When the Clippers jumped out to a 16-2 lead at the start of this game, it seemed like everything was falling into place for them. The Blazers were shorthanded, they had gone to overtime the night before, and maybe they just weren't going to be able to handle the youth and athleticism of the Clippers on this night. Unfortunately, the game got a lot tougher for the Clippers in a hurry. The Blazers roared back to tie the game at 23, took the lead just before halftime, and never trailed again.
Dave at Blazersedge said something in his preview that really resonated with me. In talking about the Clippers' suspect perimeter defense he hoped that the Blazers could make their jumpers, and he went on:
Well, the risky strategy worked perfectly. I don't know that it would every night, but on this night, the jumpers fell. Man oh man, did the jumpers fall. The Blazers shot over 56% from the field, and almost all of their final margin of victory came from the perimeter. I have them at 15 for 22 on shots longer than 10 feet in the middle two quarters, as they were turning a four point deficit into a 13 point lead. And although the Clippers clearly didn't play their best defense of the season, a lot of it was good old fashioned hot shooting. Wes Matthews, is shooting 43% on the season; he made 10 of 18. Rudy Fernandez is shooting 36%; he made 7 of 10. In fact, when Fernandez threw a half hook blindly over his shoulder at the shot clock buzzer early in the fourth quarter and it went in, I knew the game wasn't going to end well.
Still, it's a risky strategy: hope jumpers fall, get some cheap points at the line, and try to have your star outduel a guy on a 30 ppg tear over his last 5 games. That's stacked up against "We're going to jam the ball down your throat repeatedly because we're the second leading scoring team in the league in the paint anyway and you're as thin an an Olsen twin down there." Usually the paint people with the huge producer win.
But give the Blazers credit. Defensively, they did as good a job on Blake Griffin as anyone has in months. They defended him with length, stayed in front of him, and ran double teams at him that bothered him. Rather than push too aggressively against him and let him spin off to get to the rim, they just held their ground and stayed vertical to bother his shots. Blake still tries to make things happen that really aren't there; if defenders overcommit to his moves, he can get to the line, get his own misses, or sometimes even finish improbable moves. The Blazers defenders (primarily Aldridge) just held their ground and kept him out of the lane - he became frustrated too easily and tried to create something out of nothing too often. It was very reminiscent of the Lakers game - only in that one he eventually broke through. The result tonight was a lot of ugly missed shots (he was 6 for 17) and 5 turnovers. Blake still managed 20 points and 18 rebounds (tying his season high). He's never really going to stop working hard. But the Blazers' defense really managed to confound the rookie phenom like few teams have.
In addition to defending Griffin, where the Blazers killed the Clippers was closing quarters. It's almost too cliche to point out here that the Clippers are a young team, and that they need to do a better job closing quarters, like most young teams. At any rate, here's the stat of the game. The cumulative score for this game during the 32 combined minutes when the game clock showed more than 4 minutes remaining (i.e. the first eight minutes of each quarter), was Clippers 71, Blazers 58. The cumulative score during the 16 minutes when the game clock showed less than 4 minutes was Blazers 50, Clippers 22. How do I explain that? Well, I guess I can't really. But the bottom line is that the Blazers absolutely destroyed the Clippers at the end of quarters, in a game that the Clippers otherwise more or less controlled.
The Clippers squandered a wonderful game from Eric Gordon, who scored 35 points and made a career high seven three pointers. Gordon almost singlehandedly cut the Blazers deficit from 13 to 3 early in the fourth quarter. But as the game came down to the final minutes, of course it was the Blazers who were executing their offense and making shots, while the Clippers went stagnant. I guess the good news is that Gordon's injured finger does not appear to be holding him back much (though he did have three turnovers).
Obviously, this would have been a good win to get. The 16-2 start seemed to put everything in place. Instead, it's the Clippers' 13th road loss against only threes wins, and a pretty strong indication that this team isn't really in a position to climb back into the playoff picture; not with a host of road games left.