Damian Lillard Keeps Portland's Playoff Run Alive With Clutch Performance In Victory Over Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies were without their starting point guard, Mike Conley, who underwent facial surgery earlier Monday, April 27, but nonetheless looked to complete a series sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers and prepare to face the Golden State Warriors in the next round. In the end, Conley's absence proved to be too great as Damian Lillard exploded for 32 points and seven assists in leading the Trail Blazers to a Game 4 victory, 99-92.

Damian Lillard had struggled through the first three games, mostly due to Conley's suffocating defense throughout the series, but with Conley sidelined for Game 4, Lillard stepped up and took advantage. 

Nick Calathes got the nod to start at point guard for Memphis and at the start of the game; it seemed as if Conley's absence would have no ill effect on the Grizzlies as they got off to a quick 12-4 start. Slow starts have become a theme for Portland who kicked off the quarter going 3-for-11 from the field as a team. The Blazers recovered, however, and kept themselves within striking distance of the Grizzlies. Damian Lillard really heated up in the last two minutes as he scored the last five points of the quarter as the Blazers responded with a run to take a five-point lead, 27-22, into the second quarter. Marc Gasol led the way for Memphis with eight points in the first quarter.

Damian Lillard led the way for Portland with 16 points and five assists in the first half and looked much more comfortable within the flow of the game than in any prior game in the series. Meyers Leonard had a big half off the bench, contributing 13 points, including 3-of-3 on three pointers.

For as well as the Portland Trail Blazers played in the first half, they were just as bad in the third quarter as they were outscored 27-13. LaMarcus Aldridge went 0-of-7 in the frame, his most attempts without a make in a quarter this season. Marc Gasol was highly effective inside as the Grizzlies led a well-balanced attack to move ahead in the scoring department. The Memphis Grizzlies took a 75-68 lead into the fourth quarter as they looked poised to close out the series and advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. 

It looked grim for Portland early in the quarter as the Grizzlies extended their lead to a game-high 10 points and forced Portland to call a timeout with 8:48 remaining in Portland's playoff run. Damian Lillard, however, had other plans as he led the Trail Blazers in a fourth quarter rally that resulted in a 29-12 run to end the game victoriously and extend the series to Game 5 back in Memphis. The Trail Blazers orchestrated a hard-fought comeback to tie the game at 82 with just over 4:30 to play on a C.J. McCollum layup. Lillard scored 12 points of his own with four of them being clutch free throws down the stretch to ice the game and swing the momentum of the series in Portland's favor.

LaMarcus Aldridge was again ineffective offensively, 6-of-22 shooting, as Zach Rudolph did a superb job defensively on the All-Star power forward all game long but did manage to finish 18 points and 12 rebounds. Nicolas Batum, too, had his offensive struggles but finished with a double-double, 12 points and 13 boards. C.J. McCollum added 18 points off the bench.

Marc Gasol led the Grizzlies with 21 points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists.

With Mike Conley doubtful for Wednesday night's game in Memphis, April 29, the Grizzlies will have to figure out a way to slow down Damian Lillard offensively as he had by far his best performance in Game 4. Damian Lillard gives the Portland Trail Blazers hope that they can prolong this series even further as long as the Grizzlies look for answers on how to slow down the budding superstar without their floor general to slow him down.

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