The Portland Trail Blazers, which had been winners of three of its previous four games, returned yet again to the Staples Center Monday to face the Los Angeles Clippers. Just a week prior, it was against the Clippers that Portland snapped its seven-game losing streak at home, with Damian Lillard leading the way to a 102-93 upset.
It was announced just before tip that Lillard was suffering from a nasty stomach virus, but he would give it a go anyway. The illness appeared to get the best of him, as he was held to just seven points in 17 minutes. Chris Paul also left the game during the third quarter due to "abdominal pain" and did not return either. The situation made for an odd night as both point guards are relied on heavily to instigate offense, which noticeably suffered in their absence.
The Blazers were led by Maurice Harkless (15 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals) and Ed Davis (13 points, 10 rebounds) off the bench. The Clippers were led by Blake Griffin (23 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists) and DeAndre Jordan (18 points, 24 rebounds). Jordan's 22 missed free throws tied the NBA record set by Wilt Chamberlain.
If Lillard hadn't hadn't already felt queasy, the Blazers' start might have done it anyway. After Vonleh converted a baseline jumper on the first possession, Portland went ice cold, missing its next seven shots while the Clippers built a quick 13-2 lead, which ballooned as far as 29-15 on Jamal Crawford's three.
Some poor free throw shooting on both sides slowed L.A.'s attack, and Lillard dutifully pushed himself to all of his seven points in the opening period to keep things from getting out of hand early.
Griffin answered with eight points of his own as neither Vonleh or Leonard figure out a good way to contain the high-flying All-Star - the Clippers bigs clearly had the strength advantage over Portland and were having their way in the paint.
End of First: Portland 18, Los Angeles 29
The boinkfest continued into the second, but now it would be L.A.'s turn to lose its rhythm - with its shooting dropping down as low as 33%. The Blazers, meanwhile, opted to forgo challenging the Clippers at the rim and instead bypassed Jordan's formidable presence with good ball movement and shots coming within the flow of the offense.
Harkless looked as energized as he has in a Portland uniform; hustling to cause steals, block shots and connect on his first three-pointer in seven games to fuel a scrappy comeback. He was in the Clippers' pockets all night, showing strong defensive commitment and deft hands.
Al-Farouq Aminu's massive alley-oop dunk off a CJ McCollum lob put the Blazers back ahead 44-42 before a disastrous Hack-a-Jordan mishap, in which Jordan was intentionally fouled simultaneously with Wesley Johnson's 3-point make - Jordan missed the ensuing free throw but Portland failed to corral the rebound, ultimately fouling Griffin giving up a five-point-play. Coach Terry Stotts has proven he won't be afraid to take a gamble, but this was a time it didn't work out.
A dead-eye straightaway three-pointer from McCollum salvaged a tie heading into the locker room.
Halftime: Portland 49, Los Angeles 49
By the third, Lillard could barely run down the court and was quickly pulled in favor of Allen Crabbe. He would not return. Nobody can doubt Damian's warrior-like fervor, but he looked nothing like the "Letter O" Monday.
The Blazers shooting again stalled, and careless mistakes on the offensive end led to only 15 points in the quarter, allowing L.A. to rebuild its lead. Jordan was enigmatic - getting his hands on seemingly every offensive board, but again struggled to convert when forced to the foul line, missing all but one of his eight attempts in the period, including two air balls.
Despite the Clippers leaving the door open, Portland didn't do much to capitalize and looked completely lost in its half-court offense without its general.
End of Third: Portland 64, Los Angeles 74
The final period was mostly a formality - with Lillard done for the night, L.A. could focus its defense on McCollum to suffocate the Blazers' attack. After a very effective first half, Harkless was surprisingly vacant for most of the final 24 minutes and had little impact aside from a couple nice driving layups.
J.J. Redick started to heat up and Josh Smith hit a why-not three to keep Portland out of reach.
Keeping with the trend, the Blazers hacked Jordan in the closing minutes - much to the malign of Clipper fans in attendance - with little effect beyond stretching Portland's departure time from LAX and perhaps Jordan's confidence.
The Trail Blazers return to the Moda Center tomorrow to host the return of Wesley Matthews and the Dallas Mavericks at 7 p.m. - it is sure to be an emotional reunion.
-- Ryan Rosback | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter