This was a roller coaster ride of a game, if ever there was one. The first quarter was UGLY. (Best left forgotten, if you ask me.) Two professional basketball teams--one playoff-bound and a serious contender to come out of the Western Conference--and neither scored 10 points until after almost 8 minutes of the game had passed. The quarter ended with the score tied at 17 after the 55th overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft by these same Portland Trailblazers, Mike Taylor, hit a 25-foot 3-point shot. I can just picture the Lakers, sitting at home, watching this game and scratching their heads, going: “we lost to this team?” It would have been less ugly if ex-Clipper Spirit Taylor had attended the game, but I digress…
Second quarter. Przybilla. Aldridge. Roy. Veterans on championship-caliber teams step up for their team. The game was tied at 25 a piece with 6:50 remaining in the quarter when Przybilla enters the game for Greg Oden and Aldridge comes in to relieve Sergio Rodriguez. Brandon Roy immediately draws a foul and shoots free throws. The next Portland possessions looked like this: Przybilla made lay-up. Przybilla defensive rebound leading to Roy slam dunk. Aldridge defensive rebound leading to Przybilla lay-up. Aldridge draws the foul and gets two free throws. Aldridge offensive rebound and put-back. Aldridge layup. Roy draws the foul and shoots free throws. Roy steals the ball and makes a lay-up on the other end. Cap it off with five quick points by Rudy Fernandez with only 21 seconds left in the half and the Blazers are ahead by 15 (10 of which came in a minute and a half span).
Third quarter. Whatever was said in the locker room during halftime must have hit home, because the Clippers (with really nothing to play for and seemingly everything to gain by just laying down and letting the Blazers roll over them) decide to try to make the game respectable. They start the third with a 10-3 run and finish the quarter down by only 7 points.
Fourth quarter. “Fasten your seatbelt, folks!” ESPN highlights of this game all came from this quarter, I bet. Skinner, still with some leftover Brand-mojo spray picks up where he left off yesterday night and puts on a show. Down 66-58, Skinner gets a hook shot to go in. Two possessions later, he gets a block on Greg Oden. E.J. serves notice that he belongs in the same category of athleticism as Westbrook with a vicious dunk with 8:49 on the clock. (The Blazers were so flustered that they turned the ball over in-bounding the ball on the ensuing possession.) 8:24. Skinner-time, again. This time with a miss, rebound, and put-back. And yet another block at 8:02. This time against Outlaw. The block results in Eric Gordon getting 2 points in the other end. 10 point Clipper run and they led 68-66 with 7:43 left in the game. Staples center crowd were up on their feet cheering! We hadn’t seen so many block parties since before “He-who-must-not-be-named” pulled a Boozer…
It was about this time that the Clippers came to their senses and smartly allowed the Blazers to go on an 18-0 run to secure the loss. 87-72 final score with the Blazers scoring 21 out of the last 25 points. Whew! That was a close one. Much too close, really. If Randolph and Kaman had accidentally made all of those point-blank gimmes under the basket (about 9 total, if I counted properly), the Clippers would have won by 3! (*gasp*).
All kidding aside, this was a game that was the Clippers’ for the taking. The Blazers played down to the Clippers’ level more than the Clippers elevated their play. Its hard to rave about the improved defense and keeping four consecutive opponents below 90 points when you allow the opposing team to go on crushing double-digit runs, which they allowed the Blazers to do at the end of both halves tonight. Oh well. Despite another notch in the loss column, this loss was really a win-win for both teams involved: The Blazers keep their hopes alive in getting home court in the first round of the playoffs and the Clippers increase their odds in drawing the first pick in the 2009 Blake Griffin Sweepstakes.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT: Eric Gordon’s highlight dunk in the 4th with 8:49 on the clock. WITH. AUTHORITY. WOW. 'nuff said.
BENCH PLAYER OF THE GAME: Rudy Fernandez. Five points with 21 seconds remaining in the first half? Back-to-back made 3-point attempts, along with 2 foul shots to put the game away in the fourth? Are you kidding me?
THE BEGINNING OF THE END WAS WHEN: Greg Oden was benched and Joel Przybilla entered the game with the score tied at 68. Przybilla promptly takes the next four consecutive rebounds and adds a basket as icing on the cake. No wonder this Blazer team is one of the best rebounding teams in the league.
BEST CLIPPER ON THE FLOOR: Eric Gordon. 8-14 shooting. 2-2 from the free throw line. 5 rebounds. 3 assists. Helped keep Steve Blake to 3-10 shooting and only 5 assists. (The same Steve Blake that tied a league assist record for a quarter one of the last times he played the Clippers and was guarded by some guy that looked like he ate Baron Davis and put on his uniform. ) He made things happen with the ball in his hands…his attacking style can be grating on the defender’s nerves. One thing he needs to work on: He always seems to wait one beat before charging to the basket. It’s somewhat predictable…maybe he needs to vary it a little to keep the defenders guessing. Keep attacking, EJ…just don’t always do it after 1-Mississippi…
THE CLIPPER WHO LAID THE NOT-SO-GOLDEN EGG: Z-BO, wherefore art thou? 38 points in the Clipper victory at Portland (where, I should mention, the Lakers have failed to win the last 8 times or so they have played against the Blazers) and only 13 points in this game--making only 6 of 18 attempts? It would have been okay if those remaining 12 attempts were far from the basket, but I think over half of those misses were from below the rim.
CLIPPER(S) WHO CASHED-IN TONIGHT: Skinner. Skinner did himself a favor with his job auditions the last couple of nights. There should be a few playoff teams that can come up with a little cash to pay him to come off the bench. Better than being home watching the game. Just ask Fred Jones. Oh, and let’s not forget Camby, who is $500,000 richer for playing in his 60th game. Half a million for 18 minutes of playtime: 2-4 shooting, 7 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block. Not bad…
KAMAN 2.0 SIGHTING OF THE EVENING: It looked like Kaveman…but several pounds lighter (possibly due to the mystery flu). Stats were definitely Kaveman-like with 8 points, 8 rebounds and 1 block in 21 minutes of play.
SCARY THOUGHT OF THE NIGHT: My cousin asked me this question tonight on the way to their house for Easter festivities: What if the Blazers had drafted Durant, instead? OMFG. Roy at 2. Durant at 3. Aldridge at 4. Usually teams focus on getting a 1 and a 5, but you could argue that Przybilla was plenty talented enough. He’s certainly far more talented than some Australian guy named Longley that used to play with a guy named Michael in Chicago.
BIGGEST QUESTION MARK REGARDING THE 2009 DRAFT: With KevMart at 2, Nocioni/Garcia at 3, Thompson at 4, and Hawes at 5--I’d be really curious to see what the Kings would do with that #1 pick if they get it. Will the Kings draft based on talent or based on need? Seriously. Despite this latest loss, the Kings, followed closely by the Wizards, have the inside-track of getting the number one pick. If the Kings do get the number one pick, would they get Griffin and jettison a promising and very talented Jason Thompson who plays the same position, has a good solid frame, and has developed an NBA game with a steady outside shot OR would they draft based on need and get the point guard they are SORELY lacking…? Surely they wouldn’t get try to keep both Griffin and Thompson--they wouldn’t be able to develop either one properly. If anything, they ought to trade the #1 pick with Udrih for the #2 overall pick which they could turn into Rubio.
COMFORTING THOUGHT OF THE NIGHT: This same Portland team only won 21 games three years ago. And another team wearing Celtic green one of the worst records in the league two seasons ago.
With that, I bid you good-night ladies and gentlemen. And, ladies and gentlemen, I bid you good-night.
P.S. Hope you’re enjoying your vacation, CaboSteve…!