The Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers are embroiled deeply in the Western Conference playoff seeding race. Each game they play carries critical importance and each moment trumps the excitement of the one prior. They hid that fact very well tonight. Apparently the pre-game meal at Staples Center was all-you-can-eat Indian Buffet. For three quarters both teams played like they had Aloo Gobi for brains and six pounds of Chicken Vindaloo slowing their reflexes.
Both competitors finally broke out of the haze late in the fourth quarter, taking the game to a dash-and-slash finish that saw JJ Redick splash a buzzer-beater to give the Clippers a 96-94 victory. Whether that redeemed the game depends on your viewpoint. Blazers fans already had at least 16 reasons to hate this outing anyway. Ending up on the wrong side of the scoreboard multiplied the agony by a hundred, making this an exercise best forgotten.
So look...we're considering buying a new car. Our two vehicles are getting long in the tooth and one doesn't work properly anymore. You'd think this would be a fun thing, right? Except it kind of isn't. We have to drive between dealerships, sort through online offers, and distinguish between often-confusing trims and options. Every care we test drive has something sort of right about it but also something sort of wrong. Vehicles are expensive. Salesmen are pushy. Desirable options are missing on some otherwise-nice models and unnecessary options drive up the price of others. New or used? That dealership 200 miles away seems to have good deals. Is it worth the trip? What the heck are we doing???
If you feel me there, you'll understand exactly what tonight's game flow was like. The Blazers and Clippers started out the evening by missing 10 of their first 11 attempts combined. Nobody was playing defense on most of those shots either. Imagine Louis C.K. doing his "pouty, stupid people" voice. That's what the shot releases looked like. "Nyyyahh. I'm shooting now. Take the ball, basket! Blahhhh!!!" Turnovers plagued both teams. Fouls slowed down the pace. It was like this all...night...long.
The Blazers awoke briefly during their second-unit shift thanks to Ed Davis...apparently the only one to make his saving through versus the Mass Confusion spell that some evil warlock cast over the court. But the revival was short-lived. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum did nothing. Neither did most of the Clippers. Portland led 21-18 after one but dropped the second period handily to L.A. to trail 39-46 at the half.
Apparently the caterers brought in Taco Bell during the break because both teams started laying Smothered Beef Burrito-sized bricks as the third period commenced. Turnovers...missed layups and chip shots...if anybody hit a three-pointer it was an accident. Damian Lillard and Jamal Crawford had a mildly-interesting duel towards the end of the third. It was like a middle school couple detaching themselves from the wall to dance together for half a song, then deciding they were too embarrassed to do it after all because nobody else was. Portland finally found some daylight by pressing their rebounding attack...a critical factor in a game where everyone is missing shots. The Blazers took the third period 26-19, leaving the score tied at 65 heading into the fourth.
"Wait, Dave...we've seen the Blazers play before. You mean the score was tied at 65 at the half, right?"
No, I mean after three quarters of play.
The start of the fourth quarter showed no more promise than the rest of the game. Misses were common. Whichever team rebounded harder earned an edge. The Blazers and Clippers traded that distinction until CJ McCollum finally came alive, hitting back-to-back shots with 3:00 left to put the Blazers up 7. Unfortunately Chris Paul scored 4 quick points followed by 5 from Crawford and the Clippers retook the lead, 89-88, with 51 seconds remaining.
Before we describe the finish it's worth noting that Portland likely lost the game during that stretch between 3:00 and 0:51. Crawford looked heroic but the Blazers didn't exactly defend well. Their game plan was fouling DeAndre Jordan but they ended up fouling Paul instead. CP3 shoots 89% from the foul line; Jordan shoots -6 zillion%. They don't look much like each other either. This was not an understandable mistake.
With the game tight under a minute left, everybody knew who was getting the ball. And Damian Lillard did not disappoint. He shook out of a game-long slump by hitting a beautiful spinning jumper for an and-one. Following 2 more Paul free throws, Dame splashed one of his trademark, "Oh Lord Almighty He Did NOT Do That!" three-pointers from the moon. That left the Blazers up 94-91 with 23 seconds remaining. The Staples Center crowd fell eerily quiet.
