The Portland Trail Blazers limped into Los Angeles to face the Clippers on Monday evening, hoping to stop a 3-game skid. The game played out like the movie “Master and Commander,” in that Clippers were involved, it took way too long to finish, and the ending was pretty “meh.” Los Angeles milked an early lead to the fullest, trading runs with Portland until the very end, when the Clippers made the plays that needed to be made and pulled away with the 121-120 victory.
The Blazers started out this game like they have on nearly every other during this road trip; giving the opponent pretty much anything they wanted on the offensive end. Four players for the Clippers scored seven or more points in the period, with Jamal Crawford scoring nine points in just four minutes. There really wasn’t any saving grace for the Blazers as they were out-shot, out-rebounded, and just out-worked. It looked like Portland was in for an early blowout, down 38-27 after one.
Like an RKO, outta nowhere came Portland’s defense. Mason Plumlee held his own personal block party and he invited EVERYONE.
Plumlee would cap his party off by dropping four points and four rebounds in the period, on top of his four blocks. The Blazers bench showed up at the party stylishly late, but they weren’t empty-handed. Evan Turner matched Plumlee’s four assists with four of his own and helped lead the defensive effort, while Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum knocked down shots and pushed the Clipper offense away from the rim. The Blazers outscored the Clippers 33-18 in the period, and took a 60-56 lead at the half.
The Clippers pulled an Austin Powers move, hopped back in time, stole their mojo from the first quarter, and brought it to start the second half. Portland relaxed a bit and the Clippers took advantage, shooting 5-7 from distance and 65 percent in the quarter. McCollum tried his best to stem the tide, but the Clippers carried a two-point lead into final frame, 91-93.
The Blazers and Clippers traded mini-runs through the first six minutes of the fourth before things started to get interesting. With 5:20 left in the game, Crabbe drove to the rim and was wrapped up around the head/neck area by Chris Paul, and a flagrant foul was assessed; two and the ball for Portland and a 105-103 lead. This was the first of many incidents that would scar the fourth quarter.
Just a minute later, with 4:19 remaining, McCollum was called for a foul on JJ Redick, shooting a three. Head coach Terry Stotts rose from the bench like someone had summoned The Kraken, and said just the right phrase to earn him a technical foul. Four. Point. Play. Clippers’ lead: 109-107.
Lillard and Paul would trade 3-pointers, buoyed by second chance opportunities and it looked like the Clippers would win comfortably. Then “Where Amazing Happens” kicked in. With 11.5 seconds remaining, Lillard drove the lane and got fouled by DeAndre Jordan. Evan Turner and Jordan got some minor extracurriculars going and it appeared it would be offsetting technical fouls, but both were ejected. Lillard would hit both free throws, bringing the score to 115-118.
After the Clippers got to the stripe on the other end, nearly sealing the game away, Lillard would get free and hit a three in transition with 1.7 seconds remaining, giving the smallest glimmer of hope. Maurice Harkless got a piece of the ensuing inbound pass after the Clippers called timeout, but deflected it out of bounds, leaving just tenths of a second on the clock. Game Over.
This game could have gone sideways from the beginning. Giving up 38 first quarter points isn’t exactly the way you want to get things started on the last game of the road trip. Tired legs, failed comebacks, and the feeling of the season could have been a weight heavy enough to sink the team before the second half ever started, so some kudos for righting the ship in the second quarter.
Outside the first quarter and a portion of the third quarter the Blazers’ defense showed signs of life. In what may come as a bit of a shock to regular viewers, Portland actually changed their defensive game plan a bit. Instead of sitting off of the pick-and-roll they engaged and— gasp! dare I say— double teamed the pick-and-roll when Jordan or Blake Griffin set the pick at or above the elbow. This set the Clippers’ offense off rhythm for long portions of the evening. While great individual plays by Paul, Griffin, and Redick were made, it was less the norm and more of a rarity.
The Blazers made a concerted effort to shore up more than just their defense in this game, though. They attacked the paint relentlessly, outscoring the Clippers 52-38, and winning the fast break battle, putting wind in their sails on the way to a 32-19 edge. Toss in a rebounding win and 50 percent from the field, and nine out 10 times this is a Blazers win. However, tonight came down to valuable possessions and their outcomes. The Blazers found themselves on the wrong end of too many of them tonight.
Compounding a foul on a jump-shooter beyond the 3-point line with a technical foul, leading to a 4-point play was huge. Not securing defensive rebounds and allowing Paul(!) to snag them for a chance to run clock and get another look was huge. Grabbing Redick and fouling him before the ball was inbounded and getting hit with another technical was huge. When you’re a great team in a tight game, those are tough to overcome. When you’re a good team mired in a 3-game losing streak and you haven’t played a complete game in 10+ days? Those odds are next to impossible to beat.
Mason Plumlee has upped his game substantially over the last couple of outings. Tonight, the Blazers controlled the paint on both ends for probably the first time all season. Nearly all of that was built on the foundation that Plumlee laid tonight. Finishing with 18 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and five blocks (one short of his career-high)— he’s clearly the player of the night.
McCollum was the silent assassin. You look up and he’s got 25 points on what felt like a very effortless evening. When it comes that easily for him, it leaves many wanting more, and tonight the Blazers could’ve used just a bit more. Not getting caught up in the two biggest calls of the game would have helped, but so would slowing the Clippers down in the first quarter.
Turner has certainly worked his way into form lately. Tonight he added his “tough guy” merit badge by stirring it up with DeAndre Jordan. If you’re going to bring a guy in who’s the jack of all trades type, it’s nice to know that he’s willing to mix it up too. Beyond that, his passing was sublime. Inch-perfect passes on the right reads lead to a ton of easy points for the Blazers. Throw that in with good shot selection and great defense and you’ve got my attention; 15 points, six assists, four rebounds.
Lillard was missing most of the evening. He finished with 24 points and eight assists, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. At this point it’s safe to say that Paul takes Lillard off his game. While tonight was far away from his worst performance versus Paul, Lillard just can’t impose his will against CP3 the way he can against just about any other guard in the league. He was efficient and he moved the ball well, but when others were making mistakes around him, it would have helped to have Lillard steady the boat tonight.
Harkless played solid defense, especially when paired with Turner on the floor. Beyond that he hasn’t looked totally sure of himself since Al-Farouq Aminu returned to the lineup. On a positive note, Aminu did break out of his shooting slump a bit knocking down 2-for-3 from beyond the arc.
Links and Such
ClipsNation is probably celebrating this more than they should
Blazer’s Edge Night 2017
Want to assist us in sending 2,000+ underprivileged Portland-area kids to a Trail Blazers game this spring? Check out Blazer’s Edge Night 2017 for information on how to get involved, and help spread the word!