In a Nutshell
The Blazers try to make up for three quarters of bad Blazer style--some elements of which we've seen all season long and a couple they unveiled just tonight--with one quarter of Jamal Crawford hoopin' it up. That comeback falls short before a Clippers team that was more energetic, played smarter for most of the game, and had the good fortune and/or force of will to see the Blazers knuckle to the kind of play that benefited them.
You knew this game was trouble early. The first quarter featured the entire pantheon of bad Blazer behavior. Portland turned over the ball, failed to generate any fast break offense, rebounded poorly, and didn't get back on defense when the Clips were on the run. The Clippers' energy and commitment were higher than the Blazers'. L.A. got to loose balls first, turning 50-50 situations into 80-20 for themselves. Portland's game plan was to deny and swarm Blake Griffin inside early. They succeeded. The problem was they couldn't rotate outside to Griffin or anyone else. Nor did they deny anyone else inside. With the bigs occupied with half an eye on Griffin and/or chasing him around as he drained long jumpers Portland's guards got exposed defensively. They couldn't handle single coverage. Clippers got free inside and out. That made turnover-fueled Clipper fast-break points devastating instead of just amusing anomalies. Meanwhile the Blazers lofted jumper after jumper on offense as the Clippers did a better job of denying Aldridge than the Blazers did of denying Griffin. Aldridge also did a worse job than Griffin of converting opportunities when not denied. Given all this, Portland was fortunate to salvage a 21-17 quarter. This game was not going well. The big question was how long the shaky play would last.
Portland had a window in the second period when Griffin was on the pines and L.A. had to dig into that questionable bench. The window stayed open...and open...and open. The Blazers never looked in its direction, contenting themselves with yet more jumpers. The Clipper lead grew instead of shrinking in the second period. L.A. took a 44-36 lead into the half.
If any time was ripe for turning the game around the third period would have been it. And the Blazers tried. Everybody played energetically. The problems were two:
1. The Blazers, perhaps believing their own stats from their first three games, seemed to think they could win this game with offense over defense.
2. Each Blazer seemed to think the offense depended solely on him.
This continued the game-long trend of Portland players lofting long shots or ill-advised and smothered one-on-many drives after a single pass...if that. This, in turn, had a couple more bad effects. LaMarcus Aldridge, not a ball-handler himself and seldom the recipient of that first pass, attempted but two shots in the period, both misses. Also Portland's attack became predictable, leading to yet more turnovers. That produced more easy L.A. buckets while the Blazers were pulling teeth trying to get any deuce. L.A. blew open the game, streaking out to a 69-52 lead after three.
In the fourth period Jamal Crawford said, "Guys, if we're going to go one-on-on with our shots anyway only one guy here is qualified to take them." And he was right. Crawford went on a holy tear, lighting up Staples Center for 13 in the period. His steamrolling of the Clipper defense had the secondary effect of leaving Nicolas Batum open and he struck repeatedly as well. The Blazers pulled within 4 during the closing minutes but could get no closer. Two missed three-pointers, a missed free throw, and a final turnover typified Portland's final two minutes. The Clippers pasted the first defeat of the season on the Blazers, 93-88, leaving the guys in red and black hanging their heads as they left the court.
Some are going to speculate that Los Angeles is a better team than given credit for. Some will point to the comeback with admiration. Others will undoubtedly mark a last tick-of-the-shot-clock three-pointer banked in by Chris Paul in the midst of Portland's comeback and say it changed the game. None of those things is the story here. Instead ask these questions:
- Were the Blazers able to push the tempo? No. Portland had 5 fast-break points all night
- Were the Blazers able to gain a rebounding egde? Not much. Portland did have 13 offensive rebounds but couldn't convert them in the points enough to matter. L.A. was never threatened by Portland's board work.
- Did the Blazers exploit a turnover advantage? No. They forced 21 from the Clips but committed the exact same amount themselves.
Absent those things in any game versus any opponent--even a not-so-great-opponent--the Blazers are going to have a hard time winning because (repeat chorus here) they cannot score in the post, their drivers have a hard time finishing, and they don't have consistent three-point shooting to spread the floor. Thus we saw 24 points in the paint tonight for Portland, 4-15 three-point shooting (27%), and only 52 points scored through three quarters before Crawford got hot.
Portland's stress tolerance in this kind of situation is minuscule. Any straw is going to break that camel's back. Tonight it wasn't straw, but bricks. A one-on-one style of game is going to favor the team with better stars, which L.A. has. No transition offense takes Gerald Wallace out of the game, nullifying Portland's second-best weapon. Most Blazer guards get leaky on defense as the game progresses, which happened tonight. The Blazer perimeter players don't always get back in transition either, which happened tonight. The Blazers were probably lucky they got as close as they did.