Then Crawford did Lillard one better. He backed up clear to Mars, blew Matt Damon a kiss, and sank an incredible three-pointer of his own. That left game tied at 94 with 11 seconds remaining.
11 seconds left? Blazers needing one shot to win? You know what time that was.
Yeah, that's right, it was Harkless Time.
No, that is not a misprint.
With Lillard doubled, smothered, and stifled by the Clippers on the inbounds and McCollum somewhere on the far side of the court, the ball went to Ed Davis...24 feet from the bucket...with the clock barreling towards zero. You know that's not good news. Harkless was Davis' only outlet. Moe caught, drove the baseline, and did God knows what. The nation's leading scientists are still trying to dissect what kind of shot it was. Whatever it eventually gets christened, it didn't go in. The Clippers rebounded with 1.1 seconds on the clock.
On the ensuing inbounds Jordan hit a huge, leaning screen on McCollum that CJ couldn't get around. That freed up JJ Redick. He caught, spun, fired, and smiled as the final buzzer heralded the Clippers victory.
I mean, what do you want? The Blazers looked tired, shot uncharacteristically poorly, and put about as much energy into this game as the Once-ler on Valium. Harkless, Davis, and Gerald Henderson came to play. For everybody else, it depended on the possession.
Portland shot 40% from the field, a paltry 25% from the arc. L.A.'s defense wasn't that good; the Blazers just played like their sneakers were full of pudding. The Clippers weren't that great on offense either, shooting 45% from the field but only 21% from the arc. Portland gained a 6-point advantage in free throws and a 15-8 edge in fast break points. 25 each from Crawford and Paul bested anything Portland's stars could do and countered Portland's advantages. The Blazers couldn't stop the opponent's big guns and the Clippers could. That ended up the story of the night. Redick's final three was almost an afterthought.
That said, had either team played particularly well, the game wouldn't have been that close. It was an oddity and as such, probably shouldn't be dwelt on much unless repeated.
Prepare for pain here. Despite his late-game heroics Damian Lillard scored 18 on 4-16 shooting, 2-8 from the arc. CJ McCollum fared better with 17 on 6-12 shooting but he added 4 turnovers and not much defense. The pair had 14 assists between them. That's something. But you know when both starting guards end up below 20 points the Blazers will have a hard time winning.
Mason Plumlee had his hands full and more with DeAndre Jordan. He didn't allow DJ to dunk much, which was good. So were 2 blocks and 2 steals. Giving up 5 offensive rebounds wasn't good at all. Plumlee finished the game with 11 points on 3-9 shooting with 6 boards. Not one of his finer outings.
Al-Farouq Aminu didn't have anywhere to go in this game. The Clippers weren't scoring much so his defense was pretty much wasted. The Blazers weren't scoring much either and he can't help with that. 6 points, 6 rebounds.
Maurice Harkless turned on the jets in this one, though. It was like he was still dancing a jig about going from not playing to starting. He shot 5-8, scored 10, and added 8 rebounds. The last-second shot wasn't great but he had little choice at that point.
If you type "Ed Davis" into an anagram machine it will spit out, "Kiss the ball goodbye small man for it is mine and you shall never see it again!"
Well, no it won't, but that's because the anagram machine is wrong.
Davis killed it again in the first half of this game and finished with 12 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals on 5-7 shots in 23 minutes. He is scary right now.
Portland's reserve shooting guard, Gerallen Crabberson, didn't do so well tonight. The Allen Crabbe part shot 2-11. The Gerald Henderson part did better at 3-8. Each committed 2 turnovers. Between them they scored 16 on 5-19 shooting with 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 turnovers, and 5 fouls in 54 minutes. Jamal Crawford scored 25 points on 11-21 shooting in 33 minutes. Crawford > Crabberson...or at least he was tonight.
Links and Such
Clips Nation will like how this one ended up, obviously. Hard to think they'd be enthused with the game overall though.
Even with the loss, the Blazers remain in 6th place in the Western Conference standings, a game ahead of 7th-place Dallas, 1.5 ahead of 8th-place Houston and the 9th-place Jazz. The Blazers and Mavericks have 36 losses, the Rockets and Jazz 37.
Portland faces the Philadelphia 76'ers on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. at the Moda Center.