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Clippers ride wave of second half defense to thwart Blazers, Stotts

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This game was terrible to watch, but a win is a win. There was a loss along the way, though.

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Do you like well-played basketball games? Do you like watching end-to-end action with very few foul calls? Do you like excitement and entertainment? Well, boy oh boy – this game had absolutely none of that; it was terrible to watch. The constant intentional fouling at the behest of head coach Terry Stotts, the injury to Chris Paul, the illness that Damian Lillard suffered through, and the sloppy way both teams played this game led this contest into the depths of the ocean. Basketball is meant to be fun, and exciting, and cool. It was none of those things tonight. Still, the Los Angeles Clippers outlasted the Portland Trail Blazers in a hack-fest that rivaled a Jason Whitlock column. In the end, it was a 102-87 victory for the good guys, but a loss took place in the game that could spell doom going forward.

1 2 3 4 Total
Portland Trail Blazers 18 31 15 23 87
Los Angeles Clippers 29 20 25 28 102

The summary of this game is simple: the Clippers missed a ton of open shots, Chris Paul left the game and never returned due to a rib muscle strain, Damian Lillard only played 16:58 because of an illness, and Terry Stotts had his players intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan so much that Jordan attempted 18 free throws in the fourth quarter alone. But, let’s get to the basics here. The Clippers played a poor game in a lot of ways yet still managed to walk out of this game with a win despite their second best player leaving with an injury.

The Clippers stymied the Blazers in the beginning of the game, and got out to a 19-4 lead before fans filled the arena entirely. They finished the quarter with a 29-18 lead, and a 16-2 edge in points in the paint thanks to second chance points (8) and their ability to drive to the rim looking to score or dump the ball off. The second quarter was vastly different, though. The team went through a drought, missing 11 consecutive attempts from the field before Stotts started up with the Hack-a-Jordan the first time. That strategy backfired on Portland. A possible turning point happened in the waning seconds of the first half. Blake Griffin got the ball after an Austin Rivers steal, and then he had it stolen from him which lead to a C.J. McCollum game-tying three. We were all knotted up going into the break.

As the third quarter kicked off, the Clippers used their defensive effort to fully clamp down on what Portland wanted to run. It helped that Lillard left the game for good just 1:47 into the second half. From there, though, the Clippers really took control. They held Portland to 5-of-18 shooting in the third quarter, including 0-of-9 from three. Chris Paul left after 6:49 due to a rib strain, an injury that kept him out the rest of the game, but the team did not miss a single beat. They ended the quarter with a 10 point lead and never looked back.

The closest that Portland got in the fourth quarter was a 7-point deficit after a Meyers Leonard basket. After that, the Clippers took over and pushed the lead back into double-digits. It never was less than 11 points after a Blake Griffin alley-oop layup from Jamal Crawford. Unfortunately, Terry Stotts still felt his team had a chance and just kept ordering Portland to intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan. In the final four minutes of the game, Jordan attempted 18 free throws. All of them were intentional. He made 8 of the 18, and the Clippers closed with a 102-87 win.

Griffin led the way with a game-high 23 points, but only shot 8-of-19 from the field. He also had 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block in his 32:00 of action. His shot seemed off all night long, and he was just 3-of-11 from 16-to-24 feet. The vast majority of those were open looks, as evidenced by his 5-of-11 shooting on uncontested shots tonight. Griffin still played a good all-around game despite his jumper being off, so that’s a positive spin to put on everything that took place. He wasn’t sensational, but he was definitely good enough.

DeAndre Jordan finished with 18 points, a game-high 24 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 assist, and 1 steal on 3-of-6 from the field and 12-of-34 from the free throw line. The 34 free throw attempts set a Clippers franchise record, topping the old mark (29) set by World B. Free. It’s the third-most free throw attempts in an NBA regular season game since 1963-64. The record is 39, held by Dwight Howard. Interestingly enough, this game tonight was the 10th game, regular season or playoffs, in NBA history to feature a player attempting 30 or more free throws. Jordan became the first one to score under 20 points. Unsure if that awesome or sad. Either way, he was engaged all night and Doc Rivers clearly left Jordan in the game to prove a point to Stotts that he wasn’t going to take out a guy just because Stotts wanted him out.

The rest of the team did key things. J.J. Redick finished with 14 points on just 5-of-14 shooting, but he did hit some very crucial shots in the fourth quarter. He was also 4-of-7 from three. Jamal Crawford finished with 11 points and 4 assists on 4-of-10. He wasn’t bad tonight, but he wasn’t great. This was actually kind of what the team needed from him. Chris Paul finished with 10 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals on 3-of-11 shooting before succumbing to that rib injury. No word on his status going forward, but rib strains are never good. He will almost certainly be missing some crucial time.

For the second game in a row, Luc Mbah a Moute got the start at small forward. He had 4 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 assist in 24:19 on 2-of-3 shooting. He missed his only three, an open corner one, but did do some good things. He defended his tail off, had a sweet assist, and crashed the glass. On nights like these, and also against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team can get away with him at small forward. They might need some more offensive punch from him, though, as they play against the better teams in the league.