The real issue for Portland is not this one game. Losses are inevitable and truth be told, the Clippers had more emotional momentum and more at stake going into this game than did the Blazers. The problem for Portland is their victory keys: fast break points, clear rebounding edge, turnover dominance. Accomplished, talented teams just aren't going to let you do that to them, or at least not that often. The Blazers have got to find other parts of their game to rely on, particularly on offense, or they're going to find themselves with only the occasional, other-team-was-unprepared win against good teams during the regular season and not much chance at all against a prepared, good team in the playoffs. Oh...and teams like the Clippers will beat you too if they're paying attention.
The knee-jerk reaction here is going to be pointing at LaMarcus Aldridge's 9-21, 19 point and 9 rebound performance (plus the eye-test that pinned him as not playing that authoritatively) and say, "It isn't enough." That may be so, but first you have to credit him with covering for the guards defensively multiple times. Second, the problem was less that LMA was missing as the Blazers were missing him. They didn't go to him, didn't let him draw attention and pass them into the offense. They worked around him and made the Clippers' defensive job exponentially easier. LaMarcus won't be a superstar on his own. He needs help and support that his teammates didn't give him tonight. That support is the difference between 19 points and 25 for him. That'll be true no matter how many shots he makes or misses.
Gerald Wallace was completely out of the offense tonight. One on one without motion or running isn't his thing. He went 0-5 in 30 minutes for 0 points. He had 7 rebounds and 3 steals and his defense looked fine.
Nicolas Batum had another good night, going 6-10 for 15 points with 8 rebounds in 26 minutes. He's strung together a couple of quietly strong games.
Thanks to that stellar fourth period Jamal Crawford ended the game 7-16, 8-9 from the foul line, for a game-high 23 points. He had 5 turnovers to 4 assists though and his defense wasn't anything to write home about.
Neither was that of Wesley Matthews, whose priorities and game both seemed to be out of order tonight. 4-10 for 12 points with 4 rebounds and a steal in 31 minutes is a little less than so-so from a shooting guard. More to the point, after hitting a nice shot off of a curl screen in the third period Matthews appeared to forget who he was completely. He went single-man offense off the dribble, attempted some ludicrous shots, tagged himself as one of the guys who thought he could bring his team back on his own. That's not his game at all. Aside from a couple of drives where he had a straight line to the bucket all but unopposed he just looked bad out there. The more he shifts into that offensive star mindset the more his defense appears to suffer as well. To be clear: the Blazers need an aggressive and involved Wesley Matthews on offense. They don't need this version though. They have to feed him the ball in the right places and he needs to understand how he scores best and just do those things.
What do you say about Raymond Felton. Along with Crawford he was a turnover machine with 6 on the night. He was aggressive to the hoop and had 8 assists but he couldn't get Portland in any kind of offense and looked most comfortable when he was taking it himself. The broadcast team points out a time or two when he plays good defense but on the balance he is putting pressure on his teammates by either not stopping his man, not staying in front of his man, or just not doing much on that end. 4-10 shooting for a dozen points isn't enough to make up for that. But the real question is, what alternative do the Blazers have when Felton is having an off night? Just about none. Crawford is even less of a point guard and just as much of a turnover machine. Even if Felton isn't always crisp the Blazers need him out there.
Marcus Camby had 8 rebounds in 25 minutes, barely touched the ball outside of those rebounds, and was largely nullified by the athleticism of Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Camby's teammates didn't have a solid enough game around him to let his contributions make a difference. They did, however, depend on him for plenty of defensive help, not exactly helping his performance against his own men. They left him out to dry a couple times, either stop their men or let his own score. That's not nice to do to an old man.
Kurt Thomas did everything humanly possible and more in 18 minutes, converting 2 of his 3 shots, dishing 4 assists, grabbing 3 rebounds, and adding a steal and a block for good measure. He was physically over-matched too and collected 5 fouls but at least he made a couple of them really physical. It's like he was the only one remembering the opponent was the Clippers tonight before that fourth quarter hit.
Craig Smith had 2 rebounds in 3 minutes.
- Blazers -10 in fast break points, -10 in points in the paint against the Clippers. Both teams turned over the ball, neither team could hit much from distance, both shot around the same number of free throws. Those two stats showed the difference between the two in terms of raw point production. The Clips had, and converted, more easy shots and that was it.
- You could tell this game was slow and disjointed. It took two and a half hours to complete. It was an ugly 147 minutes for the most part.
It doesn't get any easier against Oklahoma City on Tuesday. Here's hoping the effort, or at least the teamwork, is better.
Check out the victory party at ClipsNation. It was their first home win of the season and they weren't letting it go.