The Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Los Angeles Clippers 117-109 tonight. However, it was not the typical Portland loss. They come in two stripes: getting bloated or getting overworked. The Blazers did neither in a nip-and-tuck affair. Damian Lillard, Norman Powell and Jusuf Nurkic all had big moments. Portland pushed for the defense and patrolled the glass and track. Even with everything going for them, they looked like an 80% complete squad. That’s roughly how much of the court they ended up covering on any given asset as well. Those open cracks allowed Paul George, Nicolas Batum and friends to wriggle their way to victory, despite not playing their best game of the season either.
If you missed the action, our Instant Recap lets you watch the game quarter by quarter. Below are some other key developments – or lack thereof – that contributed to the result.
Norman Powell has a half
The Blazers had trouble with Paul George in both previous matchups with the Clippers this season. That’s not surprising; he plays as an early NBA MVP candidate. They tried a few ways to solve the problem tonight.
- They let George shoot over the top as long as they cleared his lanes.
- After Robert Covington was unable to make that happen, the Blazers switched the smaller, faster Norman Powell to George.
Powell spent the first half enjoying the job, beaming like a superstar. He came under George’s dribbles, cut his lanes and had him fired. George did well; he scored 14 before halftime. But Powell scored 16 in return, fired past and fired over the taller, slower Clippers. At halftime, George had 3 errors and the Blazers were on the scoreboard within one.
Powell’s scoring dried up in the second half. He finished the game with 23. But George spent most of the game in foul danger and although he scored 24, he took 24 shots to get there. Credit Standard for helping make that happen.
This was one of Powell’s best games in a Portland uniform. He demonstrated his potential for two-way threats and it was: Good.
Lady gets strong in fourth
With 9:01 left in the game, the Blazers trailed 91-82, en route to a timeout. Damian Lillard emerged from that break and was determined to take over the game and lead his team to victory. He hit back-to-back mid-range jumpers, soon followed by a three-pointer and a layup. For about three minutes, Blazers fans got to see Classic Dame. Then a shot to the ribs seemed to take him out and return him to a more mortal form.
Unfortunately, the Clippers also scored more buckets in a row on this stretch than at any other point in the quarter. Portland’s defenses could not live up to their captain’s attack. It eventually came to nothing.
We do know that Dame is out there somewhere, at least in microbursts. That is something. Lillard finished with 27 points on 11-23 shooting with 6 assists and 5 rebounds. This is much more of a traditional Lillard line than the 19 and 10 assists we’ve seen so far this season.
Despite this, Lillard shot only 4-13 from distance. It is a work in progress.
McCollum the attendant?
It’s pretty clear now that the Blazers see CJ McCollum as the primary facilitator in the second unit, at least on the opening squads of the game. Anfernee Simons is there, but the ball goes to CJ first.
He’s not bad either. He is primarily a scoring threat. With Lillard off the floor, McCollum is a defense magnet. If he is single-covered, he can still score easily. But when the Clippers sent two against him tonight, he made good passes. He only scored 3 assists. His passes did not immediately lead to scores. But his ability to draw defenders did make for good looks for his teammates.
The hiccup came in the second half when both played together. With the match even, the score came to one or the other (usually Lillard), never both.
I don’t know how to describe Portland’s rebounding escalation this season, other than they have something special going on. It’s not always there, but when you see it, you know it.
Jusuf Nurkic is at the center of the attack. He often bounces back against 2-3 opponents. It seems like he gets the ball half the time anyway.
Nurkic had 13 plates in 27 minutes tonight. That enhanced an evening with 15 points and 6 assists, in which he shot 6-9 from the field. The Blazers may have overfed Nurkic a little in the second half, but it’s hard to argue with anything he gets after helping them onto the glass to success.
Yes of course
The Clippers needed help most of the night with George in trouble. They got it from Nicolas Batum, who knows how to hit an open shot when he gets it. Batum made 6 of 8 three-pointers, 5 in the critical second half, en route to 22 points on 7-9 shooting. The Blazers should be deep, but tonight LA’s third option on offense was just as good as Portland’s.
On the face of it, the Blazers looked like they had a decent night out at 14-37, 37.8% range. Powell hitting 5-6 increased their numbers. It also disguised that no one else made the three consistently despite fairly open attempts. The usually accurate Robert Covington shot 1-6. McCollum was 0-2 and we already mentioned Lillard’s 4-13. This is not necessarily a problem necessarily. (See also: They shot 37.8% from distance.) But this year’s Blazers weren’t allowed to live and die through the three. So far they are. They are part of making three-point shots. They just have to really hit them when their defense is going to be that bad.
No “D” in Trail Blazers
And yes, despite some great individual efforts during various parts of the game, Portland’s defense was again pretty poor. The Clippers shot 51.8% from the field, 53.3% from the arc, finishing +7 in free throw attempts. The Blazers kept them in the lead on at least 44 points, which isn’t a huge number. That was probably the plan. But as we said before, you have to guard the edge AND the arc, not OR the arc.
Nassir Little at work
Playing in relatively small doses, Nassir Little continues to impress. His individual defensive stands are as good as anyone on the team. So are Portland’s more famous veterans. Little combines athleticism, willingness and the naive belief of young players that he can do anything. That led to a few blocks tonight. It will lead to even better things as he gets older. Watch him. Like him. He does what he has to do now.
With this loss, the Blazers are 0-5 away from Moda Center this season. At this rate, they need a Gatorade bucket to dump after their first road win.
The Blazers make a trip to Phoenix to face the Suns in the Pacific tomorrow at 6 p.m.