There was a trio off the bench who did quality stuff tonight and they need to be praised for it. Josh Smith had 8 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block tonight. On top of that, he hit both threes that he took. The travesty of the situation is that he played really well, but only got 13:33. He played less than Paul Pierce (13:41) despite Pierce being horrendous. That has got to stop. Austin Rivers had 6 points, 1 rebound, 1 steal, and 1 block on 2-of-8 shooting, but he absolutely shut down C.J. McCollum in the second half. Rivers was the main catalyst behind McCollum looking flustered as heck. Last but not least, Lance Stephenson only scored 2 points on 1-of-2 from the field, but he had 10 rebounds and 3 assists in 17:22. He became just the 6th guard since 1985-86 to have 10 or more rebounds in 18 minutes or less. Lance was fun tonight, and that’s what the team needed with the injury to Paul and lackadaisical play at times.

Opposition's Blog: Blazer's Edge

Despite being without Lillard for a long time in the first half, the Blazers did make a game of this. Even in the second half, with Lillard sitting on the bench in visible discomfort, the team kept giving it their best effort. All that happened was that they ran out of talent, and effectively ran out of options. Maurice Harkless led them in scoring with 15 points, as well as 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist, and 1 block on 6-of-10. Ed Davis finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds on 5-of-8 shooting. He started to terrorize the Clippers on the offensive glass again, tallying 5 offensive boards, but they ultimately did a good job of boxing him out as the game went along. Well, that is if Paul Pierce wasn’t trying to do the job – Davis wrecked him.

C.J. McCollum only had 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting, and you can thank the job done by Austin Rivers and J.J. Redick. Early on, it was Redick who gave McCollum fits. As the game hit the second half, Rivers was putting him into jail and throwing away the key. McCollum did have 10 assists and 4 rebounds, though. Mason Plumlee had 10 points, team-high 13 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 assist on 3-of-6 shooting. Ex-Clipper Al-Farouq Aminu only had 7 points on a terrible 3-of-15 shooting, which featured him going 1-of-7 from three, to go with 7 rebounds and 2 assists. It was weird watching Aminu and LRMAM go at it. Almost like watching a mirror smash itself.

Lillard gave it his best go of it despite the illness, but could only muster 7 points on 3-of-8 shooting in 16:58. It was a shame what happened in this game to both starting point guards because watching Lillard and Paul go head-to-head is one of life’s great joys. Hopefully Lillard gets well soon. Allen Crabbe had 5 points, Meyers Leonard had 4 points and 6 rebounds, Noah Vonleh had 2 points and 1 rebound, Cliff Alexander had 2 points, and Tim Frazier finished with 2 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists.

The real story for Portland is that Terry Stotts needs to know when to stop doing stupid stuff. Look, intentionally fouling bad free throw shooters and putting them on the line is fine. The strategy makes sense. The issue is that doing it when you’re down by 15 points in the waning moments of a game that you know you’re going to lose, it makes you look like a sore loser. It’s nothing against Stotts himself because other coaches have certainly done that very thing, but stop doing it at that juncture. People have stuff to do. #ThinkOfTheChildren

PARTING SHOTS

Tired legs on the second night of a back-to-back are real. Yes, the team played in the afternoon yesterday, but it’s still two games in a row. The Clippers shot 39.0 percent (16-of-41) on uncontested shots, with Griffin going 5-of-11 and Paul going 1-of-6. The Blazers shot 38.1 percent (16-of-42) on those very shots. Aminu was 2-of-10. So, it was not a fun game to watch shooting wise. Los Angeles finished the game ith an 81.4 Defensive Rating, a fantastic mark given the troubles they have had on that end this season. The team’s starting lineup featuring the Core Four and Mbah a Moute played 20 minutes together, and produced a +29.0 Net Rating in that time. Pierce and Crawford played 14 minutes together yet again, posting a -1.2 Net Rating, so clearly Doc Rivers isn’t listening to that piece of advice.

If you’re looking for a bright spot, besides the win, then look no further than the Clippers winning the rebound battle in a game for the first time this season. They outrebounded Portland, 55-54, in the win. The 18 offensive rebounds leading to 24 second chance points clearly were a big help, as the team grabbed just 68.5 percent of the available defensive rebounds. They definitely need to fix up their issues on the defensive glass, and it all starts with the bench unit and Doc Rivers’ insistence on playing Paul Pierce as a small ball four. That has got to stop. It might just be time to admit Pierce doesn’t have it anymore.

Lastly, even without Chris Paul the team still managed to win a game against a team that gave them some trouble earlier in the season. On top of that, they assisted on 26 of their 33 made field goals. The ball movement was there a lot of the time, especially with Stephenson pushing the ball in transition and trying to generate guys some quality looks. If Doc is going to keep playing Mbah a Moute as the starting small forward, then he has to give Stephenson or Wesley Johnson more minutes. You can take away minutes from Crawford and Pierce at this rate. Or even just Pierce. Smith also needs more minutes. This will become an issue as the season goes along and the playoffs roll around. Doc has to figure it out.

For now, the team is 10-8 with a matchup against the Indiana Pacers looming on Wednesday night. This Indiana squad is not a joke. They’re 11-5 and currently second in the Eastern Conference. Paul George is playing out of his mind, C.J. Miles is unconscious from three, and their small ball ways have started to dominate other teams. Over the last 5 games, their Hill-Ellis-Miles-George-Mahinmi lineup has a +37.5 Net Rating in 48 minutes. And that’s just one of their dominant lineups. The Clippers need to come out on Wednesday night, with or without Chris Paul, looking to punch back at the haymakers Indiana will throw them. So, pray for the Point God and get ready for Wednesday. Nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy.