Game 9 Recap: Trail Blazers 105, Los Angeles Clippers 97

In a Nutshell

Gerald Wallace, Wesley Matthews, and Nicolas Batum lead the team in the first half, LaMarcus Aldridge and Raymond Felton in the second as the Blazers put down a Clippers team that kept on swinging no matter what the score. Thankfully Portland corrected its errors from the first contest between these two teams, keeping the ball moving and turnovers low on offense while still forcing TO's and playing good position defense on the other end. Portland's mistakes were neither sustained nor critical, leading to a well-fought contest which the Blazers can be justly proud of winning.

Game Flow

(We're going to abbreviate this because I'm late to the recap.)

The first period began with a swinging dunk by Marcus Camby as the Blazers announced their intentions to take this game from their foes down south. That was followed by Gerald Wallace scoring 8 points in the course of 1 minute, 6 of them off of made three-pointers, all three buckets in question assisted. The Blazers were passing, threatening, and draining their shots. Portland's shooting is streaky but when they do hit, they're hard to beat. On the other end the Blazers forced turnovers and ran. Portland's defense fell apart late in the period as L.A. attacked the paint repeatedly and the Blazers had no defensive answer. The Clippers also started grabbing rebounds and blocking shots on the other end. This allowed L.A. to creep back from the deficit caused by Portland's early shot-making. The Clippers actually led 26-24 after one.

In the second period Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum uncorked, scoring all but 1 of the 18 points Portland posted in the first 5 minutes of the quarter. The Clippers' bench responded with 5 points and Portland took the lead it would retain for the rest of the game. Chris Paul drew his third foul at the 7:00 mark and Blake Griffin wasn't hitting squat in the first half, leaving the Clippers hard up for scoring. The Blazers forcing more turnovers didn't help. The only security blanket for the Clips were Portland's own turnovers which thankfully remained few, if prominent. The Clippers made a run mid-quarter but LaMarcus Aldridge finally came alive in the game, scoring 8 in the final 4:30, all from deep inside or from the foul line. The Blazers took a 54-47 lead into the break.

Camby again started the second half with a bucket, this time a tip off of an Aldridge miss. Then Aldridge took over the game himself, hitting jumper after jumper as is his wont. On the other end the Clippers keyed up their two stars as Blake Griffin started matching Aldridge shot-for-shot while Paul added icing on the cake. This was like a boxing match with both fighters landing. A head would snap back and the next punch would be thrown. Then the other head would snap back. It almost looked like video-game basketball for a couple minutes, sans the impossible dunks. The teams emerged from the score-fest still apart 6, the Blazers ahead. Having neutralized each others' best runs the two combatants settled into shots from their secondary players. The Blazers made a couple of threes behind Wallace and Jamal Crawford. The Clippers answered with scores from Mo Williams and Caron Butler. The quarter ended with the Blazers up 78-71.

Crawford started out the fourth period trying to sink any kind of shot he could. The problem was, he couldn't. The offense took an ugly turn compounded by the Blazers letting the hapless-rebounding Clippers look like world beaters on the boards. Controlling the ball and at ease in their own pace the Clippers posted 9 easy points in 4 minutes and change, leaving the Blazers only up 2. The lead had been up and down throughout the game but it looked like L.A. had a legit chance to pull ahead this time. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed, especially after Crawford went to the pines. The Blazers drew four quick foul shots from Felton and Matthews and then Felton connected with a three, his moment of the night. Suddenly Portland was up 9 again. Paul and Griffin tried to bring their team back but the Blazers matched them shot for shot. As the final minutes ticked away the Clippers were reduced to long-ball heaving. Their prayers were not answered. They got within 3 with 25 seconds remaining but Portland iced the game with obligatory possession-saving foul shots. The Blazers walk away 105-97 winners.

Take-Away Points

Every win counts but this was probably the most legit of Portland's young season, just because it's the first time the Blazers have played a good team that was also playing smart, hard, and with energy. No superstars really flourished in the first half but the Clippers got their shot in the second and the Blazers matched them. Most of all, unlike the Lakers and Thunder games, this game didn't feature anyone important playing stupid...just DeAndre Jordan and a little bit of Jamal Crawford.

In addition Portland was successful in changing tactics during the game. The first half was typified by forced turnovers and made jumpers. Those dried up in the second so the Blazers relied on good position defense and feeding Aldridge. Both were successful. The Clippers made runs but the Blazers were never fazed enough to crumble. Nor did you get the feeling that the Clips were ever in charge of this game. They could have won but it would have been off of the fortunate bounce...an inversion of the game down in L.A.

The Blazers did let the Clippers walk all over them on the boards during long stretches. The gang rebounding aspect just wasn't there. They can't get away with that too often. Portland's guards and small forwards drove and shot better tonight than we've seen...probably their best offensive showing of the year in terms of mixing up their game well. Portland's guards also defended better tonight than we've seen this season. Huge hat tip for that. When the Clippers really concentrated on the inside attack, though, the Blazers were forced into a choice between letting them score easy or stopping the interior play and leaving open jumpers. L.A. couldn't take advantage for long but that shortcoming may show up more against tomorrow night's opponent, the Orlando Magic.

