CJ McCollum’s shot at the buzzer was no good, and the Portland Trail Blazers’ improved effort against the Los Angeles Clippers was spoiled as a result. At the final whistle, it was the Clippers who were on the right side of a 113-112 heartbreaker.
The Blazers were missing Damian Lillard for the third straight game along with Jusuf Nurkic, but even so, they looked to be in a good position to pull off the upset until the final seconds.
McCollum led the way for Portland with 28 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Norman Powell added 23 points.
Maybe it was the Clippers playing down without Kawhi Leonard, or maybe it was some much needed desperation on the part of the Blazers, but Portland was able to get into rhythm early and avoid the seemingly inevitable first-quarter hole that has been their doom as of late. McCollum and Powell both did their thing, finding gold in the hills of pushing the pace offensively and attacking before Los Angeles could sink in its claws on defense. It was all systems go as the two just put their heads down and went full speed towards the rim, taking what the discombobulated defense would give them. It was a breath of fresh air, but came accompanied with a familiar waft of defensive shortcomings. The Blazers struggled with the Clippers’ lengthy wing combo of Paul George and Marcus Morris Sr., who were seemingly able to get whatever they wanted from any level. A driving floater from McCollum in the final moments gave Portland a small 31-30 advantage after one.
The second units for both sides did a good job keeping up the intensity. For the Blazers, it was Rondae Hollis-Jefferson giving a live audition as to why he deserves another contract while serving as the team’s de-facto backup center against the objectively large human being DeMarcus Cousins. Hollis-Jefferson’s stats won’t look gaudy, but along with Nassir Little, the two provided a big boost in the hustle department and helped Portland stay afloat while most of the firepower was resting on the bench. When McCollum and Powell returned, the Blazers rattled off a quick 12-2 run and led by 10 points, but L.A. didn’t take long to pull right back within a bucket. Free throws from Carmelo Anthony preserved a 60-56 lead at half.
McCollum continued to dominate the ball for most of the quarter, but only generated so-so success. When he was able to get closer to the basket, his finesse game seemed on-point; when he settled for threes, not so much. Still, it was enough to keep even as the Clippers continued to meander about as if totally unaware of the fragile state of Portland’s confidence. George continued to be a thorn, along with Reggie Jackson, who both continued to add to L.A.’s ridiculous season of outside shooting while seizing a four-point lead heading into the final frame.
The Clippers didn’t exactly put in the strongest effort to close this one out. They rolled with Cousins and the bench crew for nearly half of the quarter, and by then, Portland had stormed out to regain a five-point lead. L.A. rallied behind George when he returned, but the Blazers still found themselves with a 112-107 lead with just over a minute remaining. From there, it was a series of worst-case-scenarios. George scored six straight points, including two back breaking free throws off of a questionable foul call with 4.8 seconds left. McCollum had a chance to be the hero at the other end, but his 14-foot pull-up couldn’t find the net.
The Blazers will stay in town to take on the Denver Nuggets tomorrow night at the Moda Center - tip is set for 7 p.m. Pacific.