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Blazers Guards Play Brilliantly but Clippers Stars Prevail

Scoot Henderson plays the game of his career in a loss.

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Clippers showed up to their game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night packing plenty of current and former All-Stars, plus a deep bench. Portland showed up with a stable of young guards and plenty of moxie.

On paper, the matchup should have favored Los Angeles. Kawhi Leonard alone outweighs any two Blazers on the cosmic depth chart. It didn’t turn out that way in reality. Leonard posted 34, alongside 20 for James Harden and Paul George. But Anfernee Simons poured in 38 while shooting 13-13 from the foul line. Shaedon Sharpe added 27 and Scoot Henderson a career-high 19. That was no fluke; it was the best game of the rookie guard’s career.

The Blazers were helped by torrid 19-40 production from the three-point arc, a 47.5% success rate. But when the game ground down in the fourth period, the Clippers veterans were just a little took much for Portland to handle. Los Angeles emerged with a 132-127 win, sending Portland to a 6-16 record for the season.

If moral victories counted in the standings, the Blazers would have 16 wins instead of 16 losses. This game would certainly qualify as one of them.

First Quarter

The Clippers started the game out-starring the Blazers something fierce. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George scored, then James Harden dragged the defense down the lane for an assist to an unguarded Ivaca Zubac. The Clippers center proceeded to pound Portland in the lane, recipient of ridiculously easy looks against a scrambling defense. Zubac scored 8 points in the first 4 minutes, causing Chauncey Billups to call an “Enough of that!” timeout with L.A. leading 14-7.

The Blazers responded to the pep talk by turning over the ball twice in a row, leading to run-outs for the opponent. It was another one of those first quarters. The scoreboard read 21-7 with 6:15 remaining.

Shaedon Sharpe was just about the only option working for Portland at that point. He hit the mid-range jumpers the defense ceded him. It was bailing with a bucket against the ocean tide though. Los Angeles continued to score inside like Portland’s defense didn’t exist.

The second-unit switch benefited Portland, as the Clippers’ continuity and (somewhat surprising) smooth ball sharing disappeared. The Blazers closed the gap back to 29-22 with 3:00 remaining. But the Clips had enough star power to keep offensive threats on the floor at all times. They continued to suck in Portland defenders, then find embarrassingly-open three-point shooters.

By the end of the first period, the Clippers had 28 points in the paint. Sharpe had 9 and Anfernee Simons 8, but Zubac countered with 14. The Clippers led 43-32 after one. Oh. And L.A. shot 76% in the period. Ouch.

Second Quarter

Anfernee Simons drew a four-point play at the outset of the second period. It was upgraded to a reckless closeout, meaning the Blazers got the three, the free throw, and the ball back. It was a nice way to turn around the scoreboard. Within 45 seconds, Portland closed the lead to 38-43.

Simons continued to captain the offense through the early second, but he only found success when he kept the ball in his own hands. Passes still proved dicey. Scoot Henderson was the only other Blazer catching fire, as he hit jumpers with regularity.

Scoring buckets kept the Clippers in the halfcourt and away from their easy looks. That was enough to hold the lead to 4-5 points instead of letting it expand back to double digits.

In their own halfcourt offense, the Blazers suffered somewhat lacking experienced bigs. The Clippers let the ball go inside to centers on several plays, but catching looked like calculus for Portland’s no-name centers, let alone converting.

Sharpe got aggressive attacking the paint as the half started to wane. His free throws kept the score ticking for Portland. They couldn’t close it all the way because Clippers wings always seemed to find a seam for the right shot. If the first period was all about the L.A. stars, the second wasvabout the role players. Portland’s defense remained active throughout, but not completely effective.

A little bit of James Harden magic balanced out even more Sharpe and Simons free throws at the end of the second, But Harden slowed down before the young Blazers did. Moses Brown grabbed a couple of offensive rebounds, which helped too. Despite L.A. shooting 60% for the half, they led only 66-65 at halftime. Simons and Sharpe each had 16 at the break, Henderson 14.

