First the suplex, then he's going to dunk on you. Photo: Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE
In a Nutshell
Without All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge the Blazers ride J.J. "Thunderdunk" Hickson who single-handedly messed up the Clippers' shorts inside and led his team to an impressive evening on the boards. Hickson's 29 points frees up Portland's outside shooters. That--plus the Clippers playing about as smart as your average Kardashian and shooting free throws as well as Chris Dudley--gives the Blazers a shot in the fourth. The winning bucket spins off the hands of a driving Wesley Matthews and Portland falls just short in a heroic effort.
The Clippers started this game with a momentous announcement, courtesy of center DeAndre Jordan who hammered home their theme statement: "Joel Przybilla doesn't matter. Your interior defense doesn't matter. We are taking this ball inside and you can't do a thing to stop us." And indeed, the first period looked that way. The Clippers combined inside scoring and steady rebounding, turning their strong interior play into 23 points while holding Portland to only 18 on a variety of weak-ish jumpers.
But the second units had to play sometime and L.A.'s turned out much poorer than Portland's in the late-first and early-second quarters. The Blazers controlled the boards and with them the tempo and keys to victory. J.J. Hickson started punishing the non-existent Clippers defense with dunks, layups, put-backs. For a while there it looked like Portland would rob the Lob City moniker as Hickson and company assaulted the rim in fashion not suitable for viewing by children or those with weak stomachs. Only a mad run of assorted jumpers by Randy Foye and some late-quarter Chris Paul scoring kept the Clippers in the period. Three-pointers served to close the gap and Portland eked out a 2-point margin in the second, trailing 43-46 at the half.
You expected the Clippers to come out motivated in the third and they did. The first part of the period saw Portland's offense bog down as the Clippers bumped and stuffed everything the Blazers tried inside. Suddenly Portland was back to outside shooting (and missing) while the Clippers again took the battle to the rim. But then the Blazers broke through again behind Hickson on the inside and a bunch of three-pointers from one of their now-patented distance runs. Every time the Clippers got inside they grabbed double handfuls of candy but they lost concentration and stopped attacking the middle. This allowed Portland to keep the game close no matter how much L.A. hit. The quarter ended up knotted at 27 and Portland trailed by 3, 73-70, going into the final frame.
Portland started the period rebounding strongly once again, turning the tide in their favor. They also took advantage of Blake Griffin's free-throw-shooting woes, fouling him rather than letting him score at the cup. That strategy also kept defensive center Jordan on the bench, allowing Hickson and Portland to make hay inside once again. Lo and behold, the Blazers took the lead and the Clippers looked nervous. They caught a break at the 5:00 mark as Nicolas Batum got tabbed for a goal-tend on a clean block, bringing them back within 1. Instead of folding, though, the Blazers dug in harder. They moved the ball and their feet, getting layups or open shots. As is his wont, though, Chris Paul took over when the game got tight. For all the valiant effort, the Blazers still have no point guard defense and not enough interior defense to spare extra men. They got stuck hedging weakly or switching on picks and Paul made them pay with easy looks. Still, the Blazers led by 2 with less than a minute left when Paul got free and fired to Foye in the corner. It turns out he had one more three-pointer left in him. With Portland now down 1 Jamal Crawford made a ridiculously bad jumper, putting the Blazers up 1 again. But Paul shut their yaps with a layup with 5 seconds remaining. The Blazers called timeout and inbounded but could only get the ball to Wesley Matthews on the drive. He put up a leaning, twisting, left-handed, extended barf shot as he passed the hoop. It had no chance. The Blazers fall 97-98.
This game was almost Chicago Part II with the roles reversed and the Blazers missing their superstar. The Clippers aren't the Bulls, of course, but the odds were just as great against as they were in Kaleb Canales' first game. The Blazers couldn't quite pull it off but that shouldn't disguise the effort. Last night we said if there were such a thing as a "bad win" that was it. Tonight we have to invert. If there's such a thing as a "good loss" this was it. At this point wins and losses don't matter that much. If we saw efforts like we saw tonight in every remaining game I'd be happy with a string of mostly "L's". This was amazing to watch. Fun. Dare we say...scrappy? Almost every player on the floor played their guts out. They didn't get rewarded with a win but they should be rewarded with some appreciation.
