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Blazers prevail in close game, as usual

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: MEG WILLIAMS - The scoreboard tells the story after another close victory for the Trail Blazers, in overtime Thursday night at home against the Los Angeles Clippers.There are a couple of truisms regarding the local quintet that we've seen so far in this already eminently memorable season.

The Trail Blazers win close games, and they don't lose when they take a lead into the second half.

It happened again Thursday night at the Moda Center with Portland's 116-112 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

With LaMarcus Aldridge -- listed pregame by coach Terry Stotts as a "game-time decision" -- going for 32 points and 10 rebounds, including seven points in overtime, the Blazers improved their NBA-best record to 24-5.

The Blazers are 14-1 in games decided by 10 points or fewer, 14-0 in games in which they lead at halftime and 19-0 when they are ahead heading into the fourth quarter.

With the score close and the game on the line, what is the Blazers' mind-set?

"We think we're going to win the game," Stotts said. "We don't think we're out of it. Generally, our finishing group is very confident about what we can do at both ends of the court. Offensively, we have a lot of guys who can make shots and make plays, and defensively, we rise to the occasion."

On a night when point guard Chris Paul was all-world, the Clippers (20-11) took Portland to the limit and probably should have won, blowing a three-point lead in the final nine seconds of regulation.

Paul made 11 of his first 14 shots from the field and finished with 34 points, 16 assists, six steals and only one turnover in 45 glorious minutes. The perennial All-Star dominated his point guard matchup with Portland's Damian Lillard, who had 14 points on 4-for-12 shooting to go with five rebounds, four assists and four turnovers.

But Paul also made a defensive gaffe and then missed the potential game-winning shot in the closing seconds of regulation play.

And Lillard, who slipped out of the locker room before meeting with the media, got the "W."

L.A. led 105-102 when Portland's Nicolas Batum, after a timeout, inbounded to Aldridge, took a quick pass back and calmly buried a wide-open 3-pointer from the top of the key with 5.3 seconds left.

Both Paul and coach Doc Rivers offered a mea culpa over the play afterward.

"I should have switched out onto Batum," said Paul, who, indeed, should have done that.

The Clippers had a foul to give, which Rivers chose not to use.

"We gave them that 3 at the end" of regulation, Rivers lamented. "That can't happen. Number one, we should have fouled, and that's on me. We had too much indecision. I always foul (in that situation). The one time I don't, (the Blazers) score."

Stotts had drawn up a play that offered a game-tying attempt to either Batum or Lillard.

"It was a pick between me and Damian, which one would be open first," said Batum, who finished with 19 points and seven assists. The Clippers "had to choose which one."

After Batum's equalizer and the ensuing timeout, the Clippers inbounded to Paul. The Blazers had a foul to give, too, and Stotts eschewed that opportunity. Paul found himself with a surprisingly open 12-foot jumper, which he clanked off the rim as regulation play expired.

"We should not have even been to overtime," Paul said. "I had a great shot to win the game. I got right to where I wanted to.

"I probably tricked myself too much. I went a little too quick, because I thought (the Blazers) were going to try and use one of their fouls. I didn't think I would end up as open as I was. I've got to make that shot."

Portland outscored L.A. 15-11 in overtime, sinking 8 of 8 free throws over the final 1:05 and 9 of 9 during the entire extra session.

The Blazers got excellent individual performances from Batum, Wesley Matthews (19 points, seven rebounds, six assists), Robin Lopez (11 points, 15 rebounds for his 13th double-double) and Mo Williams, who came off the bench for 12 points and matched his season high with eight assists in 24 minutes.

Nobody was bigger than Aldridge, who had three wisdom teeth extracted on Sunday, missed Monday and Wednesday practice sessions and said his mouth "throbbed" as he dressed after Thursday's game.

"When I got here to shoot during pregame, I went out and felt OK," Aldridge said. "After that, I told Stotts, 'I'll play.' "

Aldridge came into the game on a mini-slump, having made only 15 of 46 shots in Portland's previous two games. He was better Thursday, making 15 of his career-high 31 attempts in 40 minutes.

"If you take 31 shots, anyone can find a groove," Aldridge said with a smile. "I felt better tonight -- a little bit rusty to start, but I felt good going into the second half."

Part of the reason Aldridge burped up so many shots is the Clippers focused on limiting Lillard's options off the pick-and-roll.

"They were determined to take him out of pick-and-rolls," Stotts said. "It opened up L.A. for a lot of open looks on the weak side. They trapped Damian and wanted to get the ball out of his hands, but I thought Damian showed great patience with that."

For the longest time, it appeared Paul would carry the Clippers to victory. How good was he?

"Thirty-four, 16 and 6," Batum mused. "What do you want me to say?"

But the Blazers won, again. How are they doing it?

"We're just doing it, and I'm not being a wise guy," Batum said. "We're taking every chance to win games and making good on it."

"We keep finding ways to win games -- making clutch shots, getting stops," Stotts said. "We make it interesting at times, but that was a terrific game, and I'm glad to get a win."

Asked by a national reporter if the Blazers consider themselves championship material, Aldridge couched it this way:

"We're not trying to get too far in front of ourselves. We're going to keep working every night, keep getting better. If that puts us in position to win a championship, then we're going to do it. But we're not going to go off and start making crazy goals right now. We're staying the moment and going game to game."

  • NOTES

    • The Clippers' Blake Griffin also had a terrific game with a season-high 35 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots. Teammate DeAndre Jordan fouled out in overtime with 19 rebounds, two short of his season high.

    • Aldridge needs 23 points to join Clyde Drexler (18,040), Terry Porter (11,330), Cliff Robinson (10,405), Jerome Kersey (10,067) and Jim Paxson (10,003) on Portland's 10,000-point career list.

    • Aldridge, who had his 17th double-double, also had his ninth game of at least 25 points and 10 rebounds, second in the NBA to Minnesota's Kevin Love.

    • The Blazers have scored 105 points or more in 14 straight games, the longest streak in the NBA since Denver did it 16 games in a row in 2008. They have scored 100 or more points in 16 straight games, the first team to do it since Toronto went on a 20-game streak in 2010.

    • Stotts on Williams: "I think he's the best backup point guard in the league."

    • Stotts, after the game in which 228 points were scored: "Our defense was better than their defense. That's Mike D'Antoni's line."

    • Portland ranks No. 1 in the NBA in scoring (108.7) and 3-point percentage (.403), is second in free-throw percentage (.820) and fifth in rebound percentage (.516) and fewest turnovers per game (14.2).

    • Stotts said the Blazers entered the season with the goal of having five players shoot 40 percent or better from 3-point range. Two of them are above that number -- Matthews (.436) and Lillard (.426). Batum (.390) and Dorell Wright (.382) are close. Williams is at .365.

    • Rivers, pregame on the Blazers: "The players have completely bought into Terry and his system. Their system -- especially the offense -- is flawless. They run it; they trust it. You can just see another year with Lillard, now they trust him. That's the beginning of something great, when you have a bunch of talented players who trust each other and allow each other to be great in their own space. They all do it without getting in each other's way. It's pretty neat to watch."

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