There are many ways to play the point guard position. Two very different methods were on display tonight, and it was Chris Paul's old world savvy that bettered Damian Lillard's modern day long-range missile launching to give the Clippers a road win they can be proud of, and their first road win of any kind in more than a month.
Barring a couple of you-gotta-be-kidding-me threes that Lillard hoisted and sank from Astoria, the Clippers bottled up the league's current Mr. Fourth Quarter to thwart the Trail Blazers' comeback bid. They also quietly sank all 12 of their fourth quarter free throws, 10 of which came off the wily hands of Chris Paul, who
shamelessly heroically went foul hunting in the game's waning minutes. Adding injury to insult, Wes Matthews, one of several unwitting victims, appeared hurt when Paul slammed into his gut, and kept rubbing his presumably sore spot (no, not his ego) after airballing a corner three with 29 seconds left that effectively ended the game.
This was a game that started at a hockey pace and turned slow and unruly as the home team grew more aggressive and the frothy home crowd came to full boil. For much of the first half, the Blazer big men struggled to keep up with the Clippers in transition, especially the pacey DeAndre Jordan. DeAndre proved too much to handle for a team missing its starting center. He finished with 17 points and 18 boards on 8 for 8 shooting, leading all Clippers with a +11 rating.
Ultimately and unfortunately, the early lead was built on a soft foundation of unsustainably competent shooting. The Blazers gave the visitors an all-you-can-shoot midrange buffet, and for a time, the Clippers were happy to take 'em and make 'em. The free-flowing first half suited a Clipper squad that is dangerous when in rhythm, even though the Blazers were able to head into halftime down just one because Clipper bench. That, and because LaMarcus Aldridge spent the 2nd quarter eating Blake Griffin's lunch. Aldridge led the Blazers with 22 first-half points and finished with a game-high 37.
Things took a turn for the physical in the 3rd quarter. Up to that point, the two teams had combined to take nine free throws. They took 30 the rest of the way. Some enterprising drives combined with a little 3rd quarter home cooking -- cough, cough, Chris Paul offensive foul, cough, cough -- to quickly push the Clippers into the bonus and DeAndre Jordan to the bench with his fourth foul, as well as to give the Blazers 13 free looks from the foul line. The Clippers, who had led from 6-4 in the 1st quarter, faced a 72-all tie going into the 4th.
Lillard, who struggled to navigate the literal traps set for him, scored just three points through three quarters, but heated up in the fourth and final frame that is quickly becoming his home. The Blazers even took a six-point lead, but a Clipper riposte armed with free throws and a very Jamal Crawford 29-foot three flipped the score, which never flipped again.
Add it all up and you'll see a top-drawer road win over a Portland team that is a tough out on its home floor. Like most Clipper wins this season, it was far from flawless, but with Doc Rivers leaning heavily on his statistically excellent starting unit, hopefully temporarily, he may be able to grind out a few more quality wins before reinforcements arrive.
Some other (mostly serious) things I noticed:
- Spencer Hawes, what would you say... you do here? You don't shoot, at least you haven't this season. (You're a hair over 30% from three this year and you missed your only attempt tonight.) You don't really defend, although I guess you're big and you stand there. You don't rebound much for a pretty huge guy. (Your defensive rebound rate puts you between Greg Monroe and Samuel Dalembert among players averaging at least 15 minutes.) Your PER is the lowest its been since 2011. Are you injured? Are you spending too much time doing your hair? I don't want to be mean, because I don't want you to be bad. We spent most of our money on you. We need you, Spencer.
- The Clippers just signed Dahntay Jones and are reportedly close to trading for or signing about a half dozen other uninteresting players, but at this point, I'm willing to forego 'chooser' and go straight to 'beggar'. Let's give any new (and preferably still warm) bodies a chance, because Chris Paul and Blake Griffin combined for 80 minutes tonight. J.J. Redick touched the bench for just two minutes in the first half. Only eight Clippers played and six of them played at least 30 minutes. Doc's sense of roster urgency seems warranted. If he doesn't find an additional bench piece or two, then he'd better load up on Red Bull, because come April, his star players are gonna need some wings.