The Trail Blazers captured a much-needed 125-104 victory over the Clippers to maintain their position ahead of LA in the Western Conference standings. CJ McCollum recovered from a slow start to ignite Portland’s offense in the fourth quarter. The Blazers entered the final period clinging to a slim one-point advantage, but McCollum’s 23-point explosion sealed the win. Despite the final score, it was far from an easy result for coach Terry Stotts’ squad. Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams provided the Clippers with a combined 40 points off the bench to keep the Blazers on their heels.
A lack of urgency and movement combined to stall Portland’s offense in the first half. The Blazers found themselves on the wrong end of the assist tally, rebounding battle, and three-point total after two quarters. The Clippers’ guard tandem of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Patrick Beverley successfully fought over screens to hold their counterparts to just two three-pointers in the first half. Inside, Ivica Zubac’s 240-pound frame kept Jusuf Nurkic off balance. The former Lakers big man struggled to find his shot, but he secured 11 of his 15 rebounds in the first half.
Maurice Harkless’ bully-ball against Landry Shamet and Enes Kanter’s success in one-on-one matchups on the block were the only reliable forms of offense for the Blazers in the first half. Unfortunately for Portland, a friendly elbow from Harkless ended Kanter’s first shift prematurely.
CJ Catches Fire
The Blazers’ gained momentum after halftime by generating favorable looks with movement away from the pick-and-roll action. Seth Curry and Jake Layman put together a string of solid looks by staying active and attacking sloppy defensive rotations. Lillard compounded the Clippers’ issues with crisp passing.
With LA’s defense softened, McCollum feasted in the fourth quarter. From the perimeter to the paint, he had everything working with the game on the line. McCollum connected on his first seven shots from the field in the final period—putting the game out of reach for the Clippers. Lillard, who finished three points behind LaMarcus Aldridge on the Blazers’ all-time scoring leaderboard, diverted the entire offense through his teammate instead of chasing history.
Needed Win, Concerns to Ponder
The Blazers trailed and struggled for long stretches against a Clippers’ squad that was coming off a back-to-back with Danilo Gallinari on the sideline. Harrell looked unstoppable at times in the third quarter, and Portland’s rebounding prowess looked mortal against LA. The Blazers would still be a favorite in a postseason series, but the margin for error would be smaller than expected if the Clippers are at full strength.
The NBA Playoffs are a different animal and LA’s youngsters are primed to learn a few lessons the hard way. Team-friendly contracts, young talent, and flexibility have the potential to make the Clippers a real problem in the future.
Lillard produced six assists in each half to finish with 12. Prior to McCollum’s explosion, it was Dame’s vision that kept the Blazers afloat. Lillard went 8-14 from the field and he could have finished with more than 20 points if he didn’t undertake a complementary role to his teammate’s late-game supernova.
Tonight’s result might have been the ugliest double-double of the season for Nurkic. The big fella kept his scoring line respectable by sinking eight of his nine attempts from the free throw line.
Kanter’s nine-point first half opened up the entire court for the second unit. When the Clippers sent help, the Blazers’ shooters benefited from wide-open looks. Kanter finished with 14 points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes of action. Five of his nine rebounds came on the offensive end.
The Blazers return to action on Friday with a trip to New Orleans to face the Pelicans.