The Portland Trail Blazers ended 2020 on an uninspiring note Wednesday, dropping their final game of the calendar year 128-103 to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers shot 47% from downtown in the game, and were led by the return of Kawhi Leonard, who scored a game-high 28 points while playing with a protective mask. CJ McCollum led Portland with 25, while Damian Lillard went just 3-14 from the field and 0-8 from distance.
Both teams were hot from distance early, but the Clippers jumped out to a modest 18-11 lead before a timeout was called by Portland at the six-minute mark. L.A. continued to connect at a blistering clip after the break, taking advantage of easy looks yielded from a scrambling Blazers defense as the lead quickly ballooned to double-digits.
While the defense sputtered, Portland’s offense turned iso-heavy as the second unit entered the game. The Clippers led 37-26 after the first twelve minutes of action, going 8-12 from beyond the arc, Lillard started the game 0-6 from the field for the Blazers.
Just when it appeared that the Clippers would blow the lead wide open, going up 49-32 three minutes into the frame, the Blazers were able to stop the bleeding and gain some momentum offensively. They responded with a 12-2 run, with five different players scoring during the stretch. L.A. recovered with a 16-2 run of their own, and pushed the lead out to 20 points by the three-minute mark as the Blazers’ shooting went ice cold.
Lillard’s struggles continued, as he was held to just a single field goal in the first half as Portland trailed 76-57 when the horn sounded. L.A. shot 14-21 from three-point land, and 58% overall in the half.
The Clippers started on an 8-0 run, thanks in large part to three turnovers from the Blazers within the first two minutes of the half. Portland was able to slowly chip away at the lead throughout the period, but still trailed 107-85 entering the fourth.
The Blazers never made a serious run at the Clippers’ sizable advantage. They turned to the deep bench for much of the frame as L.A. comfortably coasted to victory.
Fire and Ice
The Clippers essentially had the game locked up by halftime, as their hot shooting had the Blazers playing catch-up all night. When Portland went cold, the L.A. lead ballooned, and the Blazers could never recover, outside of the brief run early in the second quarter to pull within seven. Leonard and Paul George combined to go 7-14 from distance, and were able to capitalize on far too many easy looks from a sluggish Blazers defense that gave them more than enough space. Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson also knocked down multiple three-pointers for the Clippers.
Lillard had a dreadful shooting night, and scored 14 of his 20 points at the foul line. Portland as a team shot just 32%, as McCollum (7-11) accounted for more than half of their makes from beyond the arc. To make matters worse, the Blazers treated the ball like a greased turkey for much of the night, most notably to start the second half—putting to bed any question of a remarkable comeback. Jusuf Nurkic was especially rough in this department, committing four turnovers to just one assist.
Melo Returns; Trent Missed
Carmelo Anthony returned from a one-game absence to due COVID protocols, and performed admirably off the bench—scoring 15 points on a highly efficient 3-5 shooting performance. He didn’t force nearly as many shots as his first two games of the season, and noticeably looked to make the right play, particularly in the second half.
Blazer supersub Gary Trent Jr. missed the game due to a calf injury, and the void was palpable. While Portland certainly missed his three-point shooting and defense, perhaps the biggest vacancy from the game was his trademark hustle. The Blazers just didn’t bring the same energy as they brought in Monday’s upset victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, and while a bit of a letdown was perhaps expected, it was still disheartening to see such a one-sided affair and blase approach when the score became lopsided.
The Blazers’ road trip continues with the first of back-to-back games against the Golden State Warriors on New Year’s Day in San Francisco.