The Portland Trail Blazers rode youth and eagerness for two quarters in their 136-125 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday afternoon. Several Blazers caught fire, but the Clippers brought baking soda and blankets in the form of offensive rebounding and some big-time three-point shooting when it mattered.
If you missed the game, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here.
After that, you can read other observations from the contest below.
The loss, Portland’s 48th of the season, keeps them one defeat “ahead” of their fellow contenders for possession of the fifth-worst record in the NBA. If Portland loses their final game tomorrow, they will own that slot outright.
To say the Blazers played well on offense would be a stretch. The Clippers played disinterested defense in the first half. Portland prospered in specific circumstances: when they could force turnovers, when they got out on the run, or when L.A. crowded inside on defense and failed to cover the arc. Portland’s active lineup isn’t stocked with sharpshooters, but they’re not shy about taking open threes.
As has been their habit lately, the Blazers forced 6 turnovers while committing only 4 in the first half. They also scored 11 on the break, ceding only 2. Their three-point percentage soared to 41.2% at halftime as well. That staked them to 70 points at the break.
At the end of the game, Portland had forced 12 TO’s and had 19 points, both reasonable totals. They also finished 14-32, 43.8%, from the arc. That accounted for their robust 125 points. Portland also generated 52.8% shooting from the field overall. If nothing else, this version of the Blazers hustles its way to buckets.
The problem, of course, came on the other end. Los Angeles shot 52.7% themselves. Plus they rode a couple other horses...
L.A. from Distance
In a twist of fate, the Clippers used the long ball to save themselves when nothing else was going that well. They hit 8 long-range shots in 14 attempts during the pivotal third period, turning a 4-point halftime deficit into a 13-point lead heading into the fourth. L.A. shot 12-35 from distance overall, which isn’t great, but they didn’t need a whole game, just that one stretch. The three-pointer is usually the Blazers’ pacifier when they’re playing grumpy. Today it got turned around on them.
Portland may have been able to keep up with the Clips had they simply taken turns with possessions, but Los Angeles generated critical extra attempts by winning the offensive rebounding battle 13-7. It was the biggest area of vulnerability for Portland, and the Clippers knew it.
Los Angeles also won the paint points battle 66-56 and hit 26 free throws against only 17 for Portland. Those interior, bump-and-grind advantages set the table for their hot shooting to make the difference.
Field Goal Attempts
When this cobbled-together version of Portland’s lineup has succeeded, it’s been because of energy. Portland has generated extra possessions, keeping their hopes alive even when they didn’t convert those attempts at a high rate.
That didn’t end up working today. The Blazers got off to a fast start, but by the time the game was over, the Clippers had 93 total shot attempts (plus 30 free throw attempts) against 89 (and 23) for Portland. Without the extra quantity, the Blazers didn’t have the juice to overcome their disadvantages.
Shaedon Sharpe Returns
Shaedon Sharpe returned from his knee issues and became a one-man wrecking crew. When nothing else works, the Blazers go to Shaedon...not because he can get free, but because even a contested shot from him has a chance, which is often more than the team does as a whole.
Sharpe had 21 points in the first half alone, finishing with 26 points on 10-20 shooting after L.A. keyed in on him to shut him down.
Every time Sharpe’s feet raised off the court in this game, opposing fans started to buzz. Opposing commentators could not say enough about him. The league is starting to come around to the idea that Portland has a star on their hands.
Three other names deserve special mention today, a couple of forwards and a guard who otherwise wouldn’t be seeing time, but are growing in confidence during these outings.
Trendon Watford looks like he was born to score. Teams are starting to defend him more tightly. He’s using a combination of footwork and multi-level scoring to keep them off balance. Watford looks smoother than he ever has. He scored 24 today on 10-15 shooting.
Kevin Knox II continues to be a silent assassin, the guy that other teams leave open. He makes them pay, almost invariably. Knox’s buckets often come after everyone else has put in their points, the dagger in the back that you never saw coming. He shot 10-15 for a team-high 30 points, hitting 5-8 from distance and adding 11 rebounds to his portfolio.
Finally, and a bit more quietly, Shaquille Harrison shot 5-11 for 13 points but also dished 10 assists against a single turnover. Add in 4 steals and this was quite a game for Shaq.
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.