improved the most is defensively ... I thought Terry (Stotts) came in and had an excellent game plan defensively against us. Golden State is wounded a bit, so they have a shot.''