Third Period

The Blazers wasted no time at the start of the third announcing their intention to win this game with the long ball. 5 of their first 6 shots came from distance and all of them fell. That gave Portland a 77-74 lead with 8:45 remaining.

The longer-range shots kept falling too. Simons hit a filthy two from deep with 6:59 left, leading to a Clippers timeout, Portland leading 82-81.

Portland would continue to shoot deep in the middle of the period. They cooled down, hitting only 1 of their next 4. The Clippers matched their three-point production and hit a couple easy shots inside as well. That put L.A. ahead 91-88 with 4:37 remaining at Portland’s timeout.

The Blazers came out of the timeout and got...another three! Matisse Thybulle canned it from the corner, so it helped. When Henderson pump-faked his way into a strike beyond the arc against the shot clock, it might have been a sign from the cosmos that it was Portland’s night.

But L.A. continued to work inside better than Portland. Plus Russell Westbrook hit a carbon-copy of Henderson’s unlikely triple from the corner a few possessions later. The Blazers could not have shot any better, but they also couldn’t escape their hosts.

After a frantic shootout in which Portland connected on 10 of 14 three-point attempts (yes, in a single quarter), the scoreboard read 105-99, Clippers. The Blazers scored 34, but were still bested by 5 in the period.

Fourth Quarter

The opening minutes of the fourth were as ugly as the third had been pretty. Both teams labored on the offensive end like they were chewing on overcooked liver and onions: lots of effort resulting in ick.

Sharpe got the pot boiling again with (what else?) a corner three with 9:06 remaining after Harden got stuck on a screen. The Clippers were apt at working around Portland’s defense for most of the game, but let it be known that in the second half, the Blazers acquitted themselves well in that department. The Shaedon strike knotted the scoreboard at 108.

The resurrection was short-lived, though. Like Lazarus getting wrapped up and put back in the tomb, Portland’s offense looked positively mummified. L.A. was stuck in the grind as well, but ugly veterans are going to edge out ugly rookies every time. The Clips began to creep ahead on the scoreboard, leading 114-108 as the period passed the mid-mark.

The world nearly came to an end on the next possession, as Simons set a screen that freed Toumani Camara in the corner and Toumani hit the shot. The Clippers hit a shot, then Simons drew two free throws. Zubac struck on a broken play after that, followed by more Simons free throws on a loose ball foul. That’s exactly the way the flow went: occasional bouts of brilliance for Portland swamped by a bunch of scrappy scrum play that tended to go the way of L.A.

Predictably, though, when the action got chippy, Camara stepped up. He grabbed an offensive rebound off of a free throw attempt, disrupted on the defensive end, and tried to be the dagger in the back to give Portland the edge they needed.

Portland found the heat again as crunch time arrived. A Simons three with 4:25 left kept the Blazers close. A Sharpe step-through jumper with 3:32 remaining, putting Portland ahead 121-120. Then Camara blocked a Harden layup attempt to make sure the Clippers knew the Blazers meant it.

The Clippers continued to crowd the paint as the clock dwindled, daring Portland to finish what they started from the arc. Portland didn’t need to crowd, as Camara drew a charge on Leonard. Simons hit a layup with 2:00 left to put Portland up 123-122. But Ant turned it over on a drive on the next possession, leading to a breakout. Sharpe fouled Terrance Mann on the resulting layup attempt. Mann hit the foul shots. L.A. led 124-123 with 1:00 left.

A Zubac block on a Camara layup underlined the Clips’ commitment to shutting down the lane. It also underlined that Portland’s guards would need to win this game if it was going to be won.

Paul George hit a layup with 30 seconds remaining, making the score 126-123, L.A. In the critical possession that followed, Harden poked away the ball from Simons on the sideline. The call was initially Portland’s ball, but it was overturned, leaving the Blazers down 3 with just 21.5 seconds remaining. They fouled Leonard for possession, but he hit the foul shots that put the game away. Portland continued to dance the free-throw-line polka in the final seconds, but the Clippers didn’t miss foul shots, so it didn’t matter.

Up Next

Stay tuned for extended analysis coming soon!

Boxscore

Portland will face the Utah Jazz at home on Thursday night with a 7:00 PM, Pacific start.