Portland came into the contest the walking wounded, as Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little were also absent with injuries, leaving half of Portland’s normal rotation out of service.
Filling in that gigantic hole was Jusuf Nurkic, who who scored a season-high 31 points. Norman Powell added his own season-high of 29 points.
With the Blazers nearly down to their last man standing, there wasn’t much confusion as to who would be dominating the rock. Powell let it fly from the get-go and carried the offense with 12 points in the quarter. Most of that was accomplished via the “take it to the rack” approach. Powell was relentless getting into the chest of Clipper defenders and finishing at the rim.
At the other end, Los Angeles leaned on the outside shooting of Luke Kennard and Brandon Boston, who each had a pair of threes to fuel a hot start for the Clippers. L.A. led by as much as six, but Portland didn’t let things get out of hand. Blazers trailed by only one, 27-26, after the first.
When Powell went to the bench, Nurkic wasted no time seizing the spotlight, bruising his way to 12 points in the second quarter before cutting his stint short with foul trouble.
Portland continued to shoot themselves in the foot with a litany of careless turnovers, which prevented them from capitalizing on a rather lethargic Clipper effort. Paul George - who dropped 42 in an October matchup between these two teams - was passive, with only 5 points in the half. He deferred to Marcus Morris Sr. and Reggie Jackson. The Blazers will take that all day. That’s how Portland endured what otherwise might be a back-breaking dry spell, going several minutes without a field goal and still living to tell the tale.
Powell kept it rolling upon his return. Then a straightway three from Dennis Smith Jr. in the final minute gave Portland a 49-48 lead heading into the break.
Nurkic continued to be a load for L.A.’s defense on block, tossing in another 12 points. The Clippers struggled to find an answer for the sizable Balkan. After Ivica Zubac failed to get the job done, they even dusted off seldom-used Serge Ibaka in a vain defensive effort . It was by no means “easy” points for the Blazers - they had to work for every piece of it - but it formed the framework of an at least semi-consistent offense.
At the other end, George started to come alive with 8 points in the quarter, which helped L.A. take a 77-74 advantage into the final frame.
The fourth period was a big, wide open door just inviting somebody, anybody to walk through it and seize victory. For about eight and half minutes, both teams took turns looking sheepishly at each other and saying “No, you,” before that person, unfortunately, became George. Two mid-range jumpers in the final minutes - combined with an ill-timed flagrant elbow from Nurkic to the face of Isaiah Hartenstein, all but did Portland in. A one-possession game quickly ballooned to double-digits and L.A. had locked up the win.
Stay tuned for the extended analysis of tonight’s game.
The Blazers will get a day off before heading to the Bay for a rematch with the Golden State Warriors Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. Pacific.