Tonight, the Portland Trail Blazers faced a Los Angeles Clippers team that intended to stop NBA MVP candidate Damian Lillard. LA put two defenders on All-Star guard as soon as he crossed the halfway line, forcing him to give up the ball to teammates. In that atmosphere, CJ McCollum and Norman Powell had a field day with 24 and 32 pieces.
Normally, that would have been good news for the Blazers. Strong scoring often leads them to victory. This evening, however, their defense was historically incompetent. They allowed Paul George 22 points in the first period and 36 for the game. Kawhi Leonard scored 29 with 1
Under pressure, Lillard scored 11 points on 2-14 shooting with 6 assists.
The Blazers did well when the game began, with Lillard putting pressure on a scheme to stop him and pulling Patrick Beverley off as a minor annoyance. Lillard either scored, hit Enes Kanter out of an unbalanced Clippers defense, or Kanter just grabbed offensive rebound alone. But the Clippers played excellently and hit their first nine shots because Portland just couldn’t defend. Mid-range, long-range at the frame … it just did not matter. LA scored as if it were practice. Nearly 6:00 had passed when the Clippers finally missed out. At the time, they had 24 points, while the quarter had not even gone. CJ McCollum scored repeatedly as the period unfolded, trying to keep his team inside it. But with Paul George scoring one bucket per game. Minute, and the Clippers at the pace of 50, there was not much “it” for the Blazers to be in. Then Portland started to miss their expiration trees in the half and it got really ugly. CJ scored 12 in the quarter, but George scored 22. LA led 47-32 after one.
When the Clippers hit a par three to open the second, the lead stretched to 20. There was nothing the Blazers could do to save the game except to defend. Portland called a timeout to stop the bleeding, only to see LA hit three more in their next possession. The lead went all the way up to 26. The Cliffs became complacent in the middle of the period, pretty standard given the circumstances. That was the only mercy the Blazers got, but they took advantage. They managed to cut it to 15 behind McCollum and Norman Powell, then to 10 when Lillard hit a rare three, then 7 when Robert Covington hit another in the next possession. That was the margin at the break. The Clippers led 73-66. LA shot 57% from the field in the first half, 48% from distance.
The Blazers cleared relatively well in the third quarter. Another scoring flurry of the Powell / McCollum tandem cut the lead in two, but LA stretched it back shortly after. Portland forced the Clippers into more mishaps during the period than they had played by then. Most of them came in the middle class. LA did well in the field and from distance, but it was not recurring as it had been before. Portland gave as well as they got. 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 against just 16 for the LA Clippers leading 101-89 after three, technically extending their lead from the half, but the Blazers were still in touch. In a game like this, that’s all you can ask.
Powell went BIG at the start of the fourth as the Clippers defense was still sold out to stop Lillard. Stormin ‘Norman drove downhill and converted relatively easily at the rim. If Portland could have pulled together a decent defense, they would have made progress behind their excellent third goal scorer. However, “D” continued only at intervals. They could get it within 9 or 7, but never threatened beyond that. Portland were unable to close with authority in the arc, nor were they able to see the center. If they could have done that, they might have had a chance. It should not be. A pair of LA threes put the game out of reach. The lead went to 20 again and that was it.
Keep an eye out for observations from Steve Dewald’s extended summary!
The Blazers face the Utah Jazz at 7:00 in the Pacific on Thursday night.