Brad Stevens had a blueprint for success Thursday night, and the Boston Celtics all but executed it to perfection.
With defensive maven Jae Crowder back in the lineup for the first time since March 11, Stevens tasked Crowder and Co. with shutting down the Portland Trail Blazers’ dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and forcing their teammates to beat Boston.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened.
The Celtics held both Lillard (14 points on 3 of 16 shooting) and McCollum (17 points on 8 of 19 shooting) to relative off-nights, but unheralded Blazers swingman Al-Farouq Aminu poured in a career-high 28 points to lift Portland to a 116-109 win at Moda Center.
Boston did little to hide its defensive strategy, consistently playing off Aminu and allowing him to get open looks while focusing its defensive energy on Lillard and McCollum. When asked after the game about Aminu’s offensive outburst, all Stevens could do was tip his cap.
“Aminu made shots consistently all game,” Stevens said in a postgame interview aired on CSN New England. “And that was part of the idea, was to make it as hard as possible on McCollum and Lillard. You’ve got to do something, so I thought our guys did a great job on McCollum and Lillard for the most part, and those other guys stepped up and made good plays.”
Aminu had some help, as Gerald Henderson and Allen Crabbe both hit several huge shots as part of the Blazers’ 31-8 run that helped them surge to a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.
But Aminu still was the headliner. The 25-year-old, who entered Thursday averaging just 9.9 points per game and 1.4 made 3-pointers per game, knocked down six 3-pointers on 11 attempts, including two clutch deep balls in the fourth quarter.
“Hey, if he’s going to shoot 11 (3-pointers) in a game and Lillard’s going to go 3-for-16, then you hope that you’ve got a better chance,” Stevens added. “But to (Aminu’s) credit — and he’s made four out of 12 before in a game this year and everything else — he stepped up and knocked those down. He deserves credit for that.”
The Celtics deserve most of the blame for Thursday’s loss, as they let a double-digit lead slip away in the second half and failed to execute in the game’s final minute. But you can’t discredit them for failing to stop Portland’s potent guard duo, even if an unexpected third party made them pay.
Thumbnail photo via Steve Dykes/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu (8) celebrates after scoring during the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. The Trail Blazers won 116-109.