In the big picture, though, no shortcoming lasted for long enough to cost the home team. If this wasn't the best executed game of Portland's season on offense it was close. Ditto for the defense, especially given the circumstances. Portland's strengths clearly outshone their weaknesses under pressure...a positive sign.

Individual Notes

After a quiet first half LaMarcus Aldridge finished the game with 18 points on 8-20 shooting, respectable enough. He wasn't tasked with guarding Griffin for much of the game but he did match Griffin's scoring output (18), which is another way of neutralizing him. The critique of LaMarcus was his 7 rebounds. That's not so bad by number alone but there were more to be had and he got out-battled for a few. On the good side, slowly but surely he is starting to post deeper inside. The Blazers had him post on about the third hashmark on the side of the key a couple times tonight. It's almost to the point you can predict LMA's success rate in the post by how many dribbles he has to take before he shoots, so deeper is better.

Gerald Wallace set the tone for this game and then let his teammates groove off of his funky jam. 20 points on 8-10 shooting with 2-4 threes made, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, and a steal doesn't tell the story. He was Mr. Awesome in that opening quarter and stepped up every time the Blazers got threatened. On the Clippers feed color commentator Michael Smith was so impressed he said Wallace needed a nickname. He said, "Like 'The Predator' or something" as if he had just thought of that. In an unrelated note, I would like to announce Dave's Law: First team to 100 wins.

Marcus Camby played a leg-fatiguing 35 minutes tonight and was the consummate garbage man on offense, picking up leftover passes and missed shots and converting for 6-9 shooting and 12 points. He also had 11 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and a block. Camby will be needed tomorrow but the smart move was to secure this win. We'll see how he holds up.

Wesley Matthews had plenty of moments in the sun during his 40 minutes but stayed within the offense, shooting 5-7, 7-7 from the line for 18 points.

Raymond Felton may have had better statistical nights. He was 5-10 tonight for 17 points, 8 assists, and 3 steals. But a couple things are for sure: 1. He's not had them in a while. And... 2. This was his best defensive game as a Blazer. In part Portland's defense looked good because most of the time Felton kept his man contained and in front of him, leaving the big guys free to actually defend instead of cleaning up his mess. When people say Felton is a good defender, in general they're pointing at games like this. The thing is, we have to see them nightly for it to count.

Jamal Crawford was the lone dim spot for the Blazers, firing 2-6 for 9 points because of his 4-4 FT shooting clip. He was off and he was firing...a bad combination.

Nicolas Batum's numbers didn't look that much better at 2-5 and 5-5 from the line for 9 points and 1 rebound. At least he helps the defense though. Plus he had a sweet open-floor dunk off of a feed from a Wesley Matthews steal.

Kurt Thomas had 2 steals of his own and 2 rebounds in 14 minutes.

Craig "Rhino" Smith was the only guy rebounding when Portland was short on boards. He had 4 in 10 minutes plus 2 assists of his own in one of his nicer outings.

Fun Numbers to Play With

  • Clippers 14 turnovers, Blazers 11. Not quite the 21 and 21 of the first game but Portland still forced them when they needed them and didn't give them back in a meaningful way. That correction alone would have won them the game in L.A. It did here.
  • Blazers 36% three-point shooting, Clippers 26%. Nice. The real test will be tomorrow, though.
  • Blazers 32 free throw attempts, L.A. 24. Guess who was getting the ball inside?
  • Speaking of, Blazers 40 points in the paint...not bad considering only 7 could be accounted for by fast breaks. The Clips only had 32. Portland made the right choice shutting down the inside.
  • Clippers 13 offensive rebounds. That shouldn't have happened. That's like 4 games' worth for them.
  • Blazers shoot over 51% on the night.
  • Chris Paul: 11 points, 3 assists, and foul trouble. Don't let people tell you it was the refs. The Blazers had something to do with it.

Final Thoughts

Now that the mess on the floor from that first L.A. game is mopped up, it's time to get serious. As I said in the pre-game Gameday Thread the Blazers needed a win tonight not only for revenge but to continue to prove they're legitimately good. That question appears to have been answered for now. There's no doubt this team is good, at least as good as the Clippers, and certainly good enough to make the playoffs. Now we get to see how this team feels about being great, or at least trying for it. The schedule says a brutal game tomorrow against the Orlando Magic who are rested and who cause matchup and style problems for the Blazers. Then it's on the road for San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans, Atlanta, Toronto, and Detroit. Not all of those teams are great but the schedule is tight and at least a few of them give the Blazers perpetual problems. A good team could go .500 in this stretch, maybe a little less. A great team has to seize the schedule and tell it where to go, notching every win possible. The record over the next seven games will show us where the Blazers really are.

For tonight's purposes, though, well...the truth is that one of these teams was probably headed for a .500 record in the near future. Portland made sure it wasn't them. They bought insurance for their road trip and defeated a fellow-playoff-bound team. Solid work.

Read the L.A. story at Clips Nation.

Clippers vs Trail Blazers boxscore for your enjoyment.

The monthly Jersey Contest scoreboard is here. The pull-down menu at the bottom will take you to the scores for this game. Tomorrow's game form is here.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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