The short handed Portland Trail Blazers lost a close game tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night, 132-127. The Clippers were led by Kawhi Leonard’s 34 points on 11-19 shooting and 20 points apiece from Paul George and James Harden. The Blazers were led by a season high 38 points from Anfernee Simons. The scoring guard went 13-13 from the free-throw line. Shaedon Sharpe added 27 points and Scoot Henderson scored a career-high 19 points leading all bench scorers.
The Clippers used their size and strength to establish an early lead. But the young Portland squad, still down Malcom Brogdon, Jerami Grant, and Deandre Ayton, took the Clippers’ first punch and got right back up.
Hot shooting from Sharpe, Simons, and Scoot kept the Blazers in the game. Those three combined for 24 of the Blazers 32 points in the first quarter. It was clear tonight was going to be an offensive game. Portland pushed LA to the brink of defeat, coming up just short down the stretch.
The Blazers were 13.5 point underdogs tonight, but don’t tell Chauncey Billups and the rest of the team that. This Blazers team will be a handful in the near future when they can shoot the ball with this type of efficiency.
If you missed the game, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After you’ve read that, here are the details that defined the contest.
The Blazers’ calling card all season has been their defense: hustle plays, rebounding, deflections, and forcing turnovers. However, with the return of Anfernee Simons, it was just a matter of time before the Blazers put defense aside and let the offense shine.
Tonight was that night. The Blazers scored a season-high 127 points on 48% shooting and a blistering 47% from three point range.
The Blazers did a great job of rotating the basketball and finding the open man. And the shooters were ready when they got the ball. Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, Scoot Henderson, Matisse Thybulle, and Doup Reath all had 2 or more triples. There was no hesitation on their shot, which is something the Blazers need to carry with them into the upcoming five-game home stand.
The other reason the Blazers shot so well from deep was simply because Simons was on fire. You can tell he spent the past five seasons watching Damian Lillard. He looks so comfortable from deep. He has also mastered the side step three pointer that Lillard perfected.
When the Blazers field a lineup of Scoot, Simons, Sharpe, Thybulle, and Reath, there is literally no one the opposition can leave open. If they can shoot like this, combined with the way they play defense, there will be no team in the NBA excited to see them.
Splash Brothers 2.0
After the game against the Golden State Warriors, I called Sharpe and Simons the new splash brothers. I challenge anyone to find me a better guard/wing combo in the NBA since Simons returned from injury. They were electric against the Mavericks and backed that up with another stellar performance against All-NBA defenders in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard tonight.
What we are watching from Sharpe and Simons is no fluke. Both of their releases are lightning quick and they show unbridled confidence when shooting the deep ball. But what I am most impressed with is their footwork. It’s very rare to find young guards who have mastered footwork. Being able to catch the ball ready to drive, shoot, or pass is all how you position your feet. Simons and Sharpe were able to have success tonight against a veteran Clippers team because they have perfected the triple threat position and are able to execute at high levels.
Simons may have been the high scorer for the Blazers but Sharpe easily had the highlight of the night. With 7 seconds left in the first half, Sharpe applied the nastiest stutter step and crossover onto poor Daniel Theis. Sharpe calmly watched Theis stumble into the first row of seats then drain the wide open three to complete the highlight reel. You knew it was nasty when the Clipper bench reacted to it
Leading the Blazers Bench
Scoot Henderson scored a career-high 19 points on 8-16 shooting and 3-4 from deep in this one. He also contributed 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks, finishing with a team-high +11 plus/minus for the game.
Scoot was ready to take on the challenge of going up against the four future Clippers hall-of-famers. He played under control when he drove to the hoop, a stark contrast from the beginning of the season when he only cared about getting by his man instead of finishing at the rim.
Scoot’s jumper is also improving. Early on in his career, he will always be able to get an open look at the free-throw line. The question will be if he’s able to knock it down. He also shot the ball from deep with a lot of confidence tonight. It was nice to see him have a bounce back performance after going 0-6 from three-point range against the Mavericks.
Henderson continued to show off his court vision. The Blazers were able to tie it up at 91 on Scoot’s pass to a wide open Thybulle in the third quarter. He will be a double digit assist player in the very near future.
I have to give Moses Brown his flowers. His play tonight was one of the reasons the Blazers were able to fight back in the second quarter and keep the game close in the second half. He had a stretch towards the end of the second period that included offensive rebounds and put backs on two separate occasions.
Brown also does a great job of communicating on defense. On several defensive possessions tonight, you could see him calling out ball screens and pointing to his teammates. He finished the game with 12 huge rebounds. Hehad enough length to bother the Clippers on layups to the rim.
Brown isn’t the same shooter that Doup Reath is, but there is always a place for a big man who can rebound, guard his position, and communicate on defense.
They Are Free
I have mentioned this before, but the way the Blazers draw fouls is very uncommon for a young team heading to the lottery. There’s no way a team led by Sharpe and Simons should ever shoot more free-throws than a team led by James Harden, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Russell Westbrook. Yet it happened tonight. The Blazers shot 26 free-throws compared to the 22 of the Clippers.
Free-throw attempts per game is one of the best indicators of offensive efficiency. Drawing fouls will continue to open up the rest of the Blazers offense. These are building blocks the young Blazers can work with.
Lack of Size and Depth on D
The Clippers were able to pull out the victory tonight mainly due to the fact they outscored the Blazers 66-32 in the paint. Ivica Zubac scored effectively around the rim with six dunks. Leonard and Westbrook were able to convert going downhill on the Portland defenders.
This wasn’t the normal defense we have been accustomed to seeing from the Blazers this season. Some of this was due to the fact Ayton and Grant missed tonight’s game. The Clippers were determined to exploit the Blazers down low.
Portland played wonderful three-point defense. It showed in the 38% shooting from the Clippers. But steals and deflections ignite the defense. They just weren’t able to get it going tonight against a veteran Clippers team.
Portland will face the Utah Jazz at home on Thursday night with a 7:00 PM, Pacific start.