Tonight, the Portland Trail Blazers faced a Los Angeles Clippers team trying to stop NBA MVP candidate Damian Lillard. LA put two defenders on the All-Star shooting guard as soon as he crossed the half court, forcing him to give the ball to his teammates. In that environment, CJ McCollum and Norman Powell had a field day, scoring 24 and 32 each.
Normally, that would have been good news for the Blazers. A good score often leads to victory. That night, however, his defense was historically inept. They allowed Paul George 22 points in the first period and 36 for the game. Kawhi Leonard scored 29 with 12 rebounds and 7 assists. Reggie Jackson scored 23, more than the entire Blazers bench. Instead of fighting for the win, Portland had its hands full trying to avoid a loss throughout the game. They were mildly successful, falling 133-116 to their foes bound for the playoffs. It was not a great moral victory. It wasn’t close to a real one either.
Under pressure, Lillard scored 11 points on 2-14 shooting with 6 assists.
The Blazers did well when the game started, with Lillard pressing a plan meant to stop him, ignoring Patrick Beverley as a minor annoyance. Lillard scored, hit Enes Kanter with an unbalanced Clippers defense, or Kanter just grabbed offensive rebounds on his own. But the Clippers played excellently, hitting their first nine shots, because Portland just couldn’t defend. Mid-range, long-range, on the rim … it just didn’t matter. LA scored like it was practice. It was almost 6:00 when the Clippers finally failed. At that time they had 24 points and the fourth was not even half gone. CJ McCollum scored repeatedly as the period progressed, trying to keep his team on it. But with Paul George hitting a bucket a minute and the Clippers hitting 50, there wasn’t much “it” for the Blazers. Then Portland started to lose all three of its starts in midfield and it got really ugly. CJ scored 12 in the fourth, but George scored 22. LA led 47-32 after one.
When the Clippers hit a pair of 3s to open the second, the lead was extended to 20. There was nothing the Blazers could do to save the game except defend. Portland called a timeout to stop the bleeding, only to see Los Angeles hit another three on their next possession. The lead was as high as 26. The Clips became complacent in the middle of the period, pretty standard considering the circumstances. That was the only grace the Blazers got, but they took advantage of it. They managed to cut it down to 15 behind McCollum and Norman Powell, then 10 when Lillard hit a rare three, then 7 when Robert Covington hit another on the next possession. That was the margin in the intermission. The Clippers led 73-66. LA shot 57% from the field in the first half, 48% from distance.
The Blazers performed well in the third quarter, comparatively speaking. Another flurry of touchdowns by the Powell / McCollum tandem cut the lead to two, but LA stretched it shortly after. Portland forced the Clippers to make more mistakes in the period than they had in the entire game up to that point. Most of them were in the middle range. Los Angeles did well in the lane and from a distance, but it wasn’t exhausting, as it had been before. Portland gave everything it received. They also continued to dominate in the only category in which they had a clear advantage: free throws. By the end of the third, Portland had tried 27, to just 16 for LA. The Clippers led 101-89 after three, technically extending their lead from the middle, but the Blazers were still in contact. In a game like this, that’s all you can ask for.
Powell was BIG early in the quarter as the Clippers defense still ran out to stop Lillard. Stormin ‘Norman drove down the hill, turning the rim with relative ease. If Portland could have put together a decent defense, they would have advanced behind their superb third scorer. However, the “D” continued only intermittently. They could get it within 9 or 7, but they never threatened beyond that. Portland could not close with authority in the arc, nor could they look at the middle. If they could have done either, they might have had a chance. It wasn’t going to be. A pair of threes from Los Angeles put the game out of reach. The lead went to 20 once more, and that was it.
Stay tuned for comments from Steve Dewald’s extended summary!
The Blazers face the Utah Jazz at 7:00 PM Pacific on Thursday night.