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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — With a game-opening 3-pointer, Damian Lillard set the tone and the Trail Blazers followed.
Lillard finished with 32 points and Portland rediscovered its offense at home, beating the Los Angeles Clippers 96-88 on Saturday night to pull within 2-1 in the Western Conference first-round series.
"I knew this game if we had come out and lost we'd have been in some real trouble," Lillard said. "So I wanted to come out and leave it all out there, be aggressive at the offensive end and help on the defensive end."
Game 4 is Monday night.
Newly crowned Most Improved Player CJ McCollum added 27 points for Portland to help snap a five-game losing streak to the Clippers going back to the regular season. Mason Plumlee contributed six points, a postseason-high 21 rebounds and nine assists.
Lillard had made only 13 of 39 from the floor, and just 3 of 14 from 3-point range in the first two games combined. But he found his shot on Saturday, hitting 10 of 20 from the field with three 3-pointers. His 32 points matched his playoff high.
"The start he got off to, I think it lifted everybody up because he didn't shoot the ball well in the first two games and the fact that he got us going just encouraged everybody like, 'We're going to be OK,'" Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.
Chris Paul finished with 26 points for the Clippers, who had held the Blazers to an average of just 88 points in the first two games — down from an average of 105.1 in the regular season.
Portland led by as many as 11 points, but the Clippers went ahead 78-77 with 6:26 left. After Portland answered with consecutive baskets from Lillard and Plumlee, Jamal Crawford and Paul answered with a pair of jumpers to put Los Angeles back in front.
Lillard's fadeway gave Portland an 86-85 lead with 2:36 to go. Maurice Harkless added a layup.
There was a scary moment when Paul chased down McCollum on a fast break sending both tumbling under the basket, and Paul appeared to struggle getting up.
Harkless' dunk gave the Blazers a 91-86 lead with 55 seconds left and Los Angeles couldn't catch up.
"They played harder so they deserved to win the game," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "I really thought they deserved to win the game."
Game 3 had been an obstacle for the Blazers: Last season they fell behind Memphis 3-0 in the first round and the year before they were in a 3-0 hole to San Antonio in the conference semifinals. Portland lost both series.
Since 2008, 53 of the last 55 teams to win the first two games of an NBA playoff series have ultimately prevailed. No team has advanced after trailing 2-0 since Memphis came back against the Clippers in the first round in 2013.
The Clippers also blew a 3-1 lead last season against Houston in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Blazers had made just 37 percent of their shots in the first two games after making 45 percent in the regular season. They improved to 42 percent Saturday.
"Tonight we took it up a level," Lillard said. "We really asserted ourselves. We played like a team that really needed to win a game."
Lillard hit the opening 3, scoring 12 points as Portland pulled in front 17-10 after its biggest lead in the first two games was two points. Portland led 49-40 at the half.
Crawford's pull-up jumper got Los Angeles within 70-69 early in the fourth quarter but the Clippers weren't able to pull in front until Ed Davis' goaltending on Austin Rivers' layup made it 78-77 with 6:26 to go.
Clippers: J.J. Redick started despite a bruised heel that kept him out of practice on Friday. ... Paul Pierce, who did not play in Game 2, came off the bench to start the second quarter.
Trail Blazers: McCollum was honored before the game for his award. The Blazers also honored broadcaster Joe Becker, who is retiring after 32 years at Portland's KGW TV.
At times, especially in the third quarter, Plumlee appeared to single-handedly keep the Blazers in the game with his rebounds. He's had more than 10 rebounds in the past two games.
He became the first player with 19 or more rebounds and eight or more assists in a playoff game since LeBron James in 2010. He's also the first Blazer center with eight-plus assists in a postseason game since Arvydas Sabonis in 1999 against Phoenix.
Lillard called him a monster.
"With the attention that me and CJ get, we've got to trust him in the middle to score the ball and make the right play," Lillard said. "Tonight he played close to a perfect game."
Plumlee was brought to the podium to take questions from the media for the first time in his career.
"Good thing I wore a tie," he said.
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