You have to hand it to the Blazers tonight. They gave the Los Angeles Clippers a good run for most of a half on the second night of a back-to-back in which the Clippers played motivated ball from the outset. If that sounds like faint praise...not really. Remember that whether the margin of victory was 1 or 13, it's still a "W" in the record book. The Blazers earned a split of this home-and-home series with one of the best teams in the league. A win tonight wasn't expected, nor were the Clippers interested in gift-wrapping one.
The first quarter was clearly Portland's best of the evening. They came out with carry-over confidence from last night, moving the ball, scoring at the cup, hitting shots when the Clippers collapsed into the middle. LaMarcus Aldridge returned to All-Star form, setting the tone by hitting quick and decisive shots. Portland's defensive rotations looked crisp. They forced turnovers to make up for 50% from the field for L.A. (Portland actually hovered around 60% themselves early.) Things looked good. The bench had a little trouble near the end of the period and the Clippers took a 33-27 lead out of the first, but the Blazers got it back within a couple shots. L.A. made a curious decision, pressing Portland's reserve unit. Apparently they didn't get the memo that the Blazer reserves can't score against garden variety defense. Were the Clips going for less than zero points allowed? In any case, it backfired once Portland broke the press and found themselves open for easy shots. The Blazers kept things close then came back to tie the game behind some amazing offense from Damian Lillard. The score was knotted at 46 with 3:49 remaining.
Then Griffin go BOOM.
The Clippers fed Blake Griffin in the final minutes of the half as J.J. Hickson and Aldridge failed to stop him establishing deep position. When they tried to front and deny him the ball he spun, caught, and dunked. When they stayed behind him he spun and shot. 9 points in 3 minutes made sure the Blazers stayed down on the scoreboard. Griffin was strutting by the time the final horn rang, actually wrapping up Luke Babbitt in a bear hug after the clock expired, holding Babbitt for a couple seconds, then shoving him away as if to say, "Get outta here." With the score reading 55-50 for L.A., the Blazers did exactly that. No answer was coming from Babbitt, nor his team. They just walked.
The Clippers walked all over the Blazers in the second half. Griffin continued to push hard and foul harder. Portland scrambled to keep him contained on offense and experienced players like Caron Butler, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, and Lamar Odom knew just what to do in that situation. They dove to the hoop or spotted up in open areas and butchered the Blazers. That quartet scored 27 between them and we haven't even factored in Jamal Crawford. Portland's entire bench scored 16 points. Whenever the Blazers got down by 9 last night they pulled their "10 points for Gryffindor!" card and came right back. Tonight's response was pure Hufflepuff. Portland scored 12 total in the third period and the rout was on. The final quarter was Portland's in name only...the defense never making a serious enough stand to threaten the Clips. Licking their wounds and happy for the split, the Blazers headed to the airport and a Tuesday date with Dallas.
The 56-24 points in the paint deficit was too much for the Blazers to overcome tonight. They allowed 51% shooting as well. The Blazers shot 44% themselves and notched 28 assists on 29 made buckets but they only nabbed 9 offensive rebounds and forced but 12 turnovers, committing 19 themselves. With Portland taking 66 field goal attempts and L.A. 82 there weren't enough extra points to be had to make up the difference in shooting. 3-15 from the arc for the Blazers didn't help, though 29 free throw attempts to 9 for the Clippers surely did...the only real advantage the Blazers had all night.
Last night we wrote that LaMarcus Aldridge had his worst game in years. He made up for it tonight with a 21 point, 11 rebound performance on 9-14 shooting. He looked decisive, mobile, all the things we've come to expect.
Damian Lillard also shot decisively, though his 5-14 shooting clip might shade the definition towards "without conscience". He had a couple good attacks at the rim and a couple more sweet shots from distance. 2-7 from the arc makes you question if they were worth it but dang, they were pretty. However the Clippers' experience and pressure got to Lillard for the second night in a row. He had 5 assists but also made 5 turnovers.
Aldridge goes up, Nicolas Batum goes down. Batum shot only 5 times tonight, scoring 8 points. He completed the triple-single with 8 assists and 6 rebounds. Ooops...a quad single. He had 4 turnovers as well. Not even LeBron James has posted a quadruple-single on a back-to-back following a triple-double outing. Yet another obscure record/comparison for Portland players. But really, I'm not sure Batum could have done much to stop the onslaught. The Blazers lost this game at the big positions and in the middle. That's not his department and all the offense in the world wouldn't have made up for it.
J.J. Hickson had 15 points and 9 rebounds, going gamely at Griffin even when he couldn't stop him.
Wesley Matthews went 3-9 for 7 points but took up Batum's passing fetish, notching 8 assists.
Will Barton scored 8 off the bench tonight. He seems to have a thing for the Clippers. Ronnie Price had a better outing. Though still statistically mundane he kept within himself and pushed the ball up.
On the other end of things Meyers Leonard played only 8 minutes. Luke Babbitt went 0-3 in his 12 minutes. I know that Babbitt isn't the Blazers' resident tough guy. Both of his biceps equal one of Griffin's. He's also young and was no doubt surprised by Griffin's odd bear-hug move at the end of the half. But Babbitt is Portland's 10th man. Griffin is L.A.'s only superstar. When Griffin was strutting and throwing him around after the horn, shouldn't Babbitt at least have attempted a shove in Griffin's direction? They would have been separated before anything serious happened and you could have potentially drawn an ejection. That's how to play mind games back. What would Metta World Peace do, Luke? Somebody get our friend a WWMWPD bracelet.
Clips Nation will feel better about this game.