The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 117-102 at the Moda Center on Sunday evening. The Trail Blazers have now lost six-straight games, falling to 31-40 and getting no closer to squeezing into the final spot of the Western Conference play-in tournament. Meanwhile, the Clippers advanced to 38-34, extending their lead over the No. 6 seeded Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs race.
While six Blazers scored in double figures, it could not mask an abysmal shooting night from downtown. Portland shot 6-29 from three-point range, going 20.9 percent for the game. They took 12 fewer shots than Los Angeles and made six fewer field goals, stressing just how much their lack of connectivity from beyond the arc cost them the win.
Jusuf Nurkic had one of his best individual games of the season, scoring 13 of his 23 points in the first quarter to go along with 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks. However, Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons combined for 10-32 from the field and could not back up their big man.
The Clippers looked like a team rounding into championship form, despite the pesky Blazers failing to go away as the game progressed. Paul George had 29 points and four steals, shooting 10-12 from the free throw line. Kawhi Leonard was the superman to his batman with 24 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor and a +23 on the night.
The Blazers never led in the game, and at one point were down by as much as 16 points. Though the head-to-head battle had no areas of utter dominance, outside of a 49-40 rebounding advantage for L.A., the Blazers dropped another pivotal game and will need to be perfect as the season winds down for any shot at the postseason.
Here’s how the action went down tonight:
The Blazers returned to a zone, implementing a 2-3 coverage on defense while the Clippers played man. George and Russell Westbrook took turns covering Lillard while Leonard took the assignment on Simons. When the second unit came in, Terance Mann stepped up on the Blazers’ all-time leading scorer.
Nurkic owned the first quarter. He had 13 of the Blazers’ first 15 points. He got his points in every way. He received dump-offs from Lillard in the pick-and-roll. He spotted up from the right corner for three. He muscled his way inside for contested layups. The list goes on and on.
Los Angeles took time picking apart Portland’s zone early. Zubac knew how to create space off the ball for deuces inside. Paul George was not shy shooting the rock, as he hoisted four attempts in the first 3:41 before picking up two quick fouls. Kawhi Leonard got going with some fancy moves inside of the free throw line and Westbrook did his job to perfection. Westbrook penetrated into the first line of the Blazers’ defense, collapsed the zone and then kicked out to his teammates for open threes.
Once Nurkic cooled off, the Blazers found no offense, leading to a 12-0 Clippers run. In the midst of this run, Eric Gordon and Mason Plumlee excelled. Gordon had seven first-quarter points, blessed with a soft touch inside and a smooth stroke from 28-feet out, while Plumlee created second-chance opportunities with bat-outs.
Shaedon Sharpe hit a tough fall-away three pointer from the right corner to give the Blazers some life after a brief dry spell and followed it up with another three from the same spot after waiting for his defender to fly by on the contest.
Despite the scoring, after one, the Blazers trailed 36-30.
Things got rolling in the second with two straight buckets from Simons — a pull-up 15 footer in the midrange after stopping on a dime on George, and another bucket in close shortly after.
The Clippers resembled the San Antonio Spurs of a decade ago in their ball movement to open the quarter. They had two consecutive possessions where all five players touched the ball. George continued shooting at a rate of a shot a minute as he had two misses before the game clock hit 10 minutes. Batum was the benefactor of such great movement with a corner three.
Eubanks’ stellar activity on the boards created second-chance opportunities for Portland. He also had two consecutive hook shots at point-blank range, keeping the Blazers in it. Trendon Watford was great at slicing into the defense and penetrating into the lane and connected on two of his four attempts when doing so. By the 6:48 mark, the game was tied once more at 44 a piece.
George salivated at Watford guarding him, and was given more than one look in isolation to attack. The Blazers gave Russ open looks from outside and the midrange as expected, but he handled the coverage responsibly. He looked like a championship-level point guard that that team needs. At the half, he had six rebound and six assists. Those six assists were not forced. He did a commendable job at running their offense in Jason Kidd-esque fashion.
Leonard continued getting to his spots and connecting, finishing with 13 points at the break, while Dame got going himself hitting a layup and a three in the quarter despite going 3-11 at the half. At the break, Portland trailed 59-55.
The Clippers went on an 8-2 run to begin the second half. George got them going with four quick points, two of which came at the charity stripe. Just like that, the Blazers found themselves down by 11 points again. Portland cut into the run by going on their own 6-0 hot streak to make their deficit more manageable.
Matisse Thybulle chipped in four paint points and his contribution was all that was required from him in the quarter. Soon after Westbrook would drain a 26-foot three pointer, silencing a jeering crowd and saying to himself ‘finally.’ That, plus another pair of made free throws from George brought the Los Angeles lead back to double figures that once again, did not last long.
Sharpe went 94 feet for a layup and Watford executed a Draymond Green-esque fake, diving to the basket for a deuce with no one in sight. To the dismay of the Blazers, Gordon stayed on fire from the first half and hit two straight 26-foot threes from the same spot on the right wing, then topped it off with a third from the top of the key. Leonard once again continued to be Leonard, dialing in fadeaway jumpers in the midrange. His timely buckets kept extending L.A’s lead after brief erosion from Portland.
Eubanks and Sharpe closed the quarter off with two’s inside, leaving Portland down 10 at the end of the third, trailing 93-83.
With a 10-point mountain to climb, Simons registered Portland’s first five points to make it a 97-88 affair with 10 minutes to go. A three from Simons and a pair of free throws from Nurkic made it a six-point game two minutes later.
No matter the valiance and resilience of the Blazers, the Clippers would not be stopped. Leonard displayed his MVP cache with turnaround midrange jumpers left and right.
George kept it going from outside with a deep triple to make it 108-97 with just over six minutes left in regulation. Leonard followed his teammate up and put the stamp on a highly effective night with three crossovers leading up to a pull-up three from the top of the key, putting a knife in the heart of the Trail Blazers.
A driving layup at the 5:12 mark from Lillard was the last we’d hear of him all night, and the last we’d hear of Rip City. An overturned three from Nurkic erased any final hopes for Portland and Los Angeles came away with the victory.
With 11 games remaining, the Blazers will have to take things one game at a time if they want to avoid top-five odds in the Draft Lottery come May. They are slated to face the Utah Jazz — the current No. 10 seed in the West — on the road on Wednesday, Mar. 22 at 6:00, Pacific.
Portland will have two days off between now and Wednesday, before playing four games in six days.