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The injury occurred with 4:40 minutes remaining in the opening quarter, after Aldridge took a pick-and-pop feed from point guard Damian Lillard, dribbled to his left against the defense of Grizzlies bruiser Zach Randolph, and found himself fending off a double-team from Memphis perimeter stopper Tony Allen:
Aldridge immediately grabbed his left hand in pain after Allen's dig-down, which resulted in a Grizzlies steal, but recovered in time to prevent an easy score by blocking a layup attempt by Memphis guard Nick Calathes.
The Blazers' leading scorer and rebounder stayed in the game through the end of the quarter, and returned to the contest just past the halfway point of the second, with Portland holding a three-point lead in a battle between two of the top four teams in the Western Conference. Aldridge finished out the first half, but left the court just before the start of the third quarter; soon thereafter, the Blazers confirmed that neither he nor swingman Nicolas Batum — who came down hard and awkwardly early in the first half, causing persistent back pain that slowed him on both ends — would return to the contest.
The short-handed Blazers battled back in the second half, with Lillard scoring 23 of his game-high 27 after intermission. But behind a balanced attack — all five starters in double-figures, led by 23 points on 8-for-16 shooting and nine rebounds from much-discussed forward Jeff Green — the Grizzlies held on for a 97-86 win that improved their record to 49-21, giving them a 2 1/2 game lead over the Houston Rockets for the No. 2 seed in the West.
The loss, Portland's fourth straight, dropped the Blazers to 44-24, four games back of the Grizzlies and mere percentage points ahead of the No. 5-seeded Los Angeles Clippers in the race for a top-four seed in the fairer conference.
There were two bits of good news associated with Aldridge's ailment. Number one: it was not related to the torn left thumb ligament through which he's been playing for the past two months. Number two: X-rays on Aldridge's left hand came back negative.
That, however, doesn't mean everything's hunky-dory with the sweet-shooting big man's left paw, as relayed by Trailblazers.com's Casey Holdahl:
Aldridge is out with what the team is calling a “left hand injury.” The 6-11 power forward said after the game that the injury was not to the torn ligament in his left, non-shooting thumb.
“It just got hit really hard, I really can’t move it, really use it as much,” said Aldridge. “I tried to play with it in the second quarter, I really didn’t feel like I was efficient out there with it as far as being able to use it. I already have my thumb messed up, so not being able to use my hand was just too much.” [...]
“Tony Allen hit it on the one drive where he stole it,” said Aldridge. “He literally hit it, so I thought something was messed up in it because it was such a sharp pain… These type of things happen in the sport. It was disappointing to leave the game but hopefully I can ice it and try to get back as soon as possible.”
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While Lillard's proven himself to be one of the league's top point guards and Blazers coach Terry Stotts ranks among the NBA's pre-eminent tacticians, it's Aldridge — who finished with 16 points on 7-for-12 shooting and five rebounds in 18 minutes of work before his injury forced him off the floor — who serves as the focal point and linchpin for the Blazers' high-powered, free-flowing offense. It's his ability to operate out of the post against virtually any interior defender, and to draw plodding big men out of the paint with his talent for draining long jumpers, that helps create the mismatches, driving and passing lanes that allow Stotts' motion scheme to function so effectively.
It's remarkable that he's been able to produce at such a high level despite the torn ligament in his off hand for this long, but if ice, rest and treatment don't help this latest injury subside in a hurry, it's difficult to see him continuing to do so in the season's highest-leverage moments. A Portland club already operating without 3-point marksman, defensive maestro and locker-room leader Wesley Matthews, lost for the season to a torn Achilles tendon, can ill-afford to lose Aldridge or Batum for an extended period this late in the game.
With only one game separating the fourth and seventh seeds in the West, the Blazers' margin for error is essentially nonexistent. At this stage, all Aldridge and company can really do is hope to weather the storm.
“When it rains, it pours,” he said, according to Holdahl. “I’ve been here nine years and I’ve seen things like this happen through the course of my years in Portland. We just have little nagging injuries or sometimes major things. It’s a part of the sport. It’s a bad time for it because it is a time when you want to be peaking and you’re trying to play your best basketball, but just got to go home and use our home crowd to find our confidence and start playing better basketball.”
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