The Portland Trail Blazers looked competent against the Los Angeles Clippers Sunday evening, but they didn’t look great, either. That doldrum space in the middle is where you’ll find this performance which saw Portland hang around, but never threaten their opponents much.
At the final horn, Portland fell 117-102, extending its losing streak to six games
Powered by a solid Jusuf Nurkic performance (23 points, 11 rebounds) and dragged down by rough 3-point shooting, the Blazers were outmatched at home. After rallying back from a 15-point first quarter deficit to tie the game in the second, Portland faded away in the fourth to see L.A. dribble out the final minute. Great for the tanking crowd! Not so much for fans who want exciting finishes.
The Clippers were led by 29 points from Paul George and 24 from Kawhi Leonard, while Portland’s own star Damian Lillard struggled mightily (4-17 from the field for 21 points).
If you missed any of the action, check out our instant recap from Matthew Legros!
Now, here are five observations from Portland’s 40th loss on the season.
Abandoned by 3-Pointers
The Portland Trail Blazers are a 3-point shooting team. To quote a cliche but true basketball phrase, they live and die by outside shooting. Sunday, they died, hard. Portland shot 6-29 from deep for 20.7%. Damian Lillard desperately tried to get it going all night, but finished 1-8 on 3-pointers. How about Portland’s other gunner, Anfernee Simons? A frustrating 1-7 (and he got some tailor-made looks). Big man Jusuf Nurkic (2-3 from deep) and rookie Shaedon Sharpe (2-4) were Portland’s best and practically only sharpshooters all night. That’s a problem if you’re a team constructed like Portland — or really any team this day and age. Conversely, L.A. doubled Portland’s 3-point production going 12-28 for 42.9%. That’s pretty much your ball game right there.
The Board Man Gets Paid
Outside of 3-point shooting, the other big factor that swung this game was rebounding. L.A. beat Portland on the boards 56-46 and 18-11 on the offensive end, which produced a 19-13 advantage in second-chance points. It’s difficult to win a game when the other team hits twice as many 3s as you. Give them 12 extra shots because of second-chance looks (along with a 13-9 turnover advantage) and a win is near-impossible. Clippers backup center Mason Plumlee did a lot of that damage, outmatching the smaller Drew Eubanks for four offensive rebounds in the first half. Paul George and Russell Westbrook tied Plumlee for a team-high four offensive boards, doing most of their work in the second half. Plumlee overpowering an undersized Eubanks is somewhat understandable, but Westbrook and George outworking first unit-Blazers to basketballs during a crucial third quarter is less excusable for a Portland team that gave solid effort most of the night.
An Efficient Nurkic Plus Gold at the Rack
Portland hung around for most of this game, trailing by as little as six in the fourth quarter before L.A. slammed the door, so the Blazers must’ve performed well in some areas. One of those plus-categories was the play of Nurkic, who pioneered an excavation of gold at the rack. In his best game since returning from injury earlier this month, Nurkic led Portland with a team-high 23 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists. And he did it all on an efficient 9-14 from the field. When Portland’s shot was wayward early in the first quarter, it was Nurkic who began Portland’s assault on the rim with the Blazers’ first six points in the lane. Nurk would receive the pass at the high post, maneuver through the paint with a euro-step and simply finish over smaller defenders rotating over from the weak side. It was part of a 6-8 shooting performance in the first period that produced 13 points and helped Portland find sustenance beyond 3-pointers. Later, he picked apart numbers advantages on the roll to find baseline cutters for alley oops and layups. Despite the poor 3-point shooting, Portland still practically matched L.A. in field goal percentage, shooting 45.1% compared to 45.7%. That means the Blazers shot a strong 58.5% on 2-pointers, outdoing the Clippers’ (47% from inside the arc) and keeping them in the game. Guys like Trendon Watford, Eubanks and Simons followed Nurkic’s example by penetrating the paint. When Portland stayed patient and attacked, the offense generated good looks.
The other momentary equalizer in the game was a rare offensive boost from Portland’s bench. Watford with his downhill mentality scored 12. Eubanks hook shot his way to 10 points. And Shaedon Sharpe played one of his best games of late, shooting 4-6 for 10 points in 24 minutes. Altogether, Portland’s bench — dead last in scoring this season at 26.3 points per game — contributed 36 points. But beyond the scoring, the bench unit’s energy jumped off the page, particularly in the first half. After Portland went down 15 late in the first quarter, the bench unit was the source to jumpstart Portland back to life. They shared the ball well and moved well on defense, sparking a 29-14 run to tie the game at the 7:02 mark of the second quarter. The Clippers countered with 34 bench points of their own, largely thanks to 20 points and a big third quarter from Eric Gordon. That neutralized Portland’s bench production somewhat, but since that category is so often a negative and Dame had such a cold hand, the contributions still went a long way.
Lastly, another main reason why L.A. maintained control of this game was star power. The Clippers had Paul George and Kawhi Leonard to steady the offense and provide consistent firepower. The Blazers did not. George’s 29 points led all scorers while Leonard’s 24 led all scorers who weren’t named Paul George. Leonard, especially, made the work look easy. He navigated to his spots with ease, then pump-faked his way to open shots. He started off hot (11 points in the first quarter), then got a little unsteady in the middle part of the game before closing strong. He finished with an efficient 10-20 shooting night. With Jerami Grant in street clothes and Lillard and Simons slumping from deep, a great effort from Nurkic wasn’t enough for Portland to keep up.
The Blazers hit the road to face the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night with a 6:00 PM, Pacific start.