Aldridge goes down, but Blazers stay alive
PORTLAND — Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy said his team had nothing left to lose. And so a Blazers squad that simply refuses to quit dug deep, manned up and won it.
Despite losing forward LaMarcus Aldridge to a left ankle sprain early in the first quarter, a Portland team that has already been forced to deal with a series of significant injuries this season stepped up and filled in during Aldridge’s absence.
Led by Brandon Roy’s co-game high 24 points, seven rebounds and six assists, Portland downed the Los Angeles Clippers, 103-99, Wednesday at the Rose Garden before a sold-out crowd of 20,505.
With the victory, the Blazers (21-13) moved into a first-place tie with the Denver Nuggets in the Northwest Division.
“It’s a credit to these guys,” Portland coach Nate McMillan said. “We are right where we were last year, record-wise. And with all the adversity, all the adjustments we’ve had to make with this group, it’s a credit to those players.”
Five Blazers hit double-figures in scoring. Martell Webster added 15 points and four rebounds, while Jerryd Bayless scored 14 points and tied a career-high with eight assists.
Roy again carried the Blazers, shouldering his team while knocking down a variety of shots that ranged from impressive to unreal.
But it was rookie forward Jeff Pendergraph who made the largest unexpected contribution.
Pendergraph replaced the injured Aldridge with 5 minutes, 39 seconds left in the first quarter. By the end of the first half, Pendergraph had recorded eight rebounds and six points.
And he was not done.
The thick-armed, no-nonsense Pendergraph finished with a career-high 14 rebounds and eight points. And he lifted up and inspired his teammates with blocked shots, hard dunks and passionate play.
“I’m just seeing where the ball’s going and just going to get it,” Pendergraph said. “I kind of have an advantage in only (playing) four games; a lot of guys don’t have a scouting report on me.”
Portland shot 50.6 percent (43 of 85) from the field and outrebounded Los Angeles 40-33.
Chris Kaman topped the Clippers (13-17) with 25 points and nine rebounds, while Eric Gordon added 24 points.
The Blazers’ chances took a hit, though, when Aldridge sprained his left ankle early in the first quarter.
Aldridge appeared to tweak his ankle while completing a layup, and then re-injure it as he attempted to plant his feet and reach out for a ball. He pulled up limping, and soon left the court.
Aldridge scored seven points on 3-of-4 shooting before the injury.
“This has gone past crazy,” McMillan said.
He added: “To see our guys drop the way that we are, and to walk in that locker room and see LaMarcus in a boot — not just a swollen ankle, but a boot … it’s a credit to these guys.”
Aldridge did not return to the court following his injury. McMillan said the team was having Aldridge wear a boot as a precaution, but added that he did not know how long the forward will be out.
“I’m afraid when our guys are on the floor,” McMillan said. “I really am.”
Meanwhile, Roy said his team was “snakebit.”
“There’s really no other word for it,” Roy said. “It’s frustrating. … It’s definitely hard because you’re looking to the future and there’s so many games to be played. It’s like we just don’t have the bodies, so we just keep playing.”
A Portland team already playing without injured centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla, who are out for the season, was forced to go small in the attempt to compensate for Aldridge’s absence.
Veteran forward Juwan Howard (10 points) and rookie forwards Pendergraph and Dante Cunningham immediately stepped up. Howard looked a decade younger than his age, 36, blowing by Kaman with a pump fake and sinking a basket.
Meanwhile, Cunningham added six first-half points, and teamed with Pendergraph to give the Blazers much-needed energy and resilience.
Up 25-20 after the first quarter, Portland took a 57-48 lead into halftime.
A three-guard rotation of Roy, Bayless and Steve Blake then keyed a 12-4 fourth-quarter run that pushed Portland’s lead to 95-83 with 7:13 left in the game.
Portland stretched its advantage to 101-91 after Roy knocked down a jump shot with 3:40 left in the fourth quarter.
But the Clippers rode Kaman, and rallied to pull within 101-97.
However, Roy was not finished. He pulled up and sank a 19-foot jumper with 56 seconds to go. And an injury-prone Blazers team pulled out yet another tough, improbable victory.
“Our biggest thing is that we’re going to keep playing,” Roy said. “We don’t have anything to lose.”
Blazers starting point guard Andre Miller was limited to six points on 2-of-7 shooting in 20 minutes of play. Miller did not take the court in the fourth quarter until 10 seconds were left in the period, as the Blazers relied on Blake and Bayless at the point. … Former Blazer guard Sebastian Telfair scored zero points in 9:40 for the Clippers. … Roy has scored 23 or more points in 14 consecutive games, the longest active streak of 20-point games in the NBA.
Best Blazer: Brandon Roy scored a team-high 25 points and added seven rebounds and six assists.
Big numbers: Blazers rookie forward Jeff Pendergraph collected a career-high 14 rebounds.
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