Blake Griffin hit a three-pointer at the buzzer of tonight’s game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Portland Trail Blazers, dooming Portland to defeat after a tooth-and-nail, second-half comeback. The Blazers got the usual torrid scoring from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Ed Davis gave them a huge lift on the offensive glass. Al-Farouq Aminu even blessed them with quintuplet three-pointers. So many things went right, only to deflate against the sharp point of an All-Star forward’s three. Sometimes life just isn’t fair, at least if you’re a Portland fan.
Right from the tip, the Clippers offense was geared toward getting their big forwards, Blake Griffin and Danillo Gallinari, the ball in the post. The smaller Blazers forwards struggled to keep their men from getting to spots where they proved effective. Defensively, the Clippers did everything they could to keep the ball out of the hands of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. They both got well-defended, tough shots to go down, but nothing came easy. As the subs entered, the venue changed from inside the arc to a three-point contest. The two teams combined for seven three-point attempts in the last 2 minutes. The Clips shot better, as Austin Rivers who hit two late, and L.A. found themselves up 6 after one.
The pressure on the Dame and CJ continued in the second period, but a few 3 pointers from Al-Farouq Aminu and Jusuf Nurkic gaining traction held Portland’s offense held steady. Led by Ed Davis, Portland wreaked havoc on the offensive boards, but they couldn’t turn them into second-chance points. Fouls played an enormous role in the quarter; L.A. led the free throw attempt column 27-10 at the half. By that point every Blazer who played more than 8 minutes had at least 2 fouls; Davis and Nurkic had 3 apiece. The Clips led by 9 at the half.
Nurkic opened the second half with a pair of fouls right off the bat, raising his total to 5. Even with Nurk on the bench, the Blazers were able to get themselves into an offensive groove. Dame rattled off 7 straight to start the quarter. Both he and McCollum found avenues for penetrations. Aminu chipped in a couple more threes. The intensity of of both crowd and players picked up as the score remained neck and neck. The Clippers led 80-79 after three.
Doing his best Nurkic impersonation, Ed Davis picked up two quick fouls to start the fourth giving him 5. The Blazers fought and clawed their way to an 89-89 tie after another Aminu three connected at the 8:21 mark. A minute later an Evan Turner chip shot finally put them ahead 91-89. When McCollum hit a three in the next possession, it looked like momentum was headed Portland’s way. But Griffin continued to bully defenders under the basket with easy finishes and free throws. Whenever the Clippers needed a bucket, he was the guy.
The score remained tight through the bitter end, and bitter it would be for Portland fans.
With the Clippers up one with 43 seconds left, McCollum hit a pull up jumper to give the Blazers a one point lead. What followed can only be described as madness.
The refs gathered for what seemed an eternity to review a potential shot clock violation on the ensuing Clippers possession, following a miss and an offensive rebound. The Clips were granted the ball and new clock. That play ended in another review of a charge/block call on a drive by Austin Rivers, which was ruled as a great charge taken by Lillard. The Clippers fouled McCollum with 5 seconds left, the Blazers still up 1. CJ, a 91% free throw shooter last year, missed hit first and made his second, staking Portland to a 103-101 advantage. With one last chance, the Clippers went to, who else...Blake Griffin. He came off a ball screen, hesitated, then drained a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win the game. Blazers lose 104-103
Wow. What a game. Pardon me while I try to put the emotions into words.
Both teams came out with obvious game plans. As they have done every time they have played the Blazers for the last 3 years, the Clippers trapped Lillard and McCollum on every ball screen early, trying to force the ball out of their hands. Rivers ignored any help responsibilities and attached himself to CJ like he was “playing the dog” in a box and one. Patrick Beverly had the assignment guarding Lillard. Dame and CJ had to work hard whenever they touched the ball. Despite solid games, few possessions came easy for either of them.
On defense, the Blazers struggled with the Clippers’ spacing and were forced to guard Griffin one-on-one. Nobody on Portland’s roster could keep him from getting to the rim, let alone stop him once he got there. The effort was great, the positioning was solid, but Blake was just too good.
The Blazers found decent success in most of the other parts of their defense. It was clear they wanted to keep the ball away from rollers in any pick-and-roll involving Griffin or DeAndre Jordan. They effectively neutralized the play.
Fouls were a huge factor in the game. Some calls were questionable, as they always are, but if an NBA team can’t win a game with the officials not on their side, they’re not going to be very good. Either way, 36 free throw attempts allowed is far too many for Portland. Especially without intentionally fouling DeAndre Jordan.
Offensive rebounds hurt Portland in the second half. Five from Beverly dampened the second half push.
The bench, which has been a weapon for the Blazers this season, got outscored 27-11 by the relatively shallow Clipper bench. Only Davis and Turner played more than 11 minutes in the game.
Overall, Portland took care of the ball and refrained from living off of isolation plays, but their sense of urgency didn’t kick in until the second half. At that point they were down 10 and had a tough road ahead. They made enough plays to put them in a position to win a game with playoff-like atmosphere. Had they increased their engagement earlier, they might not have been at the mercy of a single shot at the finish.
Jusuf Nurkic - It’s hard to argue either good or bad for Nurkic tonight. It was great to see signs of old Nurk. He demonstrated finishes and post-up moves that looked poised and in control. When he stays on balance and doesn’t rush, he is a much better finisher. Unfortunately, as it happens often with Nurk, foul trouble kept him from being on the floor as much as his team needed.
Ed Davis - Seven offensive rebounds is terrific. He created even more extra possessions crashing and controlling tip outs. His effort and energy was highest-level. Going 0-7 from the floor is not terrific. He, along with the rest of the Blazer bigs, struggled with Jordan’s size under the basket. Although his grit and toughness are commendable, he has to find a way to finish a few more of those, or at least get better shots out of the attempts.
Damian Lillard - Dame was put to the test all game by L.A.’s defense, but he led the comeback charge in the second half. He forced shots that might have reflected relief at finally finding breathing room. His charge at the end of the game was the game-winning moment until, you know, they didn’t win.
Al-Farouq Aminu- The Clips wanted to see someone else beat them besides CJ and Dame. They dared Aminu to shoot and he responded with five huge three pointers. It’s disappointing to watch him hit 5 of 8 from deep and still lose.
CJ McCollum - CJ is going to be kicking himself for a while after this one. He came up with some big shots in the fourth quarter and turned in a solid stat line (23 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) but the missed free throw could have given the Blazers a three point cushion going into the final possession.
ClipsNation will like this ending as much as the Trail Blazers disliked it.
The Blazers face the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night at 7pm, Pacific at the Moda Center.