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'Big-time' Blazers season ends against big-time MVP, Warriors

TRIBUNE PHOTO: GEROME WRIGHT - Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee soars for a two-handed dunk against Golden State during Game 5 Wednesday night at Oakland.OAKLAND — The buzzer sounded, the game, the series and the season finally over. Damian Lillard’s first steps were toward the Trail Blazers bench.

One by one, as yellow confetti streamed onto the court, Portland’s captain, leader and best player greeted each of his teammates with an embrace, a fist bump, a few words.

“I wanted to acknowledge my teammates first,” Lillard said an hour later as he walked from the last press conference of the season to the bus that would carry the Blazers to the airport for their final flight home. “What we got done this season was big-time, man.

“When we started, a lot of us didn’t know each other well, but we built relationships. We got together and became a group. We bonded. We made something of our season. And in the end, we pushed the best team in the league to the limit.”

Boy, did they.

The record book will say “Golden State 4, Portland 1,” but it ought to come with an asterisk.

“Seeing 4-1 — it didn’t feel like that,” Golden State forward Draymond Green said after the Warriors closed out the Western Conference semifinals with a 125-121 victory Wednesday night at Oracle Arena.

Game 5 typified the series. The Blazers led through most of the first 2 1/2 quarters and were still in it until the final seconds, just as they were in the last three of their four losses.

“It’s not often that you play against a team in the playoffs and admire them at the same time,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr observed. “But I admire what they do, and (coach) Terry Stotts did a phenomenal job.

“It was just a fantastic series. We had to fight and scrap and claw and do everything possible. That’s a tough team to guard and tough team to play against. Much respect.”

The Blazers went down swinging.

“I’d have bet my last dollar that we were going out with a fight tonight, no matter what,” reserve forward Ed Davis said. “We did. Proud of that.”

It took a step-back 3 from guess who — yeah, Stephen Curry — over the outstretched arm of Al-Farouq Aminu with 24.9 seconds left to effectively close things out, giving the Warriors a 121-116 lead and turning the remaining time into a free-throw contest that Curry would win, too.

“Probably a shot only he can hit,” Kerr said of Curry’s dagger 3-pointer. “Steph is Steph. I think our fans are used to it. Our staff is. He makes these incredibly difficult shots. He’s quite a weapon to have.”

So is Lillard, who finished the series with another poor shooting game — 7 for 24 from the field, 2 for 8 from 3-point range — but another courageous performance with 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

The Blazers also got 27 points — 16 in the fourth quarter — eight rebounds and five assists from CJ McCollum, 16 points and nine boards from Aminu and a career playoff-high 20 points off the bench from Allen Crabbe.

It wasn’t quite enough to get past the Warriors, who got 13 points, 11 rebounds and six assists from Green and 33 points from Klay Thompson, who sank 13 of 17 shots from the field, including 6 of 9 from 3-point range.

“Klay’s shooting was incredible tonight,” Kerr said.

Thompson was the guy, too, who guarded Lillard through five games, making it difficult for the Blazers’ meal ticket to get open shots.

“That dude had the best series I’ve ever seen him play on both ends of the court,” Curry said. “Defending ‘Dame,’ exhausting all his energy to make it uncomfortable for him. All that and what he was able to do offensively. Hopefully, that doesn’t get lost.”

The difference-maker the last two games, though, was Curry, who was honored in a pregame ceremony after claiming the second of consecutive Most Valuable Player trophies on Tuesday. Then the Baby-Faced Assassin, in his second game back after missing two weeks with a sprained right knee, scored 22 of his 29 points in the second half, dished out 11 assists and made the biggest shot of the night.

“He makes big-time shots,” Stotts said. “You saw that in Game 4. The series may have been different had he played in the first two games. Maybe not. Who knows?”

Or to put it another way: The series may have been different had Curry not played in the final two games.

No “maybe” about it.

Golden State shot superbly Wednesday night — .512 from the field, .438 from 3-point territory — and still had a devil of a time polishing off the Blazers.

“It was a grind-it-out series,” Curry said. “They’re a very talented team. When they make 3’s, it’s tough to separate yourself.

“We played decent. We didn’t play amazing. But we did enough to get the job done.”

Just as they had done in their last three victories in the series.

“They did what championship teams do,” Lillard said. “When it was time to win games, they did things a little bit better than we did.

“But we should be proud of the way we pushed them. That easily could have been a seven-game series if the ball goes this way instead of that way in a couple of the games.”

After Monday’s Game 4 in Portland, Green was asked if the Blazers had earned his respect.

“Ask me Wednesday night,” he said then. “We have another game to play.”

On Wednesday night, Green was giving the Blazers their due.

“We didn’t want to go back to Portland and play (Game 6),” he said. “That crowd is amazing. They’re tough there.

“Just happy to be done with the series. That’s a team that continued to fight. Lot of guys stepped up huge for them. I gained a lot of respect for those guys, the way they fought behind the lead of Dame and CJ.”

So Portland’s season ends, just like that.

“Hasn’t hit me yet,” said forward Moe Harkless, who scored 13 points, including three 3-pointers, in 20 minutes on his 23rd birthday. “Probably won’t for a little bit. This is what we worked hard for all year. It’s always tough to lose a game, but to lose a game that ends your season really sucks.”

“When (the season’s end) happens, it happens quick,” center Mason Plumlee said. “You always believe you’re in it. You go out there to win the game. We really felt like we’d be going back to Portland for Game 6.

“Tough game. Tough loss. They hit a lot of tough shots. We made them earn it. Whoever’s coming back (to the Blazers), we have to use this to grow. It’s something to build on.

“When we take time to look back at it all, guys will be very proud of this season. You’re playing against arguably the best team in the league. Even though this wasn’t the finals, they’re a finals team.”

Davis grew wistful, realizing there will be some roster movement in the offseason.

“It was fun playing with this team,” he said. “I know I’ll never be able to share a locker room with this same group again. I enjoy my teammates. We had a fun year. We beat all expectations and proved everybody wrong. Guys got better.

“It’s been a learning experience. It’s tough to make it to the playoffs; it’s tough to win a series. We did that. We had a fun ride.”

NOTES: The Warriors lost center Andrew Bogut due to a abductor muscle injury in the second quarter. He didn’t return. Green left late in the third quarter with an ankle injury but did return. … Curry tied Reggie Miller’s NBA record of 44 straight playoff games with at least one made 3-pointer. … Kerr, asked before the game if he thought about taking a technical during the time guard Shaun Livingston drew a pair of T’s and was ejected from Game 4: “I’d have gotten one if he hadn’t gotten the second. He took care of that for me.” … Kerr, told by a reporter that Thompson looked tired during Game 4: “Klay should be tired. He’s been chasing Damian Lillard around for four games. That’s a tough job.” … Stotts, asked if he gives Lillard a green light to shoot 3’s even on a poor shooting night like in Game 4: “If he’s got a shot, I want him to shoot it … Steph wasn’t shooting very well for three quarters, either. I think he had a green light, too.” … Stotts said part of his coaching philosophy is this: “You have to learn from the past, but not dwell on it.”

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