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Damian Lillard’s rib injury has squashed Trail Blazers’ playoff aspirations

Kevon Looney, Damian Lillard
Golden State Warriors center Kevon Looney, top, reaches for the ball over Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard during the second half of Game 2 of the NBA Western Conference finals on May 16. Lillard suffered separated ribs on the play.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Portland’s Damian Lillard is playing through separated ribs, but even that hasn’t been the most painful part of his Western Conference finals.

No, that would be the way the Trail Blazers have allowed double-digit leads in the second half slip away in each of their last two games, which have left them trailing Golden State 3-0 in the series entering Monday’s potential elimination game at Moda Center.

As if the Warriors, amid a run in which they have won three of the last four NBA titles, needed to make any more history, they are now the first team since the shot-clock era began in 1954 to win consecutive playoff games after trailing by 13 or more points at halftime.

“Obviously, it’s frustrating,” Lillard said Sunday, one day after Golden State’s 110-99 victory, in which the Warriors trailed by as many as 18. “Game 2, we had that game and let that one slip away. Had a double-digit lead in Game 3, let that one slip away as well. So I think it’s frustrating for that reason because you could be up 2-1 and you’re down 0-3 and you know, you look at the numbers, it’s a slim chance that you’re winning the series like that.”

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Those already slim chances of a comeback decrease even more if Lillard can’t play up to his usual All-NBA standard. No Trail Blazer has used a higher percentage of plays during this postseason than Lillard, and no player means more to the team, period.

Lillard injured his ribs early in the second half of Game 2 when Warriors center Kevon Looney fell atop his left side while chasing a loose ball. The injury has made it harder for Lillard, who has taken to wearing a padded vest under his jersey, to breathe when he is fatigued but is “not something that’s affecting anything that I’m doing,” he said.

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said he was unaware of how much Lillard’s injury was bothering him until Saturday.

“Generally, when he has something going on, he kind of keeps it to himself,” Stotts said.

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But whether it’s the ribs, or a Golden State defense that has trapped him off of pick-and-rolls, and occasionally also shaded a third defender his way, usually stationed near the entrance of the key, Lillard’s shooting totals have dipped.

He shot 30% in the second half of Game 2, immediately following the injury, then made 27% of his field-goal attempts in Game 3. He finished with 19 points, six rebounds and six assists, but was unable to play the role that has become his specialty in seven NBA seasons: closer.

Lillard made two of his seven attempts in the fourth quarter of Game 3.

“I imagine it’s painful,” teammate C.J. McCollum said. “There’s not much more he can do to increase my level of respect for him. I understand who he is as a person to the core. It’s an unfortunate situation and injury to have to fight through but he’s a strong person and understands we’re in the playoffs right now.

“There are no excuses. There’s no way I feel like he could sit out of a game or anything of that nature.”

When Lillard isn’t rolling, typically McCollum takes over the offensive load to compensate. In the fourth quarter of Games 2 and 3, however, McCollum made two of his 12 shots. He also made only one of his five free throws in Saturday’s final quarter.

“I think they did a good job defensively,” McCollum said of the Warriors limiting Portland to a 33-point second half Saturday. “We didn’t do such a good job finishing plays.”

Golden State Warriors v Portland Trail Blazers - Game Three
Portland's Meyers Leonard battles Kevon Looney and Andre Iguodala for a loose ball during Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
(Steve Dykes / Getty Images)
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The Warriors won’t have much empathy for Portland’s injury issues. They have played, and won, their last four games without All-Star forward Kevin Durant, who remains out with a strained right calf. Another starter, center DeMarcus Cousins, tore a quadriceps muscle during the team’s first-round series and has yet to return. They did receive some good news Sunday, however: One day after guard Andre Iguodala left Game 3 for precautionary reasons with what coach Steve Kerr termed “lower-leg soreness,” an MRI returned clean.

Iguodala is listed as questionable to play in Game 4, which could lead to more minutes for Alfonzo McKinnie. The Warriors outscored Portland by 24 during McKinnie’s 21 minutes in Game 3.

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“I don’t know if fresh is the right word, but we’re in a good position and trying to make it through this series,” Kerr said. “Obviously, with Andre’s injury, we’re further depleted. So we’re not fresh, but we’re fighting through everything, and we’ve put ourselves in a good spot.”

An even better spot for the Warriors would be not trailing by double digits in the second half for a third consecutive game.

“We pretty much won the game in the third quarter, coming back and giving ourselves a chance,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Game 4, we’ll be all right, hopefully with a lead.”

andrew.greif@latimes.com

Twitter: @andrewgreif

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