The Portland Trail Blazers continued their shorthanded, late-season run in typical fashion today against the Los Angeles Clippers. Portland played with superior energy against a seemingly-lackadaisical opponent, putting up a surprisingly stiff fight when they weren’t expected to contend in the slightest.
Portland held a lead at the half, scoring 70 points in two quarters, before the Clippers turned it on from the three-point arc to cruise away to a 136-125 win in the second half.
Several Blazers had excellent outings in the loss. Shaedon Sharpe scored 26 on 10-20 shooting while Trendon Watford added 25 and Kevin Knox II a surprisingly stiff 30, both shooting 10-15.
Here’s how the game went.
The Blazers started the game getting the ball down deep, scoring 8 points inside 10 feet in the first four minutes of play. Unfortunately, those were the only points they scored. Their outside shots came with frequency, not accuracy. Foul shots provided the only relief away from the bucket for Portland’s offense.
The Clippers didn’t fare much better overall, though. Facing a lineup with almost zero name value, Los Angeles players seemed to regard any shot as an open shot. Given Portland’s defense, that might have been fair, but not entirely so. L.A. took turns bulling and bullying the Blazers defenders, but not sinking their actual shot attempts. At the first timeout with 6:22 remaining, L.A. led only 12-11.
But the Blazers were not going to go quietly, thanks to super-rookie Shaedon Sharpe, who poured in four buckets in the period, including a three, for 11 points to send his team surging against a defense-lite version of the Clippers. Portland’s fast break points started ringing like a pinball machine. (They’d score 7 in the period.) The Clippers remained in second gear throughout, content to take their halfcourt opportunities while occasionally showing interest in defense.
The extra energy left Portland ahead 33-26 after the first.
Shaedon Sharpe became a one-man anti-tank missile at the start of the second, hitting back-to-back three-pointers, staking his team to a 41-33 lead in just a couple minutes.
But those fireworks also woke up the Clippers, who suddenly seemed aware that the outcome was in danger if they continued their wayward play. Subbing in solid veterans also helped the home team. That every one of them were former Blazers didn’t hurt. Robert Covington, Norman Powell, and Mason Plumlee all took turns pasting their old team with buckets, playing tough defense on the other end too. Under those vets, the Clips started running for easy layups instead of dribbling their way into contested shots. In just a couple minutes, the score was tied again at 43.
The action continued apace for much of the period. Portland worked hard for interesting, but usually successful, attempts, while L.A. drove past them on the other end for relatively easy layups. That was a sea change from earlier, though. You could see the momentum start to shift. The Blazers found new life whenever they could force a turnover or get out on the run, but they needed those extra points to keep afloat.
When the Clippers subbed their starters back in, Portland started to gain traction again. Half of the L.A. roster seemed to consider a victory their birthright instead of something to be earned. Sharpe and Trendon Watford—now shooting unopposed threes—brought Portland all the way back to a 9-point lead, 64-55, with 3:00 remaining. They’d push it to double digits soon after when Shaquille Harrison hit a three.
Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook came on strong in the final minutes of the half, perhaps sensing that they had gone too far. But it was only enough to get back partway. Portland led 70-64 at intermission.
The Clippers had seen enough of the fun and games as the second half dawned. They stepped up their defensive intensity on the interior, blocking shots and rebounding hard. They transitioned into quicker offense, featuring drives by Leonard and Russell Westbrook, then layups or kick-outs for open threes. L.A. sank six buckets, including three three-pointers by another former Blazer—Nicolas Batum—before Portland hit a single shot. Portland needed a three from Knox at the 9:00 mark just to get L.A.’s new lead back to five, 80-75.
Sharpe and Watford took over again, trying to keep their team apace as the Clippers seemed intent on ripping them apart. The level of difficulty on those shots was off the charts. It was impressive as heck, but the Clippers’ buckets still came easier.
Then, once again, the Clippers relaxed. It was nearly inexplicable, except that there seems to be something at the higher level of that rotation that keeps them from holding onto victory like it was everything. Portland didn’t surge as much as they refused to let go. The Clips refused to make them. A three from Knox off of a tightrope drive by Sharpe with 6:19 remaining brought Portland back within one again, 86-85.
After that, the Clippers re-engaged, generating quick buckets in transition, including another trio of threes. That put the lead up to 10, 97-87, with 3:50 left. For L.A., the long ball solved all.
The Clippers helped themselves through this stretch by going small, which helped them keep defenders in front of Portland dribblers, allowed them to shoot threes from more positions, and made everything go faster.
The result was a significant, if not commanding, 109-96 lead for Los Angeles heading into the fourth.
The teams combined to hit only 1 of their first 9 shots at the start of the final period. As we often say, that kind of stalemate favors the team that’s ahead. In this case, it was just what the Clippers ordered. Instead of one team playing slow and ugly—as happened in the first period—now it was both.
Once they’d uglied up the first three minutes, though, L.A. started looking to run again for a minute. They didn’t get fast break points but they did get fouled an awful lot. That helped them pad their lead to an unreachable distance.
L.A. pumped it up to 19, 116-97, at the 9:00 mark before Sharpe hit a flying alley-oop dunk from Skylar Mays that brought the opposing crowd to their feet. That only cut the lead to 15, but running was good for the Blazers.
That’s where the lead stayed through the rest of the period. The Clippers hit shots only rarely, but they survived by grinding it out when running away wouldn’t do. It’s not like Portland wanted to win too badly anyway, so all’s well that ends mediocre.
Stay tuned for analysis coming soon.
The Blazers end their season tomorrow with Game 82, welcoming the Golden State Warriors to the Moda Center with an early, 12:30 PM start.