The short-handed Portland Trail Blazers nearly pulled off a monumental upset over one of the league’s hottest teams on Tuesday night. Ultimately, however, they succumbed to the late heroics of Paul George, falling to the Los Angeles Clippers by a final score of 113-112. After gaining a five-point lead with 1:03 remaining, Portland failed to score again, as the Clippers finished the game on a 6-0 run.
Playing without Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic, the Blazers played with an inspired effort, spearheaded by a pair of unlikely contributors off the bench. Norman Powell and CJ McCollum shouldered the scoring load, combining for 51 points on the night while Carmelo Anthony and Anfernee Simons also finished in double-figures off the bench.
George led all players with 33 points, one of five Clippers to notch a double-digit scoring total. 20 of those points came in the game’s second half, including the final six of the game.
For a detailed rundown of the action, see our Instant Recap.
Here were the key takeaways from Tuesday’s game.
Close But No Cigar
Outside of a third quarter lull, in which they were outscored 30-22, the Blazers outplayed the Clippers for nearly the entire night. That is, until the final minute. Unfortunately for Portland, the final minute proved to be the most important. Up five with 1:03 left, they missed all three of their final shots, including a pair of threes.
George took the opportunity to attack the basket, hitting a pair of driving layups before drawing a foul with 4.8 seconds left trying to kick the ball out to a teammate in the corner. While the call against McCollum was a bit dubious, George calmly sank both free throws. McCollum’s ensuing midrange pull-up rimmed off at the buzzer, sealing Portland’s fate.
Norm Leads Early Charge
Powell got off to a scorching start, scoring 17 in the first half to help put Portland up four at the break. While he knocked down a few three-pointers, the majority of his damage came from attacking the rim with authority and craftiness. He cooled off in the second half, being to held six points to finish with 23 on the game on 10-20 shooting. He also missed a key three-pointer on a great look with 16.5 seconds remaining, with the Blazers clinging to a one-point lead at the time.
McCollum and Anthony took the scoring reigns in the second half, but neither were very efficient and both suffered from questionable shot selection at times. McCollum finished with a team-high 28 points on 11-26 shooting, while Anthony had 18 on 5-18 shooting.
Bringing the Energy
Coming off the bench, Nassir Little and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson formed the Heart and Hustle Brigade in the second quarter, as the Blazers kept their foot on the gas following an excellent start to the game. The duo feasted on 50/50 balls and provided solid defensive energy, combing for three stellar blocks.
The effort continued into the second half, as the two played a key role in Portland’s stretch run and were on the floor for the entire fourth quarter. They were particularly instrumental on the defensive end, but also made an impact offensively. In addition to the great hustle, Little finished with seven points, ten rebounds (four offensive) and three assists, while Hollis-Jefferson had five points, six rebounds (also four offensive) and three assists with two blocks. Both players registered 24 minutes of action.
The Rondo Effect
There’s no doubt that the Clippers are a better team with Rajon Rondo. They are now 8-1 since acquiring the veteran, and the reasons why were on full display Tuesday night. As starting point guard Reggie Jackson sputtered through a tough shooting display, beginning the game 0-5 from the fieldm Rondo flipped a switch in the team upon entering the action. He pushed the pace and set up his teammates with an outstanding passing display. All told, he finished with nine points, six rebounds and seven assists in 22 minutes.
Rondo wasn’t the only recently-acquired veteran to step up, as DeMarcus Cousins feasted against a Blazer second-unit lacking a true center. The 6’10”, 270-pound “Boogie” had 11 points and six rebounds in 13 minutes of action off the bench.
The Blazers host the Denver Nuggets in the second of a back-to-back on Wednesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. PT at Moda Center.