Playing in their first road game of the season, the Portland Trail Blazers brought their perfect 3-0 record and six players averaging over 10 points into Staples Center to battle the sub-.500 Los Angeles Clippers, with veteran starter Chauncey Billups missing his second straight game with a sore right groin. Given the Clips recent struggles on the defensive end, and their lack of rebounding (28th in the league), facing the league's number 1 scoring team was looking bleak. However, a starting unit that included replacement Randy Foye managed to hold the high-octane Portland offense to less than 20 points in each of the first three quarters.
The fourth quarter? Well, that's another story. Jamal Crawford, scoring expert off of Portland's bench, took the game into his own hands, taking seven shots and attempting six free throws to score 13 points. On the deciding possession, playing down by four with nine seconds left, Crawford got his isolation on the wing against Chris Paul. We've seen Jamal hit this shot at the end of games countless times. Tonight, it would never leave his hand. Paul stripped Crawford as he was going up, forcing a jump ball. After Mo Williams recovered Paul's tip on the jump, the game was sealed.
Offensively, we saw the Clipper's big guns do exactly what we would hope on any given night. Blake Griffin had 20 points and 10 boards. While Blake's five turnovers were certainly unsightly, he made up for it by finishing 8-10 on free throws. Paul finished the night with 17 points and 7 assists. He also had two great steals and the aforementioned game clinching defensive stand.
So, if the Clippers played great, how was this game even close? Well, Nate McMillian teams rarely give up on anything, from seasons to early road matchups. In the fourth quarter, the Blazers managed to score nearly double of what they had in any previous quarter. After playing lockdown defense for most of the game, Los Angeles allowed a massive 36 point final period that almost ended in a heartbreaking comeback victory for the visiting team.
- Top Offense vs. Bottom Defense: Tonight, the Clippers threw out the league's worst defense against Portland's league-leading offense. LA managed to hold all of the starting Blazers under their season averages, including holding Gerald Wallace, Portland's second leading scorer at 19.7 ppg, scoreless in 30 minutes of transparent play.
- The Clippers' Defense: Despite allowing 105 ppg on the season, tonight the Blazers could only put up 88 in Lob City. The Clippers defended by committee, with every player who logged more than 20 minutes recording a steal. No Blazer had a standout game offensively. Before Portland's fourth quarter barrage, they were on pace to score 69.3 points- that's exactly 36 less than the Blazers have averaged on the year.
- Supporting Cast: Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan, the two other players who have started every game in this young season, both had good nights. Caron recorded 19 points and 5 rebounds while shooting 5-8 from inside the arc (and a dismal 2-8 outside). DeAndre almost notched a double double but came up 1 point short, adding 9 points and 11 rebounds to the winning effort. DJ played great defense on LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished 9-21 (and some of those makes were against Griffin and Cook), and it showed in the stat sheet as he finished with 3 steals and a lone block, his low of the season.
- Lackluster Bench Play Continues: In the third quarter, with the Clippers up by double digits, just looking at the +/- column in the box score told the story. Every regular starter was up double digits, while more minor contributors like Foye and Williams were up single digits. Cook and Gomes? Both under even. The bench (counting Foye) players shot 11-27 for 28 points.
- Ryan Gomes and Brian Cook as NBA Players: Both Cook and Gomes continued their struggles to prove themselves worthy of minutes. Playing around 12 minutes apiece, neither made much of a positive contribution to the team. Gomes, who is advertised as a defensive, smart player, had four turnovers in his first eight minutes of action. On one play, he received the ball on a dump off pass right under the basket, and couldn't handle it, giving up possession. Cook, on the other hand, seems to disregard the defensive side of the court entirely, as we have seen him do all year. Basically, the Clippers need backups.
- Veteran Leadership: What a difference it makes. When Kurt Thomas committed a hard foul on DJ in the fourth, Jordan was clearly unhappy. Last year, that altercation likely turns into a scuffle and multiple technical fouls. This year, Caron Butler took DJ aside and pointed out to him that Kurt was trying to get him angry and wanted to make DeAndre lose focus.
- Rookie Watch: Trey Thompkins got in for a couple minutes and hit a nice short jumper. Obviously I don't see practice every day, but Trey looks to me like he is a much more effective player than Cook. Trey also has great chemistry with some of the other young guys. Unless Thompkins can pass up Cookie in the rotation, look for him to get some DNP-CD's, or perhaps get sent to the d-league, when Reggie Evans gets healthy. Travis Leslie didn't get off the bench again tonight, and I still have no idea how good he actually is. Hopefully the Clippers get a blowout win soon so that we can see how effective his athletic play style is.
All in all, a good solid win for these evolving Clippers. LA Times said that Billups might be back for this game, so I expect him to play Wednesday against the Rockets, or at least by Saturday when Brandon Jennings brings his Bucks to town.
Get Portland's perspective at Blazer's Edge.