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Clippers Loss Leave a Sour Taste in Trail Blazers Fans’ Mouths

Losing to a fourth-quarter rally is never fun.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers’ loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night seemed to be particularly disheartening to Blazers fans. Leading by 13 at the start of the fourth period then dropping the game to a team without its two best players will do that to you. Watching former Blazers forward Norman Powell carve up Portland’s defense with layup after layup in the final period provided a Salt Bae level of sting to the wounds.

The Blazer’s Edge Mailbag this morning reflected some of that, including quite a few questions about whys and wherefores. There were some technical reasons for the loss, but few of them escaped our recap and analysis for the game. Most are endemic to the season rather than the situation. Still, given questions like this, we need a bit more treatment of the loss:

Dave,

I don’t understand how we just lost that game. I’m feeling hopeless right now. Do we just suck that badly? It looked like we couldn’t stop anything. Is this defense or coaching or is Ant just iso-happy right now? What’s wrong with this team? I can’t hardly stand it.

Marty

Take heart, Mart! The Blazers probably shouldn’t have lost to the Clippers, especially since they were down two stars to Portland’s one. But L.A. is stocked with veteran players who give them a puncher’s chance every night. Reggie Jackson, Nicolas Batum, and Norman Powell are not insignificant. The Clips needed a haymaker to land. The Blazers moved their collective chins right into its path. It happens.

Keep in mind that you’d be more excited about Portland’s championship chances with those three vets in the middle of the rotation than you are right now. That should bring some perspective on what ended up being a second-tier versus second-tier battle.

And why did it end up that way? Damian Lillard was out. Don’t ever forget that. Had this team come into the season without Lillard in the lineup, you would have considered a .500 record and a shot at the Play-In Tournament adequate. In any game he’s out, that’s a reasonable expectation. We should be celebrating the fact that the Blazers have looked as good as they have without him, not mourning their difficulties finishing last night.

And speaking of, the only time when it really showed was the final few possessions, where Anferenee Simons ran his head against a defensive wall again and again. Let’s not condemn the same iso ball that allowed him to lead the team in scoring and absolutely vanquished the Clippers in the earlier quarters. The problem last night, even late, was less Simons than the fact that it was only Simons in the critical possessions.

And why did that happen? Jerami Grant had fouled out three minutes earlier. You’ll hear no condemnation of the refs here. Grant earned those whistles. But when you’re Top 2, you almost have to not. Jusuf Nurkic has learned how to stop 4 fouls from becoming 6. Grant hasn’t needed to as much, but seriously, the Blazers really needed him last night and he wasn’t there.

Oh, and by the way, the other guy who could have helped guarding Norman Powell during that fourth quarter—Josh Hart—had suffered an injury earlier in the game and wasn’t quite looking himself.

Oh, and by the way, another guy known for his defense—Nassir Little—had gone to the locker room with an injury of his own.

Oh, and by the way, there’s only so much that Justise Winslow can do.

The one question I have is whether Nurkic shouldn’t have come back into the game earlier in the fourth, as his size had been an advantage for Portland earlier in the contest. Head Coach Chauncey Billups decided to match L.A.’s smaller lineup, fighting fire with fire, instead of running out a bigger one. I don’t blame him, really. Portland’s strength lies in players 6’8 and under. Nurk isn’t the fastest guy down the floor and the Blazers were worried about L.A. getting out to quick points in their comeback. Not playing Nurk made some sense.

The problem, of course, was Powell getting the same layups in the halfcourt offense that the Clips would have on the run. Once that started happening, the ship listed and disaster was nigh. Nurkic might have helped with the issue, but he also might have collected fouls like candy canes.

The loss shouldn’t have happened, of course, but since it did, it’s good to remember the number of close, comeback games that the Blazers have won this season. They’ve had more than their share. If they’re going to drop one back, that’s probably a case of playing with fire once too often.

This game should be a disappointment because of the rally, the defense, and the distance between Portland and bankable contention. But the latter two of those three factors have been pretty consistent this year. We know they have trouble stopping penetration. We know their talent can’t rise above their need for teamwork. Nothing changed because of last night’s game. They have a hard time making up for those things under normal circumstances, let alone with three forwards and their starting point guard hobbled or out.

Hopefully the Blazers will make it up tonight against the Lakers. If not, they still have another month before we really know who they are. A little gloom is understandable, but let’s hold off on the doom until after Christmas, at least.