The Portland Trail Blazers inched closer to securing homecourt advantage tonight by beating the Los Angeles Clippers 105-96. The evening marked Damian Lillard’s after the birth of his first child, but the night belonged to the big fellas in Portland. Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins both played crucial roles in securing the victory. The Blazers put five players in double figures, moving the ball superbly on offense. Portland’s second unit provided a beacon of hope, giving the home team a sizable lead in the second quarter by running LA out of the gym. Though the Blazers weren’t able to clinch tonight, the victory gives them a tight grip on the 3rd seed in the Western Conference playoffs race.
A Little Rusty
Both teams looked groggy to start this one, as neither side recorded a basket in the first two minutes of action. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum finally ended the drought. Neither team could get things going from outside, so the action took place closer to the basket. Lou Williams kept the Clippers close by shooting a near-perfect 4-5 for eight points off the bench. The Blazers finished the quarter with slim 26-23 lead.
Collins Steals The Show
LA’s offense went cold early in the second quarter. The Blazers’ second unit did an excellent job pushing the pace after scooping up defensive rebounds, which led to a handful of favorable looks for Zach Collins. The rookie from Gonzaga answered the call by going a perfect 6-for-6 from the field for 13 points. Thanks to the second unit’s proficiency, Portland reeled off a 13-1 run that gave them a sturdy double-digit lead. Tobias Harris and Williams did their best to stop the bleeding for the Clippers late in the quarter, but the Blazers still finished the half ahead 64-49.
Nothing Easy For The Clippers
The Blazers picked up where they left off by forcing the Clippers into contested shots in the third quarter. On offense, Portland moved the ball with purpose to find open shooters. Evan Turner provided the biggest scoring punch in the period with seven points, which helped the Blazers push their lead to 20. Outside of DeAndre Jordan’s rebounding , LA couldn’t get anything going. Williams was held scoreless in the third, and the Blazers finished with a 87-66 lead.
Not So Fast
It appeared like Doc Rivers was prepared to wave the white flag at the start of the fourth quarter, but his group of reserves had other plans. Thanks to a quick 11-0 run by the Clippers, the Blazers were forced to put their starters back on the court to protect the lead. LA made a serviceable push to catch Portland, but it was never enough to truly put the outcome of this contest in question.
Finding The Open Man
The Blazers had a whopping 30 assists to the Clippers’ meager 13 in this contest. Portland moved the ball efficiently in transition, and limited their mistakes when operating in halfcourt sets. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum only combined for 30 points, but it didn’t matter thanks to the supporting cast hitting their marks on offense.
Portland did an excellent job forcing LA’s offense into low-percentage shots. The Clippers connected on just 4 of their 13 attempts from beyond the arc, which made it nearly impossible for them to close the gap. With their offense relatively one-dimensional, Tobias Harris and Austin Rivers struggled to make an impact.
After some noticeable struggles recently, Portland’s second unit silenced their critics by building that second-quarter lead. The Blazers pushed the pace, which resulted in confidence-building shots for the reserves. It might not be a reliable strategy for the postseason, but it sure looked nice against the Clippers.
Nurk Leads The Way
Jusuf Nurkic bulldozed his way to 21 points against a stout LA frontline. The big fella feasted on pick-and-roll looks tonight, adding to his final total and his teammates’ assist numbers. Nurkic also snatched 12 rebounds to complete a impressive double-double in 30 minutes of work.
Damian Lillard recorded a double-double of his own. Portland’s leading man posted 17 points to go with his 11 assists. Lillard made up for his 2-for-10 three-point shooting night by finding favorable looks for his teammates.
Zach Collins punished a flat-footed Clippers defense in the second quarter. The 20-year-old hustled down the court on offense to get easy looks in the paint. Collins finished with 15 points in 21 minutes of action.
The playoff outlook over at Clips Nation just got a little more somber.
Victories for the Timberwolves and the Nuggets prevented the Blazers from clinching a playoff spot tonight, but they did receive some help in securing the No. 3 seed with a Thunder loss.
The Blazers will return to action when they host the Grizzlies on Sunday.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com