J.J. Hickson continues his serious courtship of the Blazers. If he gives another couple efforts like this they're going to bite too. He out-Griffined Blake Griffin tonight, blasting the orange off of the hoop with an array of filthy dunks and alley-oop finishes that had Clippers fans half out of their seats. When he got his confidence going and started making layups and short jumpers it almost wasn't fair. He scored 29 points on 13 of 19 shooting. Unlike many Blazer players when they start getting red hot, he didn't forget to rebound. He ended up with 13 for the night, 5 offensive. The only thing he fell short on was free-throw shooting in that final period, but so be it. If that were a crime he'd be in an L.A. jail with half of the Clippers big men. Superb, eye-opening game from J.J.
You know, I want to say Nicolas Batum stepped up with 7-13 shooting, 2-5 from distance, 18 points and 6 rebounds. I guess he did...he had his moments anyway. But dang, why can't I find him for large stretches of the game, except when he's bailing out on defense? Aldridge was out. This was his chance to be The Star. He kind of took it but he also had moments that left you slapping your head. If a game can be both decent and disappointing, he had that kind of game tonight.
Joel Przybilla gave his team 7 rebounds in 16 minutes...important on a night when rebounding controlled the game. He's good for about 15 minutes nowadays. That's about it. But those are 15 minutes the Blazers desperately need right now. They're going to have to find some big-man help next year whether Przybilla stays or goes.
Raymond Felton had a mixed game. He had some nice drives to the rim and some even nicer passes en route to 8 assists and 9 points on 3-9 shooting. I liked that he wasn't firing everything he saw (unlike some guards to be named later). This was another controlled effort from him. He also had some bad turnovers and there's always the defense. Overall I'd say he neither cost the Blazers the game nor won it.
Wesley Matthews went 5-13 from the field, 0-3 from distance, with 12 points and 2 steals. It wasn't his best game on either end.
Luke Babbitt continued to shoot with confidence, going 3-5 from the field, 2-4 from the arc, for 8 points and 3 rebounds in 21 minutes. He wanted to shoot even more than he did too. Good game.
Jonny Flynn had another nice offensive game, playing in the flow and netting 5 points (with a made three-pointer) and 3 assists in 15 minutes.
Hasheem Thabeet had a rebound and dunked home a lob pass in 8 minutes. He also had 4 personal fouls.
Remember how Kurt Thomas was the one bench player you could depend on during the first half of the season. I don't think he's playing anymore. He did have 4 assists in 8 minutes but the energy just isn't the same.
Jamal Crawford's pre-game routine: strap on tuba, strap on bass drum, attach hi-hat cymbal, grab tambourine, place harmonica on neck support, tune ukulele, tie triangle to wrist, tape finger cymbals to feet, hang bells on cap. There! Ready to go. Who needs teammates? Seriously, if you know what the hell he's doing out there you're a better basketball analyst than I. His stat line says 5-12 shooting but that shocks me because I remember him making, like, 2 shots. It seemed like he shot 30 as well. He did make 2-3 three-pointers. Credit there. 14 points, 3 assists in 29 minutes.
Fun With Numbers
- Blazers shoot 50% from the field. Nicely done! Of course they allowed the Clippers to shoot 52%. But that's par for the course nowadays. The old shooting percentage defense has taken a nosedive since the trades.
- Blazers win the rebounding battle, 36-31. That's amazing! L.A. only had 7 offensive boards too.
- Blazers 42% from the three-point arc. This is starting to become a trend. The most impressive thing was that they stopped shooting them and got the ball inside even after those distance shots fell.
- Blazers 17-12 advantage in fast break points and stayed close in points in the paint (44 to 46 for the Clips).
I wish the numbers would have ended up just slightly different so the young guys could get rewarded for this effort. But that's what Sunday's game is for, I suppose. If the Blazers can put up this kind of effort against the Timberwolves you'll see some happy fans in the Rose Garden.
Clips Nation will talk about the close shave.