Trail Blazers vs Warriors Wednesday, 04/13/11 AT 07:30PM

Sixth Seed Locked: Portland Surges Through Memphis

04/12/11
  1. Written by: Grant Lucas  / avg. rating: 5.0

    An early timeout in the third quarter allowed the Portland Trail Blazers (48-33) to gather themselves and put together an 11-3 run to pull away from the Memphis Grizzlies (46-35) and eventually seal a 102-89 win, earning Portland its second consecutive six-seed in the postseason.

    "We didn't play sharp basketball... But we got it done, we clinched and were able to close it out," said head coach Nate McMillan, who, with the victory tonight, exceeded .500 for the first time in his Trail Blazer career. "To get to the six spot, I think is a great accomplishment for this team with all they had to go through this year, different guys having to fill in and make adjustments, and guys stepped in, played good basketball, and gave us an opportunity to play postseason basketball."

    The Trail Blazers hit nine of their 18 three-pointers and outscored Memphis 21-11 at the free throw line en route to the win that also allowed Portland to take the season series from the Grizzlies 2-1.

    LaMarcus Aldridge put up his fourth straight double-double, notching a game-high 22 points and 11 rebounds. Rudy Fernandez led all bench scorers with 18 points, going 4-for-5 from three-point range, while Nicolas Batum chipped in with 16 points and five boards as a reserve.

    "We look good," Aldridge said. "I think (Marcus) Camby back tonight looked good for us. We have our size back. I feel like guys are playing confident right now. We have guys playing well. I feel like our rotations are good. Defense has been better lately. So I think we look good."

    McMillan added that having Fernandez knock down shots is something the Trail Blazers love to see, saying that sometimes he becomes "too unselfish" and that Fernandez should continue to shoot.

    "It's a spark that's needed," McMillan said. "Coming off the bench, his energy - I think the team feeds off of that. When he is attacking the basket, getting to the free throw line, making plays, whether he's stealing the ball or making an assist, certainly when he's knocking his three, he becomes a weapon out there that teams have to defend and play."

    Gerald Wallace posted all of his 14 points and four rebounds in the second half, Wesley Matthews added 13 points and Andre Miller finished with nine points and eight assists.

    For Memphis, it was Mike Conley leading the way with 17 points. O.J. Mayo and Sam Young each had 13 points, Shane Battier accounted for 12 points off the bench and Marc Gasol recorded 11 points and 10 boards.

    "We feel that we can play with anybody and we can beat anybody, regardless of who's on the court for our team," Conley said. "I think we just played confident tonight and were able to stick with them as long as we could. They just had too much talent, too many guys when it came down the stretch."

    The first half saw eight ties and 14 lead changes before they went into the locker room knotted up at 45, but the Trail Blazers began to clamp down on defense and ran the floor in the third quarter, building a nine-point advantage late in the third quarter that gave Portland some breathing room.

    At one point in that frame, the Grizzlies missed 10 consecutive shots, lasting nearly nine minutes without hitting a field goal. Portland used that time to outscore Memphis 19-8 and snatch a seven-point lead.

    "We needed to flip that switch on," McMillan said. "That team was aggressive, playing pretty loose and the approach tonight was a closeout game. That was the mentality, the approach that I wanted to see tonight, having an opportunity to close a team out."

    The Grizzlies sank 10 of their 19 shots in the closing quarter, but the Trail Blazers did the same, including a 3-for-5 mark from beyond the arc and all five of their free throws to maintain a double-digit advantage and a 13-point win.

    Wallace was held scoreless and reboundless in the opening half, but Aldridge made up for it with 14 points and eight boards, but the Grizzlies held their ground despite not playing starters Tony Allen and Zach Randolph, as Memphis shot 47.6 percent from the field to even things up at the break.

    After the Trail Blazers' third quarter gave them an eight-point edge going into the fourth, Fernandez spotted up and drilled a transition three to build the advantage to 10. As Portland fended off any Memphis rallies, Wallace finished the Grizzlies off, burying a top-of-the-key three-pointer with less than a minute remaining and the Trail Blazers up 11.

    Now that Portland has clinched the sixth spot in the Western Conference, is it realistic the Trail Blazers can make it out of the first round? Aldridge thinks so.

    "Why not?" he said. "People thought we weren't going to make the playoffs - now we're a six seed so I think as long as everybody comes to play, as long as we bring our A-game, then anything is possible."

    First, Portland will wrap up its regular season schedule with a visit to Oracle Arena tomorrow night, when the Trail Blazers take on the Golden State Warriors (35-46).

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